by Fr Richard Heilman | October 30, 2020 12:31 AM
I have been a priest for more than 32 years. I feel truly blessed to be a priest. I can honestly say that I have never had one moment of regret in all those years. Sure, I look at so many beautiful families I know, and I begin to wonder what it might be like to have a family. I don’t wonder in sorrow … I just wonder.
Both of my parents have passed to eternal life, and I rely heavily on their prayers. I pray often for them too (see how HERE), along with all of my relatives and friends who have passed before me, including my grandparents. I remember them all at every Mass I offer.
I believe, along with all of my siblings, we were especially blessed that we had a particularly close relationship with our grandparents. We spent most Sundays over at gramma and grampa’s house. Gramma loved preparing the Sunday dinner for the family … she just loved having the family there. When our grandparents got on in their years, my mom took over the role of hosting the family which, of course, included gramma and grampa.
Gramma was a daily Mass goer, and she had a very deep and beautiful devotion to the Blessed Mother. My mom inherited both of these “Two Pillars” (See St. John Bosco) from her mom, and both of them attended daily Mass together. The image emblazoned in my mind is the two of them (mom and gramma) kneeling in their pew with their rosaries wrapped around their hands in prayer.
I don’t think any of our siblings had the impression that any one of us were more special to our grandparents than the rest. They loved us all just the same. That’s why it took me by surprise when my gramma pulled me aside the day of my ordination as a transitional deacon, on my way to priesthood.
After the ordination, all the family gathered back at our house, and it was just like all those Sunday afternoons … laughing, teasing, reminiscing and celebrating. There I was, wearing the Roman collar for the first time (in those days they didn’t allow seminarians to wear the collar). I could feel the family’s joy throughout the day, but I knew my very devout gramma was especially proud of me.
Gramma got a moment to pull me aside and talk with me alone. She pulled out a holy card she wanted to show me. It was a holy card of St. John Neumann. I wondered why she was showing me this. She began to explain that she was traveling with my grampa (He was Vice President of Oscar Mayer, so they traveled a lot) back in the the late 1950s. And one day, after they checked into their hotel room, she opened one of the drawers and found that holy card. She told me she could not explain why she did it, and why she chose me out of all of the grandchildren (I was a baby, at the time), but she began to pray that day, through the intercession of St. John Neumann, that I would become a priest some day … and she prayed for that “every day” of my life up until then (That was nearly 30 years of praying). She said she never wanted to tell me that because she feared it would influence my decision one way or another. I was stunned … and so very grateful.
Gramma passed away a short time after that. Was her work done, with my ordination to the deaconate (when we give our promise of celibacy)? She was not alive to see me become a priest, but I knew she was there, and she was praying for me on my priestly ordination day, and everyday of my priesthood. I thank God for my vocation … and I thank St. John Neumann and the loving prayers of a gramma.
It is more than interesting to note that my calling to become a priest came, like a shot, in one day. I had taken time away from the college party scene to spend time alone, which became a time of deep prayer, when I fell deeply in love with God.
In the collage showing my “growth” in this article, I had no thoughts whatsoever – not one – of becoming a priest in the first four photos, but the 5th photo was about the time my calling came, leading to photo #5, my ordination day.
It was my 23rd birthday that I received my calling. I rushed to tell my parents, not that I was “thinking” about becoming a priest, but that “I was going to” become a priest. I contacted the Vocations Director for the Diocese, and never looked back.
I turned 23 on June 24, 1981. I have only made this connection a few years ago. That it was on June 24, 1981, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, that Our Lady was first seen, on that now famous small mountain, known as Podbrdo, overlooking the parish of Medjugorje. I know there is much speculation about the veracity of these apparitions in Medjugorje, but nobody can discount the enormous amount of conversions and vocations, including Fr. Donald Calloway, that have come from the experiences people have had from Medjugorje.
I made this connection to Medjugorje just at the time I “found” my gramma’s holy card of St. John Neumann. My sister had kept my gramma’s Daily Missal all those years. A few years ago, she informed me she had it, and I asked if I could have it. Once it was in my hands, I opened it up, and there was the holy card she found in that hotel room when I was a baby; the holy card she prayed with every day until I was ordained. I framed it (seen in the photo of this article).
Moreover, a good friend of mine, Richard Blaney, passed away in 2012. Near the same time I found gramma’s holy card and made the connection to Medjugorje, the family came to me and said that they thought Richard would want me have these. It was his collection of First Class Relics. Wouldn’t you know … one of them was a First Class Relic of St. John Neumann. This very special relic is now in my private chapel where gramma’s holy card (now framed) hangs above it (see photos for this article).
What did gramma teach us about the secret to vocations?
Let’s all follow gramma’s example and pray for many more vocations in our Church!
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