In his homily during a Mass for seminarians and their families, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory addressed how parents, who made the promise to raise their son in the faith at his baptism, can continue, along with the archbishop himself, to love and support the seminarians during the upcoming academic year. 

“All our promises are sincere,” he said. “But they need the grace of the Holy Spirit to persevere.” 

Seminarians and their families gathered July 27 at the 13th annual Archdiocesan Seminarian Family Day at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland to celebrate and recognize the families of seminarians who lift up the next generation of priests.

“My heart is filled with so much gratitude not just for the seminarians, but for all those who gave them the courage to say, ‘yes’ to the Lord,” Father Carter Griffin, director of seminarians and rector at Saint John Paul II Seminary, said while addressing the families. “Giving them that courage is something I could never thank you enough for.”

When Chukwuma Odigwe told his parents, Clement and Margaret Odigwe, that he wanted to enter the seminary at the age of 18, they were not surprised.

“From the get-go we knew something entirely different was going on with him,” Margaret Odigwe said. “When he told us, we already knew.” 

But because  Odigwe received a full-ride scholarship to study engineering at the University of Maryland, his parents encouraged him to attend college and continue to discern. 

Odigwe  graduated from the University of Maryland in 2018, and will begin pre-theology studies at the Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C. this fall. 

For  Odigwe, his parents were the first people to encourage a life of prayer for him, he said. 

“Growing up, my parents made sure we had a connection with God,” he said. “They had a big influence on me.”

Both  Odigwe’s parents, who are members at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oxon Hill, Maryland, said that in turn, their son also encouraged their family to keep prayer at its center. 

“He always insisted we pray every night,” Clement Odigwe said.

In a sharing of his testimony, Father Patrick Mullan, who was ordained a priest this past June and is now parochial vicar at St. Patrick Parish in Norbeck, Maryland, spoke about the importance of the family for men in the seminary. 

“You guys cultivated these vocations,” Father Mullan said. “You were our first examples, and we need you still.”

Seminarians from the Archdiocese of Washington meet Archbishop Gregory at Seminarian Family Day. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Seminarian Aiden Perusse, who just finished his first college year in the seminary, said his family has supported him from the very beginning, and since then, he has worked to find a balance between his family at home and his new family of brothers in the seminary.

“I don’t think my family could be more helpful,” Perusse said. 

His parents, Amy and Pat Perusse, who are members at St. Cecelia Catholic Church in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, said that while Aiden Perusse was growing up, they tried to let their faith influence their homeschooling. 

“We incorporate our faith into everything and every subject,” Pat Perusse said. 

With family devotions such as the daily rosary, teaching about the lives of the saints and pilgrimages to shrines, Amy Perusse said their faith was part of everything they did. But they never pushed a vocation to the priesthood on their son, Aiden, she said. 

“We never really pushed him,” Amy Perusse said. “We were shocked when he told us.” 

But since then, both Amy and Pat Perusse said their son has loved every moment in the seminary. 

“His experience at the seminary allows us to see the joy of the priesthood, that it is a life that is fulfilling,” Amy Perusse said. 

Father Mark Ivany, director of vocations at the Saint John Paul II Seminary, said that everything the men go through while in the seminary is for the good of the Church, and that there is “a real freedom” that a man has when he is supported throughout his time in the seminary. 

“When a guy comes to the seminary, he’s not a blank slate,” Father Ivany said. “He has already received formation. The family – the domestic home, the domestic Church – is the first place of formation.” 

Curtis and Kelley Winslow, parents of John Winslow who just finished his fourth college year in the seminary, said that they didn’t think they did anything “special” to encourage a vocation with their son. 

“We’re just an average family,” Curtis Winslow said. 

Kelley Winslow, a member of St. John Francis Regis Parish in Hollywood, Maryland, said that they made Catholic education a priority, and when John Winslow announced he would go to the seminary, “I was surprised,” his mother said. “But looking back, I really shouldn’t have been.”