Sister Frances Marie, a Passionist Sister of St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville, Kentucky, expected contemplative…
A life of chastity is more a grace than sacrifice
When Jack Sidler’s wife, Dee, was losing her battle with cancer in 2008, he told her, “You can’t die, because who will I love?”
She said, “Jack, you’ll find somebody to love.”
After her death he asked God what he should do. The answer came at a Mass when he realized that he wanted to be on the other side of the altar.
He was 66 when he entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corner, Wisconsin. He was 70 in December 2014 when Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, ordained him to the priesthood. He’s now pastor of St. John Church in Russellton, Arkansas.
After being with a wife and their three children for 45 years, he felt that God called him to a chaste life where he would love differently.
“When you get married, you say to the person, ‘I dedicate my life to you,'” he said. “When you’re ordained a priest, you dedicate your life to God, and he becomes No. 1.”
Father Sidler understands family life from personal experience. Being a priest gives him a different kind of joy.
“In being married to Dee, I found happiness. In being a father and grandfather, I find great happiness,” he said. “In serving God, I have found my happiness on this earth. When you find that purpose for your happiness, you find the balance that it takes to be a priest, to be a good husband and to be a good father.”
‘Within the folds of family’
There’s a human need for family, Sister Mary Norbert Long said, and she found hers 63 years ago with the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
“I always had the feeling of being welcome within the folds of families no matter where I served,” she said. “I taught school or was an administrator. I found a lot of satisfaction and supportive Christian love with interaction with adults in the early years of the cursillo movement.”
Sister Mary Norbert, 80, finds freedom in the vow of chastity that makes her available for God’s plans.
“If I were married, my first obligation would be to God, then my husband and children and extended families,” she said. “Not being married, I can go wherever the need is.”
She finds love in seeing each person as a child of God.
“We are made in the image and likeness of God,” she said. “You really have to think about that. With the graces of my religious vows, I’ve been able to do that and to accept each person for who they are, not who I want them to be.”
Communal witness to the Gospel
As one of 11 children, Father Kermit Holl, OSC, didn’t have his own room until he was in seminary.
“We did everything as a group, so I knew nothing different,” he said.
There was that same familiarity 30 years ago when he was ordained with the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross (the Crosiers). He was attracted to the charism of priests and brothers living in community and serving in parishes, prison ministries and retreat leadership.
Father Holl, superior of the Crosier community in Onamia, Minnesota, once served a chaplaincy with the U.S. Navy. It was the first time that he lived alone, and it was challenging.
“I did not join the Crosiers to live alone,” he said. “We have a communal charism, a strong spirit of fraternal life, and we follow the Rule of Augustine in that the way you love one another is the way you find God. The way you forgive one another is the way you find God. The way you witness to the Gospel together is your service to God.”
There are times, Father Holl said, when he sees a couple in love and thinks, “Wouldn’t that be nice? But in some ways, chastity is a spirituality that opens the door for a different kind of loving that’s broad, inclusive, available and not reserved for a particular person. Not that marriage is not a good vocation, it’s just not mine.”
Intimacy in religious life
Jesuit Father Bill Johnson was totally open to marriage at one time, and as one of nine children, he was used to companionship.
God called him instead to become a Jesuit. He entered the novitiate in 1980 and is now vice president for mission and identity at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Milwaukee.
“The fraternity of brotherhood was important when I was growing up, and I have that brotherhood from my community,” he said.
He finds intimacy and understanding in his religious order, and with the men and women in his birth family, at work and in friendships. Like traditional families, they support each other through struggles and conflicts.
Father Johnson recommits to his priestly vows every day.
“You have to do that in all walks of life, and in marriage,” he said. “You have to be plugged into your commitment. There’s loneliness in all walks of life, and there’s restlessness in all our hearts.”
By and large, he added, chastity is a “huge blessing” and a privilege and he strives to “love well.”
“I need those friendships,” he said. “I need reconciliation and people who are open to forgiving me and giving me another chance.”
‘His love is worth everything’
Sister Mary Gemma Harris, TOR, was drawn to the white gowns when she went with friends to outfit a bridal party. As she ran her hands over the satin and lace, she heard an inner voice say, “This is not for you.”
She had grown up daydreaming about the man who would sweep her off her feet, their wedding and their eventual children. That changed in her freshman year at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, when her prayer life drew her closer to Jesus.
“I would have loved to be in a relationship and falling in love, but the deeper desire was that the Lord would give himself to me entirely, and I would give myself entirely to him,” she said. “I realized that my call was to get as close as possible to God.”
Sister Mary Gemma, 31, professed her final vows on July 6, 2019, with the Franciscan Sisters TOR of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Toronto, Ohio. They are a contemplative-active community with a full prayer life and ministries that make known God’s merciful love. Her assignments are in multimedia, coordinating the newsletters and working part-time in the vocations office.
Her work in campus ministry and with other young people gave her a sense of spiritual motherhood. Sometimes she sees the fruits of her work with them, and sometimes, she said, the fullness of that labor won’t be known until she’s in heaven.
“Jesus has given me the grace, this gift of celibacy and chastity to help me get close to God,” she said. “His love is worth everything. That’s why I said yes to this life.”
A different view of chastity
Alexian Brother Exequiel Mapa, CFA, left a seminary in the Philippines after his third year, became a nurse and came to the United States. He felt called again to vocation while working in an emergency room with the Sisters of Mercy.
But he didn’t want to give up nursing to become a priest.
“I love nursing,” he said. “We minister to people in their most vulnerable times. We are the ones directly involved in care, in body, mind and spirit.”
He found his calling with the Congregation of Alexian Brothers in the Immaculate Conception Province in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Their ministries are in health care and serving the elderly, homeless and marginalized.
“Being chaste is far greater than how we loosely associate chastity,” he said. “It’s a kind of disposition, like an existential stand with relating with the whole reality, the whole world in all relationships. Chastity has to do with our inner beliefs and life witness in how we view the world, how we view human beings as holy, as God’s creation. We have that awareness and respect for all life.”
Now 60 and the vocations director, he talks to potential candidates about their capacity to live with the vow of chastity.
The Alexian Brothers accept candidates up to age 55, including ones who are widowed or divorced with annulments.
“There are so many graces in real fatherhood that these fathers can bring to religious life,” Brother Exequiel said.
Brother Daniel McCormick, CFA, the community’s provincial, was divorced after 19 years of a marriage that was annulled. He raised his two children alone.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to get married again,” he said.
He took his final vows with the Alexians in 1999 and worked as a drug rehab counselor, a chaplain and developer of their AIDS ministry. He got a degree in psychiatric social work and served in a behavioral health hospital.
“If anybody had told me 30 years ago that I was going to find fulfillment and meaning in my life as a celibate, broke and obedient Catholic male, I would not have believed them,” Brother Daniel said. “I love this life.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.