by Fr Richard Heilman | May 27, 2019 8:40 AM
Today would be my uncle’s 58th anniversary as a priest. Today is my 31st anniversary as a priest. So, I am doing some reminiscing because just 3 years before my uncle, Fr. Donald J. Murray, was ordained, my parents asked him to be my Godfather. Of course, his priesthood would go a long way to inspire mine.
Only in recent years have I come to discover that my path to priesthood was similar to my uncle and Godfather’s path.
My uncle was a very talented baseball player at Edgewood High School (Madison, WI) and he went to college, with hopes to go professional. I was an all-state football player from Edgewood High School and went to college, with hopes to go professional one day. My uncle entered seminary at 23 years old, and was ordained at 29 years old. I entered seminary at 23 years old, and was ordained at 29 years old. My uncle was ordained on May 27, 1961. I was ordained on May 27, 1988.
My younger sister, Mary, would become a teacher at Blessed Sacrament parish in Madison. This was the home parish of my grandparents and my uncle. While she was there, my uncle, in his retirement, would come there to pray. Why? Because that was the place he had prayed, before the statue of the Blessed Mother, when he received his calling to become a priest. He would tell his niece (my sister), “Here is the spot where I was praying in 1955 when I received my vocation.”
Some years later, Blessed Sacrament parish decided that the time had come to replace the old pews with new ones. Since they were going to throw the old pews away, my sister asked if she could have the pew my uncle had pointed to. Her husband shortened the pew to the “spot” my uncle turned his life over to God to become a priest. My sister gave that to my uncle as a gift. He passed away last year, so I inherited “the pew” (seen in the photo for this article), and it is now in my private chapel. Yes, one could say that “the pew” was the beginning of my vocation to the priesthood that started in 1955 … 3 years before I was born.
There is more to the story …
After my ordination as a transitional deacon, all the family gathered back at our house. 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 1960s, 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, 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 (it was 20 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. She was not alive to see me become a priest, but I knew she was there, and she was praying for me on my 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.
By the way, gramma also prayed for 20 years for her son, my uncle, to be a priest. She was heard to say, “It was hard sale to Fr. Don’s final ‘yes.'” Another “coincidence.”
Prayer works!! Try it on someone you’d like to see become a priest!!
Here is some information about St. John Neumann (HERE)
“Our great mistake is that we allow ourselves to be deceived by the spirit of worldly shrewdness, the desire for fame, and the love of comfort. We ought to fight the temptation to make spiritual things a means of temporal advancement. The principles of faith fade out of our hearts in proportion as we allow the principles of the world to come in. We place our confidence not in God but in our own intelligence and experience. This, my dear Father, in my opinion, is the cause of all unhappiness.” –St. John Neumann’s letter to Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R., January 30, 1850
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