Mothers of Priests Group Supports Sons' Vocations

Moms gather for a special purpose.

Priests exchange the sign of peace during a Mass of thanksgiving for the beatification of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 2.
Priests exchange the sign of peace during a Mass of thanksgiving for the beatification of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 2. (photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (CNS) — When Father John Helmueller was ordained to the priesthood 10 years ago for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., he was not the only member of his family to assume a new role.

His mother Mary, who lives in Maplewood and is a parishioner at St. Jerome, felt so blessed to become the mother of a priest on that day. But at the same time, she wasn’t quite sure what that meant for her own life.

Helmueller began to think and pray about ways to make connections with other mothers whose sons were priests, whether in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis or elsewhere, so that they could come together to find support and companionship with one another.

Five years ago, Mary Helmueller contacted Father Joseph Johnson, rector at the Cathedral of St. Paul, looking for some assistance with her plan.

“He agreed to be our spiritual director and selected three other mothers of priests to help me start a group in the archdiocese,” Helmueller said.

Now, with close to 70 members throughout the archdiocese, the Mothers of Priests group has truly blossomed. Helmueller said there are four pillars on which the organization is based: prayer, catechesis, service and community.

Every mother is asked to attend daily Mass and pray the Rosary for priests and vocations each day. If they are able, the mothers are also asked to make a Holy Hour each week. In terms of catechesis, the mothers meet for 8am Mass on the first Saturday of each month and then gather for a mini-retreat.

The service component includes sending anniversary cards to all active and retired priests, serving homemade rolls and coffee after their monthly Mass at the cathedral and hosting a lunch for mothers of newly ordained priests in May.

“We visit the mothers of priests who are in nursing homes or can’t come to our meetings,” Helmueller said. “We also want to find a way to connect to mothers whose sons are in different orders of the priesthood and not in the archdiocese. We believe they need our support and friendship, too.”

A more personal part of their roles as mothers of priests comes through their relationships with their sons, said Helmueller, who is frequently asked by her son to pray for parishioners at his church.

“It was St. Pius X who said that a vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but goes through the heart of the mother,” she said. “I believe it is absolutely necessary for a mother to be part of the son’s mission to save souls.”

Father Kevin Kenney, who has been a priest for 17 years and is pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Paul, is well aware of the role the group plays in his ministry.

“They support us in prayer,” said the priest, whose mother, Dorothy, is a founding member of Mothers of Priests.

Both Mary Helmueller and Dorothy Kenney said they had a few inklings from the time their sons were young that they were going to eventually be called to the priesthood.

“Father John was born on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, so she had him from the start,” said Helmueller, who had been saying an extra decade of the Rosary every day, from her wedding day onward, for a religious vocation for one of her children someday (which includes two other sons and a daughter).

“Kevin ... kept holy pictures on a table right next to his bed from the time he was very young,” said Kenney, who raised seven children with her husband, Bill.

When asked about the special blessing of having a son who is a priest, Helmueller said knowing that her son can bring her the sacraments of the Church is very powerful.

“Since he is at the altar every morning for Mass, I feel like I am there, too, because my blood runs through his veins,” she said. “It is hard to put into words the joy I feel.”