Parenting a potential priest
Gracious and loving God you have blessed us with the privilege of becoming parents.
We ask that you provide us with all that we need in accepting this awesome responsibility.
We pray that we will be open to your spirit who is our source of strength as we witness to our children
your love for each of them and your desire for them to be happy and to live a full life.
We ask your help so we may guide and encourage our children
to believe that they each have a special calling and to use their gifts and talents for others.
We pray, Heavenly Father, that our children will discover and respond enthusiastically to your desire for them
whether it be to the vocation of single, married, ordained or consecrated life.
We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Resources from the U.S. Bishops
A collection of videos, prayers, and articles for families who wish to help their children discern their vocations.
How to Respond to Your Son's Interest in the Priesthood
Every parent wants their child to lead a happy, fulfilling life. And parenting a potential priest is the same as parenting any other child—it requires an openness to God’s will for your child’s life, because happiness comes only from following God’s plan.
Unfortunately, in a 2009 survey of recently ordained priests, 60% reported that they experienced some degree of parental opposition when they first announced an interest in the priesthood. The good news is that after several years of seminary and eventual ordination, most parents warm to the idea of having a son as a priest. They see that he is happy and fulfilled in his calling.
So if a young child expresses interest in priesthood of the religious life, rejoice! If you’re excited, don’t push too hard. And if you’re apprehensive, trust in God’s plan. Say to your little boy, “Son, whatever God wants for you, I want for you, too.”
If an older son (in high school or college) wants to be a priest, says Fr. Brett Brannen, author of To Save a Thousand Souls, say this to him: “I love you very much and I am proud of you for even considering priesthood. I will pray for you and support you as you go to the seminary. I will be very proud of you if you become a priest. But I will be equally proud of you if you discern that you must leave the seminary. I will welcome you home and help you in any way I can to find your true vocation. I am just proud that you love Jesus this much and that your faith is this strong.”
Everyone’s first vocation is to holiness, so parents should strive to create a home environment where Christian virtue can flourish. Here are a few other ideas:
- Invite a priest, sister, or brother to dinner at your home.
- Show your children a good example of holy marriage.
- Attend an ordination (normally held in early summer)
- Pray the diocesan prayer for vocations at supper.
- Always speak with respect for clergy and the Church.
- Read and discuss the Bible stories of Mary’s response to God (Luke 1:26-39), and about Jesus’ calling the Apostles (Mt 4:18-22).
- Speak openly of vocations to marriage, priesthood, and religious life.
Sometimes, as every parent knows, children ask very insightful questions that aren’t easily answered! When this happens, look for the answer online together. That shows that you take their inquiry seriously, and that it is worthwhile to get a good answer.
Parents of Younger Children
Imagine asking your young son what he wants to be when he grows up, and him answering, “I want to be a priest!” What would your reaction be? Would you be worried or elated—or somewhere in between?”
Dad may worry about passing on the family name. Mom may be proud of her son, but concerned about him being lonely. Grandma may start sewing priestly vestments right away. And grandpa may remember an unkind word from a priest, and discourage his grandson about even thinking of a vocation to priesthood.
All of these reactions are deeply influential for a young child. The truth is that God has a plan for each of your children; he wants them to be happy even more than you do! And their true happiness is found in discovering God’s plan for their lives and following it wholeheartedly. So if you’re truly concerned about your children’s well-being, it makes sense to help them discern God’s call. A person’s occupation—professor, salesman, pilot, writer—can change many times over a lifetime, but a vocation is a deep part of a person’s identity.
Parents play a critical role helping their children discern their vocation. However, surveys over the past 10 years have consistently shown that only about half of active Catholic families speak with their children about religious vocations. It may be that parents don’t know what to say, or that they are fearful for their children’s future happiness. One survey of priests taken in 2001 by the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, put some of these fears to rest. 98% of priests surveyed describe priesthood as life-giving. 91% reported close friendships. 100% said presiding at Eucharist is a great privilege. 94% said they would recommend priesthood to a young man.
Most people, of course, are called to the vocation of marriage. But if your child feels called to a life of service in the Church, don’t be afraid. The vast majority of priests, sisters and brothers live happy and fulfilling lives. While they experience sorrow and hardship like every other person, they also experience great joy serving others.
So as parents, what can you do to help your children discern their calling in life? The primary thing is to foster openness to God’s will; let your sons and daughters know that God has a plan for them. The next time the topic comes up, consider asking a new question: “What do you think God wants you to be when you grow up?”
