By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

What are the odds, in this day and age, that in a family of three children, one would enter the convent and another the seminary?

Toni (McGuire) Preston knew her daughter Sarah was considering the convent and her son, Tim, was considering the priesthood and she was fine with that.

But the reality hit in August 2004. Tim, straight out of Cardinal O’Hara High School, went into St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. In September Sarah, a 2001 Archbishop Prendergast alumna who had just finished her sophomore year at Immaculata University, entered the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart.

“I cried until October,” Preston said.

After her first marriage broke up a decade earlier she raised the three children alone, and they had a strong bond. What made it most difficult was her oldest child, Jen, was living in Colorado.

“I had to get used to an empty nest. The first two months were the hardest,” said Preston, who has since, after an annulment of her previous marriage, remarried.

“I was sad that I was alone. I was scared for them. Were they sure they knew what they were doing? But I was delighted for them,” she said, remembering how she felt at the time. She loves her children equally, but Sarah was a special loss because she was her mother’s sounding board, her confidante, and she missed having someone to talk to.

Most of the extended family were supportive of Sarah and Tim, but Jen was mortified; she thought they were making a mistake but has since come to terms with their choice.

What most amazes Preston is the number of other people who didn’t understand. “Why would you want them to do that?” she was asked.

It wasn’t a bolt out of the blue. Sarah and Tim had been altar servers at St. Philomena Parish, Lansdowne. Both had been active with CYO. Sarah sang in the choir, helped at the rectory. Tim was a member of the Archdiocesan Boy Choir and had gone on a number of discernment retreats at St. Charles.

Sarah seemed the most certain of the two.

“She always felt like she was going into religion and now she’s the happiest person I ever saw in my life,” Preston said.

Tim was undecided. “He told me in his junior year of high school he had decided,” his mother said.

He’d had an epiphany moment at an Our Lady Star of the Sea book fair in Cape May. As he was going over the books a sister came up to him and said, “Young man, you look like somebody who should be in the priesthood.” This shrewd observation from a perfect stranger seemed to be the sign he was looking for, his mother remembers.

Sarah, who is now Sister Sarah Ellen McGuire, I.H.M., teaches school in Falls Church, Va.

Tim, “God willing, will be ordained in two and a half years,” his mother said. And just a few months later his sister will make her final profession.

“He can be the celebrant at her Mass,” their mother said. “We are extremely proud.”

As for her advice for other parents of children considering religious life, “I would say encourage them, and in hard times encourage them more,” she said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.