By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
As a young man ponders whether or not God wants him to be a priest, family support for his decision can be crucial. Some local parents are giving, or have given, just that.
For example, James and Pat Welsh, along with Joseph and Lee Brandt, feel blessed to have given, not one, but two sons to the priesthood.
The Welshes, who live in Visitation B.V.M. Parish, Trooper, are the parents of Father Vincent Welsh, their third child of six, ordained in 1989, now pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Norristown, and Father Patrick Welsh, their fifth child, ordained in 2000, now Dean of Men in the Theology spanision at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Both of their sons were regular kids; they worked after school and summers and played in the band at Bishop Kenrick High School, Vincent the tuba and Patrick the sax.
James Welsh remembers he “didn’t have a clue,” that Vincent was considering the seminary, and he was after him during his senior year at Bishop Kenrick because he hadn’t filled out college applications.
Pat Welsh remembers she was folding laundry when she was startled to hear Vincent say, “If you don’t mind Dad, I’d like to enter St. Charles Seminary.” They didn’t mind in the least, although he was quite young – he turned 18 at St. Charles.
It was even more surprising when Patrick announced he would like to enter the seminary during his senior year. In his case, he’d already applied and been accepted by St. Joseph’s University, and besides, he was a mischievous kid with red hair and twinkling eyes, not the sort his parents would expect to become a priest.
In addition to supportive parish priests, Pat Welsh had two brothers who were priests, Fathers Anthony and Joseph Dieckhaus, who also may have influenced their nephews’ vocations.
In any case, priest sons are always close, Pat Welsh noted. “They are one of the greatest blessings of our lives,” she said.
The Brandts did not have priests in the family before Joseph, ordained in 1983, now pastor of St. Anne Parish in Port Richmond, and Paul, ordained in 1984, now pastor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Limerick.
The two boys, who also attended Visitation B.V.M. in Trooper, although close in age, had different personalities. There might have been a clue in Joseph’s case. As a child he would sometimes play he was a priest. But after high school he enrolled at West Chester University to study biology. Before the year was out he left a note on his parents’ bed informing them he wished to enter St. Charles. They were delighted, but not totally surprised.
“We always thought he had a vocation, and Father John Larkin at Visitation was very supportive,” Lee Brandt said.
On the other hand, Paul was completely different. He’d had girl friends throughout high school, helped his dad with various building projects, and when he went off to Penn State to study engineering, it seemed like a good fit. But he too, after a year, announced he would enter St. Charles, to the complete surprise of his parents and everyone else.
The seminary is a time of continued discernment and Paul, after his college years, took time off from St. Charles to ponder if the priesthood was really for him. After a year teaching at St. Paul School, Norristown, he made a final decision and re-entered St. Charles and received ordination just a year after his older brother.
The Brandts can’t say they ever suggested to their sons that they become priests, but they were completely behind them in their decision. They see God’s hand in where they are today. Father Joseph is delighted with his city parish, and Father Paul, with his engineering bent, is equally delighted to head a newly-combined, growing suburban parish with the added challenge of buildings to be erected.
Neither Tom and Christine Gardner of St. Luke Parish in Glenside, nor Robert and Marie Boileau of St. Monica Parish in South Philadelphia have priest-sons, but that, God willing, will change in the future. Thomas Gardner is in his third year of theology at St. Charles and Robert Boileau is in his first year of theology.
The youngest in a family of six children, Thomas was an honor student at Bishop McDevitt High School. In his senior year his parents were trying to get him to choose a college; and like Vincent Welsh he hadn’t done so.
It was at Thanksgiving dinner and a brother-in-law asked him where he was going to college, his mother recalls.
“I’m going to the seminary, I want to be a priest,” was the reply. There was a dead silence at the table.
“Seriously, where are you going?” he was asked.
He explained he was being serious; he wanted to be a priest. Not all of his siblings thought it a good idea to make a decision like that while still in high school, but his mother said, “Whatever you want to do, we are behind you,” and her husband agreed.
“We were surprised, but supportive,” he said. “We had total confidence in him. I was one of 11 children and my mother always wanted a priest in the family. My brothers and sisters say this is her prayer being answered.”
By coincidence as Thomas pondered his possible vocation, it was Father Joseph Brandt, then stationed at St. Luke, who gave him guidance as he arrived at the decision to enter St. Charles, his mother said.
Robert Boileau and younger sister Jaclyn are the two children in the Boileau family. When Robert was a senior at St. John Neumann High School his parents suspected he was considering the seminary.
“You’re crazy,” he told them.
After graduation he went off to Rutgers University in Camden to study computer animation. In April of his freshman year, he told his parents he wanted to enter the seminary. He was still only 18, but his father explained, “If he had said he wanted to get married that would be different. In the seminary he would have eight years to make up his mind.”
Robert Boileau credits the example and encouragement of a priest with giving his son the impetus to pursue studies for the priesthood. It was Father Paul Quinter, then pastor of St. Monica Parish. Boileau was ill and Father Quinter visited to give him the Eucharist. He struck up a conversation with young Robert and eventually offered him a job as sacristan at the parish. The rest is history.
Because Robert is an only son, his parents will have no grandchildren to carry on the family name, but that’s fine. “I thought about it but it’s not a problem. The name will continue through my brothers and his cousins,” his father said.
“We told our children they can be anything they want to be as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” Marie Boileau said. “We miss having him around. But if he’s happy, we are happy. We feel blessed.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.