From a Mother
A Letter from the MOTHER of a Seminarian
By Allyson Harkins
Our son, Evan, first told us he thought God might be calling him to the priesthood when he was eight. My husband, Patrick, and I were humbled but excited. We called Evan's grandmother, who is also his godmother, and she promised to say a Hail Mary each day for Evan and his vocation. At 14, he left home to begin formation at St. Thomas Seminary High School in Hannibal, Missouri. Last year he graduated from Conception Seminary College and is now in his first year of theology at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.
As I look back on Evan's life, I can see God at work, in both nature and grace. God has given him many gifts that will serve him well in his vocation. Evan's temperament and personality are suited to the priesthood. For example, he has always been a very reflective person which is helpful to him in his prayer life, so vital for a priest. At the same time, I can see how God has poured His grace on Evan to make up for things he lacks. For instance, when Evan was in fourth grade he wanted very much to be an altar server. However, he's not a person to seek the limelight and the idea of being up in front of a congregation made him so nervous he was physically ill. Somehow God has worked with him in the intervening years. In recent times he's been called to be an altar server with congregations in the thousands and to speak to groups and it doesn't seem to bother him at all.
God has also blessed our family during the years of Evan's formation. Even though it was difficult to let him go off to high school seminary, we've all grown closer as a result. We appreciate each other more because we don't take being together for granted. It's also been a wonderful example to Evan's younger brothers and sisters. Each one has expressed an interest in a religious vocation. In addition, Evan is always bringing fellow seminarians home for meals and celebrations. These guys are inspiring and several of them have been adopted as honorary big brothers.
People always seem intrigued when they find out our son is a seminarian. For the most part, they are supportive and appreciative. The first question I usually get is "Aren't you worried about not having grandchildren?" We have five children so that's not a particular concern of mine. I tell folks if they are worried about that, ask God for another child!
One question I've been asked more than others, is "Are you afraid your son will be lonely?" Honestly, I'm not. It doesn't worry me because he enjoys such a close relationship with all his siblings as well as my husband and me. I think this closeness will remain throughout his life. Also, we've noticed that seminarians have a fraternal bond. Maybe it's because of their shared call or maybe it's their shared experiences of seminary life. Either way, when I hear the phrase "my brother priests", I now have a clue what that means.
By far the most frequent question we were asked when Evan was in high school was "How can you let him go so far away?" The answer, while difficult to convey, comes down to a single word. Trust. First, we trusted in Evan's belief that he's called to priesthood. We could've dismissed him as being a young kid and not really knowing what he was doing. But we knew our love for him demanded that we let him go and seek the Will of God. More importantly, we trusted God. We knew He had a plan for Evan and the only way Evan could discern that plan, was for us to let him go. It's a decision we've never regretted.
As someone called to married life, I think we, the laity, tend to see the priesthood in terms of what is given up. Some folks only see the sacrifices priestly life requires. This is certainly true but it seems to me each vocation calls for sacrifices. My husband and I have been married for 23 years. During that time, I have cleaned the toilet hundreds of times, done thousands of loads of laundry and cooked thousands of meals. That's not to mention getting up in the night, changing diapers, cleaning up after a sick child and saying prayers too numerous to count. That sounds like a lot of work and sacrifice and it is. Yet, I wouldn't trade places with anyone because I know that my vocation is much more than the sacrifices it requires. Similarly, priesthood offers many blessings and rewards and those who are called to it love their lives in the same way we married people do.
Once a woman commented to me that her son was thinking of the priesthood but she told him she wanted him to be successful. I guess there are different definitions for success. We've always taught our children that success in this life is doing the Will of God and thus attaining Heaven. At the same time, one could define success as having a full life with meaningful work to do. In that case, I think Evan will be successful. There will be challenges, frustrations, and hurdles to be sure. But there will also be purpose and significance that makes life worthwhile.