Three of a kind

| July 16, 2013 | 0 Comments

Religious vocations are in the cards for Erickson family

Father John Paul Erickson, left, enjoys a visit with his sister, Sister Maria Grace Erickson, who joined the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1995. She is able to come home for a visit once every three years, and her most recent visit was last month. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Father John Paul Erickson, left, enjoys a visit with his sister, Sister Maria Grace Erickson, who joined the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1995. She is able to come home for a visit once every three years, and her most recent visit was last month. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

When a family produces more than one star athlete, the question that often arises is this:

“Is there something in the water?”

When a family produces more than one religious vocation, this question could be adapted to:

“Is there something holy in the water?”

That’s a fair question to ask members of the Erickson family in St. Paul. Among the six children of Rich and Pat, who belong to St. Mark in St. Paul, there are three religious vocations — one to the priesthood and two to women’s religious orders.

The right choice

Sister Maximiliana, who became a member of the Missionaries of Charity in 1991

Sister Maximiliana, who became a member of the Missionaries of Charity in 1991

People in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis may be familiar with Father John Paul Erickson, director of the Office of Worship who was ordained in 2006 by Archbishop Harry Flynn.

He actually is the last vocation to come out of the family. The first vocation belongs to Kirsten, the oldest girl who became a Missionary of Charity in 1991 and now is called Sister Maximiliana.

Currently, she is stationed in San Francisco after spending a year at the motherhouse in Calcutta, where Blessed Mother Teresa founded the order.

“If I had to go back to the beginning and start over again, I would choose the same,” said Sister Maximiliana, 45. “It’s such a beautiful life, and I’m sure my sister could say the same about her congregation.”

Growing up in St. Mark’s and going to grade school there, she had the good fortune of being there right after Bishop Lee Piché was ordained a priest in 1984.

St. Mark’s was his first assignment, and he got a chance to encourage her along the way. Plus, he gave her a little boost of confidence after her plane landed in New York (where he was attending school at the time) at the start of her journey as a Missionary of Charity.

“He picked me up at the airport and then he arranged for me to stay overnight with Mother Agnes Donovan of the Sisters of Light at her apartment,” she said. “The three of us went out to dinner that night at an Italian restaurant. It’s so clear in my mind. When she got up to go to the bathroom, it was just Father and I there. And, I said, ‘Father, I’m so scared, I’m so afraid.’ And, he said, ‘Well, that’s the way it should be. You should feel a little nervous, but everything will be all right.’”

She arrived at the sisters’ home in Harlem just two weeks before her younger sister Molly graduated from St. Agnes High School. Though Molly got no formal advice from her older sister, she received the imprint of vocational fingerprints.

“Just seeing how happy she was, the religious sisterhood became more and more of a reality for me,” said Molly, 40, who eventually joined the Little Sisters of the Poor and now is called Sister Maria Grace. “At the same time, I started to date, so religious life didn’t really hold any interest for me at the time.”

That changed in college when she got a summer job at Bethany Convent in St. Paul [now called Carondelet Village], which brought her in contact with retired Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She enjoyed getting to know the sisters and thought she would like to work with the elderly after graduation.

During a casual conversation, a friend pointed out that the Little Sisters care for the elderly. So, she wrote to the order and received information. She graduated from St. Mary’s College in Winona in May 1995, and entered the Little Sisters in October of that year.

Grasping a Catholic worldview

The seeds of Father Erickson’s vocation were planted during his years at St. Agnes, when he sang in the choir and was deeply touched by the beautiful liturgical music the students performed at weekly Masses.

At the same time, he envisioned himself as a rock star someday, or a Navy Seal. Somewhere in his thoughts was the priesthood, which had become something worth considering.

In the fall after graduating from St. Agnes, he went to Thomas Aquinas College in California. It was there that the seeds of his vocation sprouted and grew.

“It’s a very strong Catholic school that had a real Catholic culture there that allowed me to enter more deeply into my faith and to see that faith is a life-giving force to culture,” said Father Erickson, 33. “I could see it. It was not just doctrine and dogma. The Catholic worldview is . . . a way of viewing the world, which is very life giving and challenging and beautiful.”

Yet, on the cusp of graduation from college, he had a hesitation about entering the seminary.

“I had been kind of wrestling with God,” he said. “I was very afraid of giving everything up to become a priest — very afraid of that. At the same time, I could feel this call to total surrender. I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to give it a year at the seminary, and then God’s got to get me out.’ Then, I went through four years of seminary [at the St. Paul Seminary] and I was ordained a priest and here I am.”

Nurtured in the family

On May 27, 2006, the Ericksons’ vocational trifecta was complete. A clue that this result was possible years earlier came during a talk Sister Maximiliana had with her mother when she announced she was interested in a religious vocation.

“She was so happy,” Sister Maximiliana said. “Her response was, ‘Every day I pray that Jesus would choose one of my children.’ So, I suppose my mother had something to do with it.”

Yet, all three of the Ericksons made it clear that their parents put no pressure on them to choose a religious vocation. They simply emphasized going to Mass on Sunday and putting their faith into action.

“They really made it clear that love of neighbor can never be separated from love of God,”?Sister Maria Grace said. “It was expected that we helped the poor, that we go to church on Sunday, definitely, but that we do other things also during the week. So, we went to the Dorothy Day Center as a family.”

If there is a downside to the three vocations, it’s that doing things as a family is rare. Sister Maria Grace can only come home once every three years, while, Sister Maximiliana can only come back once every 10 years.

With an Erickson stationed in the North, East and West, there is only one more region left to fill.

“If only we could find somebody to go to New Orleans, we’d have every point covered,” Father Erickson joked. “The Ericksons could take over.”

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Category: Featured, Vocations