Deb Wagner
Freelance Writer
April 7, 2020 // Diocese

Siblings called to religious vocations found family support

Deb Wagner
Freelance Writer

Siblings who feel called by God to religious vocations often say the call was distinctly individualized, but that are grateful for the support they received in their discernment from their biological brothers and sisters. Having a sibling who understands what it is to live and serve within a vocation to others is helpful.

While their parents made choices to raise them in the Catholic faith and support them in their vocation choices, several siblings in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend say they never felt pressured to pursue a religious vocation, even in the case where a sister or brother did.

Brothers Matthew and Terrence Coonan are two of eight children in their family and were ordained together June 11, 2011. They were raised at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, attending school there before going to Bishop Dwenger High School. Their parents were part of a small Christian community that was important for living the faith in their family, the brothers agreed. Both benefited directly and indirectly from their involvement in it.

Father Terrence said that the parish youth group also played a “huge” part of his growth in faith, as well as the priests at the parish. He said he was asked to consider a vocation to the priesthood in seventh grade but did not consider it seriously until he was in 11th grade and deciding between college and seminary. Four years later, he decided to go to seminary.

“Father Matt and I both were pursuing the Lord and building up others in the faith during those years,” he said. “He helped in youth group when I was going through it, then in college we had separate ways we were building up the Church. This was a neat way that God allowed us to grow toward our vocations together and then separately.”

Provided by David Langford
Diocesan seminarian David Langford visits his biological sister, Sister Lucia Marie of the Visitation, OP, in the visitation parlor at her First Profession ceremony in March. The counter that separates them is a reminder of where the contemplative life of a nun in the convent begins and ends.

The Brian and Joan Eichman family participate in the Traditional Roman Rite, also known as the Latin Mass, at Sacred Heart Parish in Fort Wayne. The three oldest daughters in the family of 11 are married and have a combined 15 children. The youngest three children – including a set of twin daughters – still live at home. Five of the children are living out a call to religious life. The oldest, Father Gregory Eichman, FSSP, is an ordained priest with the Priestly Order of St. Peter. He is currently the chaplain at Mater Dei Latin Mass Community in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Mother Mary Catherine of Christ is a Carmelite nun in Kensington, California. Nicholas, James and Christopher are seminarians with the Priestly Order of St. Peter. The Eichman siblings were homeschooled with a Seton Home Study School Catholic curriculum through high school and attended Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne before entering the seminary.

Nicholas said, “Some of the earliest memories I have of my childhood include waking up early for daily Mass and praying the rosary in the evening. These family practices made it very clear that the Catholic faith was the most important thing in life. This made it more natural to enter the seminary in order to see if I had a vocation. The major reason I chose to apply with the FSSP is my love of the Traditional Roman Rite as well as the excellent intellectual formation available here at the seminary. Our philosophical studies are heavily grounded in Aristotle while our theological studies are based on St. Thomas Aquinas.”

James’ older brother and sister impacted his decision to pursue a vocation. “On the same weekend in 2012, Father Eichman was ordained a priest and my sister was clothed in the Carmelite habit. I was blessed to be present at these moving liturgical events, which signified that they were giving their lives completely to God. The solemnity of the ceremonies impressed upon me the importance of the religious vocation and the sacrifice necessary in pursuing it. Also, being able to visit Father Eichman at least once a year at the seminary and become acquainted with seminary life provided me with a solid basis for making my decision to apply for the seminary.”

Mother Mary Catherine was born simply “Catherine.” She is currently the sub-prioress of her monastery near Oakland. She entered the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Nebraska, just after she turned 18 years old. About a year later, she was sent to California to help start a new foundation since Nebraska was overflowing with vocations.

Christopher said the lives his older siblings live through their religious vocations was helpful in his vocation journey. “My older siblings have given me strong examples of the sacrifices and unselfishness that are necessary to conform one’s life to Christ, he said. “They have embraced a life that is a folly to most people, including Catholics. This applies especially to Mother Catherine, whose life as a contemplative nun is incomprehensible to the rest of the world. They have given me the courage to answer God’s call to the best of my ability.”

Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend seminarian David Langford, and his sister, Sister Lucia Marie of the Visitation, OP, were also homeschooled. Sunday was devoted to family time, they said, and their father often read classic stories to them such as Lord of the Rings or Treasure Island. Another family favorite was a game of apologetics called Friendly Defenders, and they prayed a decade of the rosary and read a half-hour of the Bible nightly, as well as attending Mass three times a week.

Both seem to have been called at an early age. Around the age of 10 or 11 years old, Sister Lucia Marie began telling others of her desire to become a nun someday.

She first visited her religious order, Dominican Nuns of the Summit in Newark, New Jersey, while visiting family nearby. She was advised to get a college degree first. While attending Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne she stayed in contact with the community, making occasional visits to them and receiving spiritual direction from Father Terrence to sort out her questions, doubts and confirmations about her calling. Her brother is studying for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

Sibling groups like the Coonans, Eichmans and Langfords have family systems rooted in consistent Catholic living. Those who were the younger ones in their families say their discernment of their vocation was inspired by, to some degree, the sibling who entered before them. David noted, “God calls who He calls, and it’s easier to answer God’s call when you have a supportive family.”

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