Parents of Older Children
“Father, wouldn’t it be wiser for my son to get a couple of years of college under his belt first, to date a few girls, and have some normal college life experiences? Then if he still wants to go to seminary, I will support him.”
While this may seem like good advice in most cases, sometimes the suggestion to live a “normal college life” is really an invitation to live a life of grave sin. This will not help anyone discover the call of God. I am not saying that the parents desire that for their son, but that is the reality on many campuses today.
I am convinced that God calls some men to go to seminary earlier than others. One high school senior asked me point blank if he should disobey his parents, sign up for the diocese, and go to the seminary. I told him, “No, obey your parents for now. They love you very much and they are giving you prudent advice. The seminary will still be there after you finish two or four years of college. But find a way to grow in faith while you are there.”
While I would almost never recommend to an eighteen-year-old senior in high school that he disobey his parents and go to the seminary, I have at times had to recommend to a twenty-three-year-old senior in college that he obey God’s call, despite his parent’s wishes—and then trust God to help his parents understand in time. In my experience, given enough time, parents usually do become more comfortable with their son’s decision to become a priest. My father is a Baptist and he was definitely not excited when I told him that I was going to seminary. However, now that I have been a priest for many years, and he sees that I am happy, fulfilled, and doing good work for the Kingdom of God, he is proud of me and very supportive. Parents can see when their son is happy and fulfilled doing the work of a priest. In my experience, these parents become very proud of their sons, even if they still have some lack of understanding and discomfort with the whole idea.
A Common Mistake: Too Much Support
Some parents can be too supportive, actually placing undue pressure on their son to go to seminary and become a priest. This is a grave mistake. I certainly understand the pride that parents feel to have one of their sons become a priest, but parents must be careful not to be overly exuberant.
Here are the mistakes that some parents make. They call all their relatives and friends immediately and tell everyone that their son is going to become a priest. They start buying chalices and vestments when their son begins first college or pre-theology—still six or eight years away from priesthood ordination. They constantly say things like, “When you are ordained a priest, you will…”
This is undue pressure. It must be explained to parents that—to use a marriage analogy—going to the seminary is like beginning to date someone exclusively. It is still a long way from buying a ring and getting engaged. Much can happen. It might not work out. Parents should be supportive but not overly exuberant.
The Ideal Parent of a Seminarian
Many parents have asked me this question. “Father, I want to support my son, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. What should I do?” I always advise parents to tell their son something like this: “I love you very much and I am proud of you for even considering priesthood. I will pray for you and support you as you go to the seminary. I will be very proud of you if you become a priest. But I will be equally proud of you if you discern that you must leave the seminary. I will welcome you home and help you in any way I can to find your true vocation. I am just proud that you love Jesus this much and that your faith is this strong.”
“Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” -Luke 2:41-49
Many parents experience great fear and anxiety when they first learn that their son might want to become a priest. They fear losing their son, even as Mary and Joseph feared losing Jesus. They fear he might not be happy. Since parents have many of the same concerns as the candidate, it is important to give them good, accurate information. One idea is to invite your pastor or vocation director to dinner. Over a meal, the entire family can ask questions and listen to the vocation director respond. The evening usually ends with parents feeling much more at peace about their son giving seminary a try. Vocation directors love to do this, not only to give the parents more peace, but also because meeting the family of a candidate can tell him a lot more about the candidate himself. As a vocation director, I always wanted to meet the man’s family and spend some time with them prior to accepting the man as a seminarian.
Many diocesan vocation offices have an annual event for seminarians and their families. This enables the parents of the seminarians to meet one another and to exchange contact information. Some vocation directors actually provide parents a list of the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of other seminarians’ parents, in order to facilitate communication.
Besides what happens in the diocese, some seminaries have Family Weekends where parents and siblings can come to visit. They see their son’s seminary room and classrooms, learn about the formation program, meet other seminarians and their parents, and receive answers to many of their questions. Parents are consoled to meet the rector and professors of the seminary who are in charge of their son’s priestly formation. I have seen mothers of seminarians become good friends through events like these. Many mothers talk frequently to one another about their sons as they pass through the different stages of priestly formation. Bringing parents with you to attend an ordination Mass is also a great idea to accustom them to what might be coming in the future. In a sense, parents are in formation also, learning to be the parents of a seminarian and eventually, of a priest.