Spiritual motherhood for priests: a 'vocation within a vocation'

Jerry Naunheim Jr.

When Joanie Hasser's daughter invited her to attend Eucharistic adoration, Hasser didn't know it was the beginning of her journey to discovering what she calls her "vocation within a vocation" to be the spiritual mother of priests. At adoration, which she began attending daily, Hasser started to meet seminarians. Each time she met one of these young men, she promised him she would pray for him.

Eight years later, Hasser and Gloria del Rosario are establishing the Apostolate of Spiritual Motherhood for the Sanctification of Priests, in cooperation with the Office of Vocations in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The group is open to women of all ages and any state of life who feel called to pray for priests, and more specifically to "spiritually adopt" a priest. The apostolate's mission statement states the aim of the group is to conform to the Blessed Mother's life of prayer, virtue and obedience and offer "daily prayers, spiritual renunciations and endurance of trials and temptations for the sake of priests."

"It's a life that prays, and it's not just saying prayers," Hasser said. "It's womb-work that we're doing. We're trying to nourish the life of another through our life, through our prayers."

The apostolate holds prayer and formation meetings on Thursday mornings -- the day that Jesus instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist. During meetings, the women spend an hour in prayer for priests and an hour in formation for spiritual motherhood. The spiritual mothers meditate over the upcoming Sunday Scriptures to pray in solidarity with priests who are also praying over these readings to prepare homilies. The group also prays a Rosary for priests, dedicating each Hail Mary for a different priest in the archdiocese.

The apostolate recently instituted a spiritual adoption program, in which a woman can spiritually adopt a priest for whom she offers her daily prayers and sacrifices. Neither the priest nor the spiritual mother knows who the other is, in order to be detached on a personal level to strengthen the spiritual connection.

Following a Mass celebrated June 27 in honor of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, 33 women of the apostolate publicly committed to spiritual motherhood for priests. The apostolate invited all to participate in a holy hour for priests and to hear a talk given by Father Kristian Teater about Venerable Louise Margaret Claret de la Touche and the Lord's commission of her to renew the priesthood.

The apostolate has been in the makings since Easter last year, but the beginnings of it go back to 2009, during the year of priests. After she began attending daily Adoration, Hasser came across the book "Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity" by the Congregation for the Clergy. This was the first time she had heard of spiritual motherhood for priests.

"When I read the booklet, I thought, 'Oh my. This is what God has formed my heart for,'" Hasser said. "I was so drawn to it and I was so excited about it."

After researching online for spiritual motherhood for priests, Hasser sent a letter to several people in the archdiocese inquiring about starting a program of formation for spiritual motherhood of priests. She also set up a booth with information for other women at the 2011 Catholic Women's Conference that was held in St. Louis and waited.

"Nothing happened, nothing happened," Hasser said. "I thought, 'Maybe it was just my dream.'"

About two years later, around Easter last year, Hasser attended Mass at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in St. Louis while St. Mary Magdalen's relic was present there. It was here that she connected with an acquaintance, del Rosario, who had also been hoping to begin an apostolate for spiritual motherhood for priests in St. Louis and had been counseled by Bishop Edward M. Rice to speak with Hasser. They then began meeting each week with a few other women to pray for priests.

On a retreat Hasser and del Rosario attended, Hasser felt it "impressed upon (her) heart" to have the apostolate run under the authority of the archdiocese. After praying for a priest to work with, Hasser spoke with Father Chris Martin, vocations director for the archdiocese, who agreed to have the Office of Vocations support the apostolate in their efforts.

The apostolate hopes this "hidden vocation" moves beyond their group. Hasser noted one does not have to attend the meetings to become part of the apostolate.

"It is about laying down our lives and sacrificing and meekness and not being understood -- all the trials that Mary must have dealt with and that priests deal with," del Rosario said about the apostolate. "It helps us especially through our physical hardships, that we can offer them up for a greater good."

Pohlman is a summer intern at the St. Louis Review.

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