Archdiocesan seminarians preparing for ordination as holy priests are young men of virtue responding to God’s call and should not lose hope in spite of challenges facing the Church or any that they may encounter on their vocational journey, said Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

The 12th annual Seminarian Family Day began with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl on July 28 at St. Patrick Church in Rockville. Many of the 89 men currently studying to be priests for the Archdiocese of Washington gathered with their parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives for a day of prayer and fellowship.

“You are all men of ideals. You are men who have in your hearts a great vision and one thing that moves us forward is idealism. Don’t ever let that (idealism) be tarnished,” said the cardinal. “...We bear this magnificent gift (of a vocation) in an earthen vessel. Go out, keep at it and don’t let anything tarnish that beautiful image of the priesthood.”

Although he did not directly address the recent abuse allegations against now-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington whose resignation from the College of Cardinals was accepted by Pope Francis earlier that same day, Cardinal Wuerl thanked the seminarians’ families for their support and encouragement of the future priests. He especially urged the seminarians to stay strong in their faith and vocations, while reminding them that there may be difficulties in their midst at times.

“Unfortunately, we are more aware of it in this location today. But we are also aware that a vast majority of priests are consistently cooperating with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be that ‘wheat in the field,’” in a reference to the day’s Gospel reading (Matthew 13:24-30) of the Parable of the Weeds.

Concelebrants of the Mass included: Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher; Msgr. Charles Parry, pastor of St. Patrick Parish; Msgr. Robert Panke, archdiocesan director of priest formation and rector of Saint John Paul II Seminary; Father Carter Griffin, vice-rector of Saint John Paul II Seminary; Father Mary Ivany, archdiocesan director of priest vocations; and several archdiocesan priests.

“Trying to discern God’s call requires the ability to listen, but first we have to be quiet and let the Holy Spirit speak to us,” said the cardinal in his homily. “We are all here, but there is enormous noise all around us. Somehow we have to find space to hear God speaking to us. That is why we have seminaries and formation programs – places to hear and sort out what is God asking me to do.”

Seminarians for the Archdiocese of Washington study at Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville, Catholic University’s Theological College, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg and the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Following the Mass, the seminarians and their families enjoyed a barbecue lunch in the St. Patrick School gymnasium. Father Griffin, who also serves as dean of students at the Saint John Paul II Seminary, said the annual event is a great opportunity for the future priests and their parents to gather with other families, as well as the priests overseeing their formation.

Thomas Showalter, a native of Calvert County who grew up in St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Upper Marlboro, is in his third year at the Saint John Paul II Seminary. He attended the Seminarian Family Day with his parents, siblings and his young nieces and nephew. “It means so much to have them all here. My family is spread out, but this is the first time everyone is experiencing what I’m doing with my life, and it means the world to me,” he said.

As he reflects on his future priesthood, he said the example of knowing good and holy priests throughout his life inspired him to consider a vocation. “I look forward to bringing God to people and people to God,” Showalter said.

His mother, Karen Showalter, a nurse, said she is proud of her son, Thomas, the fourth of her five kids. She said she takes comfort in the Bible verse (Luke 5:4), “Cast out into the deep.”

“Thomas is doing that,” she said. “The seminary here in D.C. does a great job allowing them to discern their vocation with no pressure.”  She also praised Father Scott Woods, the chaplain at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, where her son attended high school, for his positive influence on young men discerning a priestly vocation.

Christi Gaeng, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish, Bowie, whose son, Caleb, is entering the Saint John Paul II Seminary this fall, said, “We are so excited to come and be a part of (Family Day). It’s been amazing to meet the other families.”

Of her son’s decision to enter the seminary, she said, “I’m so happy for him. He’s worked on his faith and his prayer life and told us, ‘This is what I have to do.’ So I felt good about his decision.”

Danny Barahona, the younger brother of Jonathan Barahona, a fifth year seminarian at Theological College, said their extended family and parents, originally from El Salvador, are joyfully looking forward to Jonathan’s ordination in 2021. “He is the first priest in our family and it’s a true blessing for all of us, very inspirational,” he said.

Msgr. Panke assured the families that the archdiocesan vocations program is a “healthy, strong priestly formation, one of the best in the country with exceptional priests and staff.”

In closing remarks to the seminarians’ families, Father Ivany said the annual event is important because it serves many purposes. “You get to know who we are. You get to know each other...You have such great sons who have been so generous with the gift that God has given them.”