By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published November 10, 2022
ATLANTA—While her younger brother, Mark White, was in seminary, Amanda Hailey asked her girlfriends to offer Holy Hours and pray for him.
“I was constantly recruiting people to pray for Mark, and I was praying for him as well,” said Hailey.
Father Mark White gives credit to his mother, Dolores Duvall and his sister for encouraging his path to the priesthood.
They “were always open to coming to some event where parents were involved, donating things or being part of ordination,” said the priest of his family. “Both were very interested in the different aspects of seminary life.”
Father White was ordained to the priesthood in 2019 and spent his first few years at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. And as his ministry continues, his family finds new ways to be supportive.
When he was assigned parochial administrator of St. Joseph Church in Washington and Queen of Angels Church in Thomson in July, Hailey loaded up her car to help Father White move and recruited a friend to help paint his new home. Duvall checks in to make sure her son is taking care of his health, among other things.
“My sister and mom were really big reasons why I had a conversion of faith,” said Father White.
Emotional support from family is important for clergy, he said.
“When you go to a family reunion or when you talk to your family and you’re always getting some resistance to the fact that you are a priest—I think that can weigh heavily on a priest, at least emotionally,” said Father White.
Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor and director of the permanent diaconate for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, remembers some people sharing negative comments when his son, Father Dennis Dorner, was preparing for the priesthood. Father Dorner is parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta.
“The important thing for parents to recognize is that regardless of whatever our expectations are for our children, true peace is only going to come when they follow God’s will for their life,” said Deacon Dorner. “And so, encouraging them to listen, to hear, to follow God’s will, is important.”
Family involvement is one of many ways to support seminarians and priests in their ministry and encourage religious vocations throughout the Catholic Church.
Supporting religious vocations is a “multifaceted approach,” but it comes from an “organic way of living out our faith,” said Vocations Director Father Rey Pineda.
“If we are living out our faith, then at a certain point, (religious life) should cross our mind,” he said. “We should not necessarily be opposed to it or afraid of it because it should be part of who we are in terms of responding to the Lord’s call.”
Helping people navigate what God is doing in their life is a “beautiful gift” said Father Pineda of his role as director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. There are some 40 men in formation for the priesthood in the archdiocese.
“Just because you go to seminary doesn’t mean that you’re going to be ordained,” said Father Pineda. “But it means that the Lord has called you there for a specific reason. It’s fun to hear how they’re being challenged and how they’re learning and growing all the time.”
Having conversations about faith and cooking meals for the seminarians are just a few of his duties as vocations director. Father Pineda also enjoys listening to stories about what made the men want to become a priest.
All of the archdiocesan seminarians share stories of a priest in their life who inspired, motivated and invited them to consider the priesthood, said Father Pineda.
“We take for granted how much an invitation goes, how long an invitation goes … and the joyful witness,” he said.
Prayer communities, such as the Knights of Columbus and prayer apostolates, continuously pray for vocations within the church. Father Pineda invites all faithful to pray for those close to them and invite them to consider religious life.
“Make it an option for people,” he said.
Formation doesn’t end after a priest is ordained, explained Msgr. James Schillinger, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Church in Marietta. He served as director of Ongoing Formation of Priests for the Atlanta Archdiocese for more than 30 years.
“Each priest has an obligation to continue his personal and professional growth and development,” said Msgr. Schillinger. “He has an obligation to his superiors, his brother priests and the people he serves to grow in grace and knowledge.”
The office, led by Father Pedro Poloche since July, supports a priest’s intellectual, spiritual and pastoral development, as well as his growth as a healthy man.
“Each of these four pillars is important and each needs to be carefully addressed,” said Msgr. Schillinger. “And they need to be addressed differently at the different life stages of a priest.”
Volunteering in the parish and taking something off a priest’s to-do list is a great way to be supportive, said Hailey, also administrative assistant for Ongoing Formation of Priests.
“Our goal is to serve them so that they can be freed up to serve the people,” she said.
She also suggests invitations to lunch and dinner, which can be hosted by families or ministries. Invite them to come into your life, she said.
“It is the biggest blessing in the world to have a priest in the family,” said Hailey. “Watching him be a blessing to others is just amazing.”
Having a priest in the family is “phenomenal,” said Deacon Dorner, who enjoys Masses when he can serve on the altar together with his son, having home Mass and listening to his homilies.
“The greatest joy is just seeing him at peace,” said Deacon Dorner. “People coming up to you and telling you how they’ve met your son and he made a huge difference in (their) life–it’s remarkable.”