My Son, the Seminarian

[Editor’s note: A shorter version of this story appears in the January 2017 edition of Christ is our Hope magazine.]

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Story by Peggy Olofson

What made you realize your son was interested in being a priest?

Jim would make casual comments that definitely hinted at his thoughts of entering seminary. For example, he came home from the diocese’s Youth Leadership Conference and shared that when the St. Walter Youth Group was asked who from their group would most likely become a priest. They answered, “Jim.” Or, each time there’d be information about the discernment nights in our bulletins, he’d mention it. He wasn’t ready to act on it yet, but those casual comments made us realize he was thinking of the priesthood.

Looking back, what do you think the main influences were that led him to the seminary?

In 2002, newly ordained Father Dennis Spies was assigned to St. Walter. Our family developed a wonderful friendship with him, and through that friendship our kids were able to witness the joy he exuded in his priesthood. He’d often tell Jim, “I look forward to working with you someday!” Those simple words planted the seed that eventually led him to enter the seminary.

Jim was also very involved in our youth ministry program at St. Walter and the ministry programs at St. Francis High School. Those experiences certainly helped him grow in his faith and helped him realize that he might be called to the seminary.

What was your reaction once you realized his intention was really serious?

We were very supportive of Jim’s decision. It was apparent to us that he had spent many hours in prayer about this and wasn’t making a rash decision. Our thought has always been that God calls each of us to our own vocation in life, and if this was Jim’s vocation, we weren’t going to stand in the way of that. We also realized that his entering seminary didn’t automatically mean he was going to become a priest. This time is a time of discernment and no matter where God leads him, we will support him.

What is your advice to parents when their son tells them his is serious about entering seminary?

Take a deep breath and hear him out. If he has reached the point of sharing this decision with you, it is because he has spent a lot of time in prayer. You may have to put aside your “dreams” of how you envisioned your son’s life. As difficult as that may be, remember, those were your dreams. Even though we fully supported Jim’s decision to enter seminary, truthfully, we were nervous and felt alone in the beginning. We had many conversations with Father Burke Masters, the diocesan vocation director. He encouraged us to attend POPS, Parents of Priests and Seminarians. This monthly group has been a godsend. It was here that we met the other parents of seminarians, many of whom we now consider some of our dearest friends. When we first started, the parents of those who were almost ordained shared so much wisdom and helped calm any fears of the unknown that we may have had. Let’s face it, there aren’t many people in the same boat, so to be able to share your joys or concerns, or ask any question you might have, has been an incredible blessing. Now that we are more of the “seasoned” parents, it means a lot to be able to share all of the wisdom that we have learned over these past seven years. Should your son be discerning the priesthood, please come to one of our meetings! You are not alone, and we would love to have the opportunity to meet you!

What do you look forward to the most once he becomes a priest?

Obviously, God willing, we are looking forward to seeing Jim celebrate his first Mass.  We are also looking forward to his being able to fully participate in parish life. These men spend a lot of time in the classroom, and also a lot of time within parishes learning how things work.  The closer he gets to ordination, the more we can sense he is so ready to jump into parish life as a priest and to be there for his parishioners.

How has his journey affected your faith and the faith lives within your family?

Initially, you think this is strictly about your son’s life and call, but Jim’s entering seminary has been an absolute blessing to our family.  We have always been practicing Catholics, but Jim’s journey has allowed us the opportunities to grow deeper and more committed in our faith.  We have learned so much over these past seven years.  We are forever grateful to have been able to participate in this journey.

Why do you believe becoming a Joliet diocesan priest is the best fit for your son?

Jim loves parish life and since the beginning of his discernment he’s always known his call is to be a parish priest.  He’s blessed with a tremendous fraternity with his brother seminarians and the priests of the diocese, and he’s been so fortunate to work with some of the religious sisters within the diocese. He’s surrounded by wonderful people living out their vocation.  We couldn’t be happier for him with his decision to be a diocesan priest.

How can parishes best support their seminarians?

Pray for them. Send them cards. If you don’t already have one, talk to Father Burke Masters, the diocesan vocations director, about establishing a vocation ministry in your parish. The more we talk about religious vocations, the more open our young people will be to answering the call.  As Father Burke always tells us, “God hasn’t stopped calling, we have stopped listening.” People can’t respond if we don’t start that conversation!