“A degree in philosophy? What’s he going to do with that?”
That question came up a lot as our son was finishing his undergraduate degree and preparing to enter the seminary. He had started out in Mechanical Engineering, but came home one Thanksgiving to inform us that he was discerning a call to the priesthood and was changing majors. He’d been in contact with a Vocations Director who had told him that all priests needed a good grounding in philosophy.
The idea of philosophy as a basis for a vocation was the first of many discoveries we’ve made on our journey as the parents of a seminarian. We’ve learned the difference between a secular and religious priests, how long priestly formation takes, what seminary is like, what daily life is like for priests, and … well, we’ve explored a lot of territory these past seven years. We had to. When our son told us he was discerning we had questions, but few good answers.
We checked the internet for information for the parents of seminarians, but most of what we found wasn’t helpful.
“Congratulations!” the vocations sites said. “Pray for him.”
Well, of course, but what else? We wanted to understand what he – and we – could expect as he traveled the vocations path. Fortunately, the February after he changed majors, we had a parish mission with a priest from the Paulists — the order our son planned to join.
Fr. James DiLuzio was visiting our parish for the better part of a week and the call went out for parishioners willing to feed him. We seized the opportunity to talk informally with a priest, peppering him with questions about his own vocation call and formation.
We made a point of getting to know our pastor, Fr. Clarence, better and took every opportunity to talk to any priest who visited our parish. On one memorable occasion, we took a Franciscan in full habit to an outdoor dinner at a crowded mall. Catholics are the minority in Utah and if you’re having dinner with a guy in a brown robe, you tend to draw a lot of attention.
By getting to know the “natives” so to speak, we were starting to understand the difference between the minor and major seminaries and how discernment is an on-going process through the whole of formation. We were speaking the language of vocations and learning which questions to ask. By the time our son was accepted to the Paulist seminary, we had a pretty clear idea of the path before him.
During that time, we realized that if we had questions, other parents probably did as well. We founded the Seminarian Parents blog as a way to share what we had learned. Our first post went up on June 30, 2013 sharing our excitement at our son’s acceptance for formation. After that, we posted notes from the journey as well as tidbits about formation, news from the church, and the occasional personal reflection.
We have connected with seminarians, parents, and those in discernment. We’ve heard their stories and shared out own; picked up guest bloggers and a writing partner, and learned the number one question people have about the seminary. People want to know “Who Pays for Seminary?” (It turns out the answer is surprisingly complex.)
So, what should you do if your son or daughter tells you they are discerning a call to religious life? You will probably have questions and even legitimate concerns. What your child will remember, though, is how you make them feel in that moment. If you’re condescending or dismissive, they’ll remember. If you’re open and attentive — even if you’re not sure about the calling — they’ll remember that too. What matters is giving them the space and freedom to discern.
Also, don’t be surprised if their call to vocation brings about a growth in your faith. As we witnessed what our son was doing, we found ourselves called to a new journey of faith. We have grown closer to God in ways we didn’t anticipate. The blog is just one of the many ways God has invited us to be workers in the vineyard with Him.
We’re grateful God has given us the opportunity to share this path with others and we pray our work helps others. If you’re a seminarian, the parent of a seminarian, or just someone discerning God’s call, we’d love to hear from you. Swing by the blog and drop us a line.
Copyright 2018 Kevin and Kit Cummings
About the authors: Kevin and Kit Cummings are a Catholic couple, parents to two sons, and actively involved in several ministries in their local parish. Kit is in formation with the Lay Ecclesial Minister program for her diocese. Kevin writes regularly on the intersection between faith and fandom at Geekdom House. Together, they founded and manage the Seminarian Parents blog.