One Call Reached Two Brothers
Fathers John and Vincent Higgins celebrated their first “Mass” together years ago in their parents' home in Millbrook, N.Y. They prepared grape juice in a special cup and shaped “hosts” from carefully pressed white bread.
“Even then,” Father John, the younger of the two, recalled jokingly, “my brother wouldn't let me be the main celebrant.”
The two brothers entered seminary in the same year, but Father John was ordained in May 1996 by Cardinal John O'Connor for the Archdiocese of New York. Father Vincent was ordained in January 2001 after 10 years of formation with the Legionaries of Christ by Cardinal Dario Hoyos Castrillon, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy.
Now Father John, 35, is a parochial vicar at St. Gregory Barbarigo Parish in suburban Garnerville, N.Y. His brother, 37, is just across the Hudson River at the Legionaries' administrative headquarters in Thornwood, N.Y., where he serves as secretary to the congregation's North American provincial, Father Anthony Bannon.
Their parents, John and Bernadette Higgins of Millwood, N.Y., are understandably delighted their only two sons both answered the call to the priesthood. Rather than the Higgins name being passed to the next generation in this world, the elder Higgins says, he prays it will be “written in heaven” by his two priest sons. The couple has not been denied grandchildren, either. Their one daughter, Regina Syversen, is married and expecting her fourth child.
The parents of the two priests often are asked how they nurtured two vocations in a culture that can be hostile to lifetime commitments in general and celibacy in particular.
“Prayer and a consistent example of the faith at home,” the elder Higgins says.
His wife, a professional singer and musician, said she introduced her children to the riches of the faith through art and music, especially traditional Latin hymns.
“They saw from a young age that the Catholic faith is beautiful and something to embrace for life,” she says.
Neither brother remembers pressure from his parents to become a priest.
They had plenty of examples, however. Two of their mother's brothers answered the priestly call. Still living is Capuchin Father Angelus Shaughnessy, who served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea and now conducts a popular preaching and Web site ministry (www.fath erangelus.com) and appears regularly on EWTN.
“Our parents were always the paramount influence in our lives,” Father Vincent says. “They love the Church and they live their faith each day. We couldn't help but pick up that love and commitment.”
“My younger brother also was a big influence for me,” he adds. “He was the first to start talking about being a priest, and this had a big effect on me.”
Father John has had two parish assignments in very different areas of New York. He began at Holy Rosary in the Bronx, a busy inner-city parish. His present assignment is in scenic Rockland County. The joys and challenges of priesthood are the same everywhere, he says.
“I love being a priest more and more each year,” he says. “There is always more to learn and new ways to touch souls and bring them to a deeper relationship with God.”
When he took his promise of celibacy at ordination, he recalls, “I knew that it would open up avenues of grace for me and other people. God is always faithful.”
He has become a leader in the archdiocese in promoting natural family planning. He gave a talk to students last year at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers and made a similar presentation at the annual high school pro-life leadership day.
He works with the Couple to Couple League to offer natural family planning to all engaged couples at his parish. Some married couples also take the course, he reports.
“It is amazing how God has put it all together in the short year that we began parish-based courses,” Father John says. Father Vincent calls his priesthood “very fulfilling,” adding that there is “grace and joy in doing what God calls you to do.”
He spends his days mostly behind the scenes, working in the Legionaries' administrative offices, helping the congregation expand its apostolates throughout North America. One of the group's main missions is to support families through education and formation, he explains. A major work is Familia, a program that trains laypersons to spread the Church's teachings on family and human life within their own parishes.
“My job is to keep things going and growing,” Father Vincent says. “This is a great time for lay formation and a great time for the Church.”
Father John says a vocation “is not just for an individual but for a family.”
True to that spirit, after Father Vincent was ordained in Rome three years ago, the two priest brothers concelebrated a series of Masses at famous locations, beginning in St. Peter's Basilica, for their parents and other family members who traveled overseas for the ordination.
“It was important for my brother and I to show our family how much we appreciated their prayers and support over the years,” Father Vincent says. “There is no greater gift we could give than to offer the Holy Mass.”
Stephen Vincent is based in Wallingford, Connecticut.