Family dinner

Project Andrew invites potential future priests… and their families

by Jessica Langdon

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A young man is bound to build up a long list of questions as he weighs whether or not he is being called to the priesthood.

Even with as many questions as he’s pondering — whether he is in high school, college or has entered the work world — his family can probably easily match his curiosity.

Who better to answer some of those questions than priests, seminarians, representatives of the archdiocesan vocation office — and parents of current seminarians?

All of those share their experiences and expertise with parents of young men in a special parent-track component of the annual Project Andrew events held in October, which reach out to men considering the priesthood.

“We’ve always wanted to try to help those parents out as much as possible, so they’re comfortable sending their son to a seminary,” said Father Scott Wallisch, archdiocesan vocation director.

And parents want to know everything: What level of commitment should he have before even attempting the seminary? If he goes, can we visit him? How far away is the seminary? Is it going to be hard? Who pays for everything? Will we see him at holidays?

Sometimes they want to know how to support vocations.

But mostly, they just want to know if their son will be happy.

“Parents often don’t realize how broad the experience is,” said Father Wallisch.

Yes, studying and praying make up a big part of seminary life, but there’s much more.

“The seminaries give them plenty of opportunities to grow as brothers together, to play sports together, to go and do fun activities and to go and do apostolic work,” he said.

Jennifer and Ray Zielinski, members of Church of the Nativity in Leawood, have seen their son Carter mature and grow in his faith during his time as a seminarian.

They will share their experiences with parents at the Project Andrew program Oct. 27 at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

Carter is in his fourth year of college at Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo.

He had been studying civil engineering at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, but went home during his sophomore year to have a very special discussion with his parents.

“He said he felt he had been called by God,” said Jennifer. “In some ways, I wasn’t expecting it, but when he said it, I wasn’t totally shocked, either.”

At first, he planned to continue working toward his degree, but later decided he needed to explore the seminary in order to discern whether the priesthood is his vocation.

“I pray for him,” said his mother, but she tries not to influence him one way or another as he continues his discernment, which is an ongoing part of life for a seminarian.

“I just have always wanted him to do what he’s called to do,” she said.

She and her husband are very supportive of him, she said.

Whether a son grows up to become an archdiocesan priest — which is what Carter wants to be — or gets married and has a family, it’s a natural part of life for a man to embark on a path of his own, she said.

And so she wants parents to know: “It will be OK.”

To her, it’s about trusting in God’s plan.

The Zielinskis still see their son, she said, and feel connected to his journey.

In fact, she particularly enjoyed talking about the sacraments with Carter during one of his recent trips home. He’s constantly learning new things about his faith in the seminary and excited to share what he’s learning — in this case, about the history and meaning of the Eucharist.

Mimi and Jack Nagle, whose son Matthew is in his third year of theology at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, have spoken at past Project Andrew dinners.

The Nagles, who are members of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, have been thrilled with the addition of the parents’ component.

“I think that opens up a huge door for parents to gather information about what the process is and how things work,” said Mimi.

The number of young men exploring the possibility of the priesthood is small, especially on the high school level, she said.

“It’s not like you can call up your friend and say, ‘Tell me how this works,’” she said. “It helps parents, I think, to be more supportive of their sons’ discernment because it gives them information.”

Family support and relationships are very important to a seminarian and a priest, said Father Wallisch. Those relationships help provide a balanced life.

The Zielinski family has felt that support from the vocation office is always available if they have questions.

They go to the seminary to visit — including trips for parents’ weekend — and their son comes home regularly.

“I feel very good about where he is and what he’s doing,” said Jennifer Zielinski.

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Jessica Langdon

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