Parents of Priests Groups Support Sons, Seminarians and One Another
Don Trask was browsing at a home and garden show when a stranger initiated a conversation about religious vocations.
“So, your son is a priest,” the man said, after spotting the Parents of Priests pin on Trask’s lapel.
Designed by Trask’s wife, Mary Ann, the pin features the words “Parents of Priests” and a chalice and a Host beside two linked wedding rings. All parents of priests in the Diocese of Cleveland receive this pin when their sons are ordained.
Upon the 1986 ordination of Father David Trask, Don and Mary Ann Trask automatically became members of Parents of Priests (POP) of the Diocese of Cleveland. Mothers and fathers of men ordained in 1974 founded the organization that year, pledging continued support of their sons and one another.
During their children’s time in the seminary, the parents attended Mass together, shared numerous spaghetti dinners and forged friendships.
More than four decades later, all of the original members have died, and priestly vocations have dwindled. But POP still thrives.
“There must be something good in it,” mused Don Trask, who now serves as its president. “It wouldn’t be alive otherwise.”
Parents Working Together
Parents in the Dioceses of Toledo, Ohio, and of Gaylord, Mich., undertook similar missions. Parents of Priests in Toledo (also known as POP) organized in 2002, after seeking information from the Cleveland group and requesting its distinctive Parents of Priests pins.
Philip Hertzfeld, president of the Toledo organization, said his friends Patricia and Bernard Gallagher admired his POP pin and then carried the idea to the Diocese of Gaylord. The Gallaghers now give pins to parents of newly ordained priests there.
Hertzfeld said the pin signals that its wearer is approachable on the subject of vocations. Patricia Gallagher thinks it invites strangers to ask questions. She feels comfortable discussing the vocation of her son. Ordained in 1995, Msgr. Daniel Gallagher currently works at the Vatican.
“We gave him freely to the Church, as God gave him to us at birth,” Gallagher tells other parents. She urges them to pray that all their children recognize God’s will for them.
Although their pin offers a common emblem, the three parents’ groups are unrelated. Gallagher described the parents of priests in her diocese as a “loose association” of volunteers who meet monthly with the diocesan vocation office. Like the other two groups, it also welcomes mothers and fathers of men in religious orders. In Toledo, a team helps Hertzfeld plan two annual meetings that include vespers, dinner and a speaker or an outing to a historic church or shrine. With about 100 members, the older, more formal Cleveland group maintains a website and prints a newsletter.
Parents in the three dioceses prayerfully support one another, their sons, other priests and seminarians. In Cleveland, POP distributes a calendar devised by the contemplative Sisters, Adorers of the Precious Blood in Portland, Maine, that asks the faithful to pray for individual priests on specific days. Four times a year, parents gather for memorial Masses for deceased priests and members.
In the Gaylord Diocese, mothers and fathers follow a diocesan prayer calendar for their priests. Many parents also commit to weekly Holy Hours dedicated to their priests and to vocations, in a program proposed by Opus Sanctorum Angelorum (Work of the Holy Angels), a movement faithful to the magisterium.
The Toledo Diocese posts on its website prayer calendars for priests planned, copied and distributed by Philip and Jackie Hertzfeld. For the first Friday of each month, the vicar for clergy provides POP with priests’ prayer requests and Pope Francis’ intention for that month. So that all 120 members keep current with their clergy’s needs, 15 volunteers call any parents who do not use computers. Jackie Hertzfeld emails petitions to the rest.
Currently pastor of two parishes in the Toledo Diocese, Father Adam Hertzfeld sometimes addresses church groups about the priesthood. Philip Hertzfeld accompanies his son and describes their family’s support of his vocation. Other parents and priest-sons make similar presentations.
In Michigan, priests’ mothers use greeting cards and care packages to keep in touch with seminarians training at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wis., or at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
A yearly raffle run by Cleveland’s POP assists men studying at that diocese’s Borromeo and St. Mary seminaries. Last year, the fundraiser netted more than $14,000. Used at the discretion of the seminary rector, the money covers pressing needs, such as health insurance and medical emergencies. Parents of Priests also established the St. Mary Bookshelf to help seminarians buy expensive books essential to their ministry.
Their individual dioceses express appreciation for priests’ parents in various ways. The Diocese of Gaylord hosts an annual dinner for mothers and fathers of priests and seminarians. Most years, parents of priests in Cleveland gather for Palm Sunday Mass at the cathedral, followed by a social in the rectory. Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo attended POP’s summer meeting to mingle with parents and advise them about future activities.
The passage of time challenges all three groups. As priests age, so do their parents. Almost half of POP members in Toledo no longer attend meetings because of health or mobility problems.
In addition, many men discern their vocations later in life.
“If you have a priest who is ordained at 48 or 54 [years old], it’s not likely his parents are around or active,” Gallagher said.
The Cleveland and Toledo organizations acknowledge this situation by including a priest’s siblings in the place of deceased parents.
Hertzfeld and Trask see promise in an increase of younger men entering the seminary (one of whom is the Trasks’ grandson). In her diocese, Gallagher finds hope for the future in recent ordinations of several men age 35 or younger.
Meanwhile, the parents continue to pray for their sons and all clergy.
As Gallagher said, “Our priests need to be constantly supported in prayer, because they are certainly going against the world.”
Jerri Donohue writes from Brecksville, Ohio.
To learn more about the Parents of Priests pin, please visit ParentsofPriests.net and choose “Contact us.”
SUPPORTING THEIR SONS. Members of Parents of Priests in Toledo, Ohio, pose with Bishop Daniel Thomas (center) at their summer meeting. Courtesy of Father Monte Hoyles, chancellor of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio