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Mother of a Seminarian

October 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Jo Flemings, Mary, Motherhood, Religious Life, Vocations

Mother of a Seminarian

I am not usually a girl’s girl. I have always faced something of a challenge in developing closer relationships with women. So, it is not much of a surprise that when I converted to Catholicism I found it harder to identify with Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, a few years into my conversion experience, about fourteen years ago, actually, God began answering my prayers about this need in a most unexpected way.

PriestMirrorThat was the year my eldest son, Jonathan, then fourteen, entered the minor seminary with the Legionaries of Christ in the ninth grade. Before Jonathan went to the seminary, I specifically told the Lord that I knew Jon had a personal relationship with Him and that He would lead him into His perfect will for his life. I was very confident of this. That confidence, however, did not prepare me, or quell my shock and dismay when Jonathan actually did express a desire to stay at the seminary long term! The Lord reminded me ever so gently, “… Jo, you said you trusted Me to lead him….” I replied, “But Lord, You didn’t ask me for permission or warn me or anything about it before You did it!” Even as that thought was forming in my mind, I knew that it was not my prerogative to act as the gateway to my child’s life and that I had indeed already affirmed my confidence in the Lord to accomplish His perfect will in Jonathan’s life. In fact, I know now, that this ‘conversation’ was a pivotal moment in a great drama of drawing nearer to Him, and to His Mother, for me. At the same time in this exchange in prayer, I realized that Jonathan was never coming ‘home’ again – I had relinquished him to God and He was indeed His own to direct according to His purpose, and, in our case, that meant he was effectively gone from us. As I considered this reality, I felt as if Mary came close to me and invited me to begin to share in her life and experience in a new and profound way.

modifieddetaillamentationofchristbeweinungchristierfurtum1480detail for post on Mother of a SeminarianI think I cried every day for the first six months, and then every other day for the next six months of that first year in school for him. Every time I prayed the joyful mysteries of the Rosary and came to the Presentation, I was in tears all over again. However, in the midst of this sense of loss, I came to develop the understanding that I could be closer to Jonathan in the Real Presence of Jesus in prayer, than even if he was living under my roof all the time. These beautiful consolations, however, did not stop me from trying to find some other way, any! other! way! to bring him back home to us for even a short time before this leaving forever for the sake of the gospel. So, I found a Legion-affiliated high school in my area and applied for him there – he won a full scholarship with all kinds of perks, a computer, a trip abroad for study, etc. So after that first year at the minor seminary, we toured the local school and discussed the possibilities. Jonathan thought the school close to home was wonderful and he was honored and very grateful for the opportunity they offered him, but he turned to me and said to us, “Mom and Dad, I know this is a great opportunity and could be a wonderful scenario for me here, and I will do whatever you ask of me, but I really believe I am supposed to be at the Apostolic School.” This time, there was no escape for me from the facts of the Lord’s will in this situation. So, I finally really did concede all things to God and His plan. I was overcome with the beauty of the work of God in this situation, although it was incredibly painful for me in so many other ways. Perhaps it was my own participation of the Finding in the Temple.

Through these many years of Jonathan’s priestly formation, as a high school student, seminarian, young Legionary brother, etc., I have become aware of a variety of aspects of the sacrifices made by religious and EvgrafSemenovichSorokinCrucifixionMaryJesuspriests for the sake of souls. I have found my heart expanded in ways that give me a profound love and regard for priests and religious, and for any who care for them or for whom they care and lead. I know Jonathan belongs to everyone, especially the Legionaries and Regnum Christi family, but also to all Catholics, and in actuality, to every soul and he bears responsibility for laying down his life for all for the sake of the Gospel. I find myself joining him in that ministry and apostolate in practicality and in spirit all the time. We bend to the rule of his order, in the little things, like how often he can visit us at home and talk with us on the telephone, and in the larger things like his poverty. I depend on others to provide for him where he is and as they notice his needs; and I, in turn, try to provide for those around me as if it is my part in caring for Jonathan by extension, or in repayment for the gifts of prayer and material assistance given to him by benefactors. I offer my humble gratitude to countless folks I do not know, for their love and provision for my son and all his brothers in religion. I am with Mary as the Mother beholding my son… as if, through Brother Jonathan’s formation, I join him in his vocation and become one who carries Mary’s maternal loving concern for the whole human race deep within my heart, in union with my son’s sacrifice of a life of prayer and service to the world in drawing others to Jesus.

At the Wedding at Cana, Mary approached Jesus to ask for his supernatural help with the problem of the wine. Jesus, in that moment, posed his response to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with you and Me, my hour has not yet come?” as a type of request and reality check about an impending shift in their relationship, DetailFromCodexEgbertiFol20vCanaJesusMaryand she knew what He meant. When he called her ‘Woman’, He spoke to her about her role as the new Eve, whose seed would crush the serpent’s head, but Whose heel the serpent would strike as well. This was indeed a new moment for her. Up to this time, Jesus had been living with His Mother and foster-father in submission to their desire to have him in their care. His foster-father, Joseph, had passed away and He was caring for His Mother in her widowhood. But, in this event, He was asking her if she was now prepared for Him to enter into the fullness of doing His Father’s Will. Mary, knowing He was never coming ‘home’ again, affirmed her Fiat!, her whole-hearted acquiescence to the salvific plan of the Father, by responding to the world with the faith-filled exhortation: “Do whatever He tells you.”

When Jonathan is ordained, I hope she will give me every grace to live and respond, even more fully, with the same Fiat! of encouragement and testimony about the home we all find together deep within the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our Lord. May we all, always, with her help, “Do Whatever He tells you.”


Art: Mirror detail of Clerical Clothing, KF, 11 September 2005, PD-Worldwide; modified detail of Lamentation of Christ in Erfurt, sculptor unknown, c.1480, photographed by Andreas Praefcke, 2007 own work, PD-Worldwide; detail from Crucifixion, Evgraf Semenovich Sorokin, 1873, PD-US copyright expired; detail from Codex Egberti fol. 20v. Weinwunder auf der Hochzeit zu Kana (Codex Egberti [created for Egbert, Archbishop of Trier, 977-993] fol.20v. Wine miracle at the wedding at Cana.), anonymous 10th century monk, 10th century, PD-US copyright expired; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Joneen Flemings

Jo Flemings is a convert of 20 years who studied for two years at the military academy at West Point before resigning her appointment in favor of a better job offer as a wife and mother. She and her husband Cory have thirteen children and seven grandchildren. Jo currently holds down the family fort in North Carolina, and when she is not cooking for a small army, or giving directives for cleaning the bathrooms, laundry, car, and/or coat closet, she studies spiritual theology online with the Avila Institute.

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  • Peggy Rowe-Linn

    Thank you for the gift of your son!

    • Jo Flemings

      You are most welcome!

  • Cindy

    What a beautiful post, Jo, of your movement and deepening in acceptance of God’s will. Yes it is often, so hard for us mother’s when reality pushes its way to the forefront. I have had my own struggles there as the mother of a Legionary priest, who is now a continent away. We head out today to visit him for a week in Italy, with a personal Mass every day. The consolations are many and God provides the grace for all the days when he is far from us.
    God bless you!

  • Bonnie

    Thank you for sharing your heart and your story, I’m praying for your son in his vocation and also for you in your vocation as a mother.

    • Jo Flemings

      Thank you! All our seminarians rely on the prayers of faithful who think of them!

  • 7cathy17

    I have always thought of Mothers of priests as imitators of the Blessed Mother.Two callings.One to give your child completely to the Lord and the other of totally abandonment to his Will as the Blessed Mother did in her Fiat @ the Annunciation.God Bless You and all Mothers of Priests.

    • Jo Flemings

      Like the vocation to Holy Orders and religious life- there is a particular form of union with the Blessed Mother unique to the mother of the priest. I am only the mother of a seminarian so I do not know all there is to contemplate in answering that invitation, but I might someday. In any case, we are all uniquely invited to a deeper union with the two hearts whatever our state is, and that calling is an OOAK, one of a kind- only the individual called can be ‘as beckoned’ for the sake of the kingdom. While the mothers of priests are significant in their own way and for the Church, so are each one of us, and rightly revered in the value of our own individual fiat before the Lord.

