By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller - OSV Newsweekly, 4/1/2012
Many families are blessed with two or more vocations, and each who is called by God has a unique journey as well as similarities shared with siblings. What all these priests and sisters have in common are parents who gave them love, support and faith-filled witness.
Father Bill Wack, 44, Congregation of Holy Cross; pastor, St. Ignatius Martyr Parish, Austin, Texas.
Father Neil Wack, 41, Congregation of Holy Cross; pastor, Christ the King Parish, South Bend, Ind.
When he was young, Father Bill Wack wanted to be a firefighter or a cop. Later as an altar server, he thought it “might be nice to keep this going.” He liked the Congregation of Holy Cross priests who visited his family’s home in South Bend, Ind., and his late great-uncle Father Ed Keller was a Holy Cross priest at the University of Notre Dame.
What happened, he said, “was not a voice from God” but a series of small steps that led to ordination in 1994. His brother Neil, a computer consultant, later joined the congregation and was ordained in 2004. He is pastor of the church where they grew up, which their parents, James and Alice, still attend.
Both were inspired by their parents’ prayerfulness, Mass attendance and daily Rosaries.
“We witnessed their quiet faith, and that really informed us,” Father Neil said. “Our father was a family practice doctor, and he made that into a ministry. It was important for us to witness that the priesthood is an obvious way to minister to people, but there are certainly other paths.”
Their eight older siblings, he said, “were bemused” when they entered the seminary.
“We would not have been the two most likely to do anything right,” Father Neil joked.
The priests remain close, though separated by distance. “We are great friends and twice brothers, which is an unbelievable blessing,” Father Bill said.
Sister Mary Catherine Titus, 51, development office of Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia motherhouse in Nashville, Tenn.
Sister Martha Ann Titus, 53, principal, St. Joseph Elementary School, Nashville.
Sister Mary Rita Titus, 47, teacher of religion at St. Rose Academy, Birmingham, Ala.
Sister Mary Rita Titus was “so not thinking about becoming a sister” when she was in high school. She later visited the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia of Nashville, Tenn., with a coworker who considered joining.
“She didn’t have a vocation, but I got my [application] papers instead of her,” she said. “It was very awkward.”
Her older sister, Sister Mary Catherine, had entered the community in 1985, and unknown to her, that had quietly influenced Sister Mary Rita.
Sister Mary Catherine was surprised. “Or maybe I wasn’t very perceptive,” she laughed.
Their other sister, Sister Martha Ann, entered in 1993.
“My mother somehow knew that we all had vocations,” she said. “But I was very much not listening to the Lord.”
Their mother, Rita, thought that their older brother Mark would be a priest, but he married and has 11 children.
The sisters credit their late parents (their father William was a convert) with instilling in them a love for the Church and for the Lord — something Sister Mary Catherine said she didn’t see in many young people in their predominantly Protestant Indiana hometown.
“My mom said, ‘The only thing I ever prayed for was for you to do what God wanted you to do,’” Sister Martha Ann said. “She prayed for us to be close to God and to live out our Catholic faith. We prayed the Rosary together and went to Mass and Eucharistic adoration, and our father listened to a tape of the Rosary when he travelled.”
The three sisters cherish their time together when work permits and are close with their brother and his family.
“Our vocations are the fruit of our mother’s prayers,” Sister Mary Rita said. “She prayed for her children, and I received that wonderful grace.”
Father Terrence Coonan, 27, associate pastor, St. Pius X Parish, Granger, Ind.
Father Matthew Coonan, 31, associate pastor, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Elkhart, Ind.
Father Terrence Coonan and Father Matthew Coonan were ordained together June 11 in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.
“I love him, he’s my brother and it was beautiful to take that step together,” Father Matthew told Our Sunday Visitor. “Did we influence each other? We inspired each other to virtue in our lives, but more than anything else, we had the same family life and parents who love us and love the Lord.”
Father Terrence also credits the joyful people in their parish, St. Vincent DePaul in Fort Wayne. His call to priesthood was gradual, like “a quie invitation” when he found joy in helping others get closer to God.
“That’s essentially what a priest does,” he said. “He brings God to the people, and the people to God.”
Father Matthew’s call was sudden.
“It was a moment of clarity on a Holy Thursday, a sense of awakening,” he said.
When he was in seventh grade, a priest noted that since the family had four sons, one should be a priest. Father Matthew said, “Don’t worry, my little brother will do it,” and Father Terrence said, “Don’t worry, my older brother will do it.”
Turns out that God had plans for both.
The Hopkins family
Sister Catherine Marie Hopkins, 52, Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia of Nashville, Tenn., executive director of the Dominican campus of St. Aquinas College, St. Cecilia Academy.
Father John Hopkins, 51, coordinator of the Apostolates of the Legion of Christ in Washington, D.C.; in charge of Center for Family Development in Bethesda, Md.
Father Peter Hopkins, 56, superior of community in Dallas, coordinator of Legion of Christ apostolate work in Fort Worth/Dallas.
Father Edward Hopkins, 55, spiritual direction and retreat work for lay apostles of Regnum Christi, Thornwood, N.Y.
At one time, Sister Catherine Marie Hopkins, who grew up near Syracuse, N.Y., wanted to marry and have a large family. When she taught at a Catholic school in Rochester, she liked to think of the students as her children.
Someone suggested that she might have a vocation. She replied, “I saw God draw my brothers and give them a desire for the religious life, and I do not have one.”
Yet she felt “fear and wonder” at the possibility, then saw the joy in the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia of Nashville. God spoke to her, and at age 24, she entered the community.
Her brothers were called to be Legionaries of Christ at different stages in their lives, but in such timing that they caught up with each other in formation. On Jan. 3, 1991, they were ordained together by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Our parents [Peter and Nelly] taught us at a very young age that the only important thing was to do God’s will,” Father John said. “They didn’t talk a lot about vocations, but they did talk about how we had to use our gifts not selfishly, but for others.”
Father Peter recalls the love that his parents openly expressed to each other and to their children.
“I was 6 or 7 and I broke my arm and was in traction in the hospital. My father said, ‘I wish I could trade places with you because I cannot stand to watch you suffer,’” he said. “It is only when I looked back that I understood that really deep love. I think a religious vocation is born if you understand the intensity of God’s love, and you can understand God’s love when you experience it in a human way. To understand that God’s love was even more intense and radical than our parent’s love — that was huge.”
Father Edward was dating a girl when he felt a tug toward priesthood. She was very supportive.
“I had to find out what God wanted,” he said.
He, too, was influenced by his parents’ prayers, their mother’s patience and how their father, who was seriously injured in the Battle of Normandy, struggled to genuflect, but did.
Their brother Stephen, 48, is a psychologist in Nashville.
“His vocation is as needed in the world as ours,” Father Edward said. “A priest can only do so much if something is not a spiritual problem and requires a different healing. Stephen is inspiring and takes his work very seriously. We are proud of him.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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