Archbishop Donald Wuerl greets Mel Ayala, second from right, who is entering his third year of  seminary at Theological College, and his family, including his parents Phil (far right) and Gloria Ayala (far left) from Palm Coast, Fla., his sister Mia Ayala from Damascus, and his brother Manny Ayala, from Atlanta, after a July 26 Mass during Seminarian Family Day  at St. Patrick's, Rockville.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl greets Mel Ayala, second from right, who is entering his third year of seminary at Theological College, and his family, including his parents Phil (far right) and Gloria Ayala (far left) from Palm Coast, Fla., his sister Mia Ayala from Damascus, and his brother Manny Ayala, from Atlanta, after a July 26 Mass during Seminarian Family Day at St. Patrick's, Rockville.
Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington and their families gathered for a day of prayer and fellowship at St. Patrick's Church in Rockville on July 26 for the second annual Seminarian Family Day. The day included a Mass celebrated by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl followed by a picnic. Thirteen priests of the Archdiocese of Washington concelebrated the Mass, including some newly ordained priests. This year, the archdiocese has nine new seminarians.

At the beginning of the Mass, Msgr. Robert Panke, the director of priest vocations and formation for the Archdiocese of Washington, welcomed the seminarians and their families.

Then Msgr. Panke told his own vocation story. When he was younger, he said that he had no idea God was calling him to the priesthood. But after going on a pilgrimage with his family, Msgr. Panke had a conversion experience that led to his decision to become a priest. As a priest, he said that he realized, "I actually have two families"- his immediate family and the family of God. No matter what vocation a person is called to, the key to happiness is to conform one's heart and one's life to God, he said.

The priest thanked the parents for their generosity and said the seminarians "have learned from their parents how to live and how to love." Msgr. Panke said the vocation to the priesthood was "not your son's idea" but God's idea.

During his homily, Archbishop Wuerl said it was very appropriate to have the day begin with the celebration of the Eucharist. "It's in the Eucharist that the priest finds the fullness of his identity," he said. To the families, he said, "Thank you for being here today to show support for your son..." Archbishop Wuerl said the families' gathering there highlights the "role of the family" in a young man's discernment process.

The archbishop said Mary is the "quintessential example of being open" to God's call. Mary must have looked to her parents for solidarity and prayer, he said. Seminarian Family Day was held on the feast of St. Anne and St. Joachim, Mary's parents. The archbishop said, "As wondrous as was Mary's call," it was a "great weight" for a woman to carry alone. "The Church recognizes that she clearly turned to her family," he said. For seminarians to have an "enduring response" to their call to the priesthood requires an enormous amount of support, the archbishop said.

Seminarian Charlie Gallagher, who is in his third year of studies at the North American College in Rome, came to the Family Day with some of his family members. Gallagher's faith was nurtured in his family, where he is one of nine children. The family belongs to St. Mark's Parish in Hyattsville, and the seminarian's father, Deacon Mark Gallagher, serves there. Growing up, the family prayed the rosary together after dinner and visited a nursing home following Sunday Mass. Charlie Gallagher said he was inspired by his father's "daily witness" and his mother's generosity toward her children. Gallagher said "the influence that a good family had centered on Christ...[is] beyond calculation."

Gallagher's sister, Judy, said the seminarian was a devoted altar server in his younger years. "He took his position as an altar server very seriously," Judy Gallagher said, noting that her brother formed close relationships with the priests in the parish. The seminarian's younger brother, John, said his older brother's vocation to the priesthood "brought me closer to the faith."

Deacon Gallagher said of his son's vocation, "It's something that we've been praying for since the children were conceived." But he said he and his wife encouraged their children to respond to whatever the Lord was calling them to. He added, "We're so grateful to God for each of the vocations he has blessed our children with."

Seminarian Mel Ayala is in third year of theology at the Theological College in Washington. His parents came from Florida, his brother from Atlanta, and his sister from Damascus for the Family Day. The seminarian, who will be ordained a transitional deacon in 11 months, said his family belonged to St. Paul's Parish in Damascus. "It was just really cool to be going to Mass and being part of a wonderful parish family," he said. Ayala played the piano for the music ministry at the parish. He called that ministry "another form of prayer." Ayala also had the opportunity to assist Pope Benedict XVI with the incense during the Papal Mass at Nationals Park. He said it was "just such an honor to be part of the Mass [and] even so much more to be with the Holy Father during the Mass."

Chris Seith is one of the younger seminarians and will attend a college seminary in New York. Seith attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville and two years at the University of Maryland before deciding to enter the seminary. He said he was inspired by examples from other priests, his parents, and by many prayers.

Seith said his parents showed him "what a loving family is supposed to be and encouraged us to follow God's Will." Seith said his family said the rosary every night and went on retreats. He was also involved in the youth group at St. Pius X in Bowie. About how a family's love fosters a vocation to the priesthood, Seith said, "It's how you come to know God's love for you, and unless you know how much God loves you, you can't understand that what He wants for you is going to make you happy."

During his last semester at college, Seith said he began to have a structured prayer life, spending one hour each day in prayer. "[The] more I prayed, [the] more I started wanting to be a priest," he said.