  • Laura Carter

    Thank you Jo for putting this vocation into words. May God continue to bless
    Br. John and all our Legionaries!

    • Jo Flemings


  • Kris S.

    We give birth to children who will live for all eternity and who have a unique and sacred purpose, well beyond our own imaginations. It is often hard to let go of them and let God, but what a blessing to your family to have a priest for a son!
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    Pace e Bene, Kris S.

    • Jo Flemings

      Well, we know every child is a gift and blessing- the ones who amass accolades of all kinds and those who are afflicted and maybe even apostate. Motherhood is a fluid and dynamic vocation that expands as our hearts expand. And if ever there were a heart expander it can be suffering or profound blessing- or both intertwined. I think we find the image of the Immaculate Heart the most fitting symbol of what a devoted and devout mother’s love most often looks like- so whatever state any of our children might be in- we live to glorify God and to love them heroically for love of Him.

  • Judy Silhan

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story. Truly, it is hard to let go of our children, but much less difficult when they are saying yes to Christ and His call to bring others to salvation, as opposed to letting go when they are consumed with drugs, sex or other addictions. Because I am also blessed with being a student at Avila, I have learned much about Mary and how to let go of my wayward son to her care and protection. So, also I was able to relate to Mary’s suffering as she watched our Lord, her Son, being tortured and killed by people who did not understand, as I have to stand back and witness what is happening to my own son, and a culture that perpetuates addictions.
    I feel very privileged to have another seminarian to pray specifically for, your son Jonathan. One young seminarian who came to my parish as an intern two years ago, became a priest on my birthday this past May, and a brother I came to know at the Benedictine Abbey which I often visit, has decided and received the approval to continue studies and will be ordained a priest in two years, which I will also have the privilege of attending his ordination.
    God Bless you and your family. Please know that I will continue praying for Jonathan.

    • Jo Flemings

      This is a beautiful and powerful reflection. Thank you for sharing your experience- I am sure MANY people can benefit from the graces you are gaining by your perseverance in hope and love.

  • Matthew McCormick

    Thank you, Ms. Flemings, for sharing your poignant story. As a faithful Catholic and someone who was a Dominican novice and now happily a married lay Dominican, there are elements of our Catholic culture that should and need to change. Clergy are always due the respect of their office. They are ministers, and as such, servants of the Body of Christ, the People of God.

    A truth which Catholics at large must begin to appreciate more fully, and which has little to do with you and your son in particular, is that priests are human. They are as capable of all sin as any of us. Shockingly, sometimes depending on the soul in question, moreso.

    I believe you will receive many blessings from having a son study for the priesthood. Be ready to accept whatever truthful decision he comes to in his life, for the sake of his own happiness. We do not need any more unhappy clergy or religious.

    The Lord, I would venture, if I may be so bold, is certainly drawing him into a deeper relationship with Himself. However, we must not deify clergy, or perpetuate the sin of clericalism. This is unhealthy, and if I may be so bold again as to interpret the Lord’s will, not the will of the Jesus I know.

    Our Catholic culture contributed to and worsened and still does to this day, the suffering of now adult survivors of clergy sexual abuse, some of whom I am privileged to now befriend and advocate on behalf of.

    I wish you and your family, especially you and your son, many happy years and blessings. Please, both of you, remember us in your prayers.

    • Jo Flemings

      Oh wow! I hope you do not think from my post that I see myself or my son as reflections of Our Lord and Blessed Mother. We have the honor in our particular way, as do all engaged Christians, of uniting ourselves to them more deeply in submission and love- and in so doing, I think we can all, often, find the points where our own experiences are a participation in theirs.

  • Barb K

    Thank you for the beautiful post! I was blessed with three beautiful children, our youngest is studying in Rome at the NAC to be a priest. I am so thankful a friend sent me this link, I am feeling everything you talked about! I thought it was just me while praying the rosary I feel so connected with God, Mary and my son. Gods blessing to you and your family and I will add your son to my prayer list as well as all your family. Barb

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