Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest

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“Before James was born, I asked Jesus to give me a son, and that if he granted my prayer I would offer him back to Jesus,” says Oscar Cervantes, father of Fr. James Cervantes, MIC. He is shown above at Fr. James' diaconate ordination.

A Family Affair

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Janice Larson, following the ordination of her son, Fr. John Larson, MIC.

By Felix Carroll (Sep 21, 2015)
The ancient expression Ecclesia domestica — domestic Church — has significant bearing in the modern life of the Marian Congregation. For most Marian priests and brothers, their families served as the first school of Christian life, the first heralds of the faith.

As the Church celebrates the Year of Consecrated Life, which runs through Feb. 2, Marian priests and brothers gladly acknowledge that being a consecrated religious is a family affair — the spiritual dividends distributed and the sacrifices shared.

Kathleen Roesch, the mother of Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, the Marians' vicar general, still recalls the "indescribable" joy she felt the moment in 1992 when her son first elevated the Host after reciting the words of the Consecration at his first Mass.

"It was an experience like no other," she said.

Janice Larson, mother of Fr. John Larson, MIC, ordained to the priesthood in 2006, says the "spiritual fringe benefits" cannot be outdone.

"I'm the mother of a priest," she says. "I don't think that there's any greater honor."

There is no secret to raising a future religious. What the parents or guardians of Marian priests and brothers have done is what all parents and guardians are called to do: to love their children unconditionally and to instill in them a trust in the Lord, a desire to serve others, and the willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of God's Kingdom, whatever their ultimate vocation. If God calls them to become a priest or brother, they have the strong foundation to say yes.

"My family, I think like many of the Marians' family, did everything they could to share their own spirituality, their Catholic faith, and then step back and allow me to seek God's will for my life," says Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, who was ordained in 2002 and now serves as rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

"Now," he says, "it's sort of a matter of what comes around goes around. My parents raised me in the faith, and I have dedicated my life to God, and since then, my parents own spiritual life has grown deeper as a result. I think so many of us see that. And the Marians now have this extended family who are with us in prayer and who often come for special Marian events to show their support for us."

"Our domestic church consisted of my mother and me after my parents divorced when I was 7 years old," says Marian seminarian Br. Kevin, MIC. "She [Helen] was always a great model of a simple and living faith for me. We would drive out every Saturday during the school year to migrant laborer housing projects in the Everglades of South Florida. We spent our afternoons helping the mostly Hispanic immigrant children learn English, helped them with their homework, and taught them simple Catholic catechesis to make sure they received their sacraments. Then we would usually play soccer or basketball with them, too. Afterwards, we always went back to the Opus Dei center, a house nearby, and had our own brief meetings on living our Catholic faith in our everyday lives, followed by little BBQs or picnics. It was a great ministry. My mom always encouraged me to participate."

Those experiences, Br. Kevin says, served as his foundation for seeking to serve Christ's people through the sacred priesthood.

Oscar Cervantes took the rearing of his son even a step further.

"Before James was born, I asked Jesus to give me a son, and that if He granted my prayer I would offer Him back to Jesus," says Oscar, father of Fr. James Cervantes, MIC, who was ordained in 2011. "While my wife was still pregnant with James, I also prayed to the Blessed Mother, begging that if I had a son, my son would become a priest."

Father James, who now serves as a Marian missionary in the Philippines, recalls how his father always blessed him and his brother before they went to school in the morning and before they went to bed at night. "Now, I get to bless my father, as a Father," he says.

Still, for several parents of Marians, their sons' call to the priesthood does come at a personal sacrifice. The parents of Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, were hoping for future grandchildren through their son.

"But priests are needed so badly everywhere," says Rosalie Alar, mother of Fr. Chris, who was ordained in 2014 and now serves as the director of the Association of Marian Helpers.

For Br. Kevin's mother, his call to the priesthood initially came as a shock. Brother Kevin is her only child. She wanted grandchildren.

"It was hard for her to contemplate at first," said Br. Kevin, "but she quickly got used to it and is now very supportive and very proud that I have answered God's call. I'm slowly helping her to realize that she may not be a biological grandmother, but someday soon she will be a spiritual grandmother to thousands!"

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