Mothers of priests take on new role after ordination

| Julie Pfitzinger | April 27, 2011 | 0 Comments
Mothers Of Priests

From left, Dorothy Kenney, Lee Yanta and Mary Helmueller enjoy a laugh at a gathering for mothers of priests at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Kenney is the mother of Father Kevin Kenney, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, Yanta is the mother of Father Timothy Yanta, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Jordan, and Helmueller is the mother of Father John Helmueller, who serves in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

When Father John Helmueller was ordained to the priesthood 10 years ago for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., he was not the only member of his family to assume a new role.

His mother Mary, who lives in Maplewood and is a parishioner at St. Jerome, felt so blessed to become the mother of a priest on that day. But at the same time, she wasn’t quite sure what that meant for her own life.

Helmueller began to think and pray about ways to make connections with other mothers whose sons were priests, whether in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis or another diocese or with a religious order, so that they could come together to find support and companionship with one another.

Father Helmueller had ministered and studied for the priesthood with the Legionaries of Christ for 12 years before deciding to finish his studies under the guidance of then-Bishop Robert Carlson, who was serving in Sioux Falls.

Five years ago, Mary Helmueller contacted Father Joseph Johnson, rector at the Cathedral of St. Paul, looking for some assistance with her plan.

“He agreed to be our spiritual director and selected three other mothers of priests to help me start a group in the archdiocese,” Helmueller said.

Group grows from 4 to 70

Along with Judy Cozzens, mother of Father Andrew Cozzens at the St. Paul Seminary, and Mary Williams, mother of two priests — Father Peter Williams at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin in St. Paul, and Father Joseph Williams at St. Stephen in Minneapolis — Dorothy Kenney is one of the original members. Her son, Father Kevin Kenney, is pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul.

“I have such a heart for all mothers of priests,” said Kenney, who lives in St. Paul and is a parishioner at the Cathedral. “In this group, we all pray for each other’s sons.”

Now, with close to 70 members throughout the archdiocese, the Mothers of Priests group has truly blossomed. Helmueller said there are four pillars on which the organization is based — prayer, catechesis, service and community.

Every mother is asked to attend daily Mass and pray the rosary for priests and vocations each day. If they are able, the mothers are also asked to make a Holy Hour each week. In terms of catechesis, the mothers meet for 8 a.m. Mass on the first Saturday of each month and then gather for a mini-retreat.

The service component includes sending anniversary cards to all active and retired priests, serving homemade rolls and coffee after their monthly Mass at the Cathedral, and hosting a lunch for mothers of newly ordained priests in May.

“We visit the mothers of priests who are in nursing homes or can’t come to our meetings,” Helmueller said. “We also want to find a way to connect to mothers whose sons are in different orders of the priesthood and not in the archdiocese. We believe they need our support and friendship, too.”

Prayer, service and fun

The community pillar is represented by an annual picnic for the priests and their parents, as well as occasional motor coach trips to interesting places — in June, several members of the group will be traveling to the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa.

“We have such fun on those trips, and it is an opportunity for us to get to know one another better,” Kenney said.

A more personal part of their roles as mothers of priests comes through their relationships with their sons, said Helmueller, who is frequently asked by her son to pray for parishioners at his church in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D.

“It was St. Pius X who said that a vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but goes through the heart of the mother,” she said. “I believe it is absolutely necessary for a mother to be part of the son’s mission to save souls.”

With Mary, the mother of Jesus, as their role model and advocate, the Mothers of Priests are committed to following Mary in her virtues and to grow in holiness.

Father Kevin Kenney, who has been a priest for 17 years, is well aware of the role the group plays in his ministry.
“They support us in prayer,” he said.

Friendships blossom

Both Mary Helmueller and Dorothy Kenney, who have become good friends through their connection to the group, said they had a few inklings from the time their sons were young that they were going to eventually be called to the priesthood.

“Father John was born on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, so she had him from the start,” said Helmueller, who had been saying an extra decade of the rosary every day, from her wedding day onward, for a religious vocation for one of her children someday (which includes two other sons and a daughter).

“Kevin shared a room with his brother and his side of the room was always very orderly. He kept holy pictures on a table right next to his bed from the time he was very young,” said Kenney, who raised seven children with her husband, Bill.

When asked about the special blessing of having a son who is a priest, Helmueller said knowing that her son can bring her the sacraments of the church is very powerful.

“Since he is at the altar every morning for Mass, I feel like I am there, too, because my blood runs through his veins,” she said. “It is hard to put into words the joy I feel.”

Calling all priests’ momsIf you are the mother of a priest and interested in joining the Mothers of Priests group, contact Mary Helmueller at (651) 488-8468.

The group also has three honorary members who are not mothers of priests but help prepare food for meetings and take on other tasks. Those interested in becoming honorary members, can also contact Helmueller.

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Category: Mother's Day