20 Jul The priesthood is more than a profession; it is truly a vocation, as is medicine
Testimony: Dr. Christine Walsh
“My daughter Christine, the doctor, my son Martin, the priest, and my son Robert, the teacher.” That was how our mother always introduced her children, in birth order and by profession. She was proud of all of us, but I do believe proudest of my brother Martin–and with good reason. Having a priest in the family is indeed very special.
After graduating from St. Alphonsus elementary school in Brooklyn, my brother entered the Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, New York, where our family was permitted to visit him one Sunday of each month. To us city kids Goshen was a different country with horses, lakes, and one diner. We were always dressed in our Sunday clothes, with my brother wearing the required black suit, white shirt and black tie, reflecting a much more formal time. I remember looking forward to going to the seminary and hearing funny high school stories about my brother’s classmates and teachers, but I also remember sadness when we said goodbye at 5 o’clock, followed by all that traffic going home on Sunday evening.
After graduating, my brother decided to become a diocesan priest, a choice which brought him back home. He attended the minor seminary in Douglaston and the major seminary in Huntington, generating more funny stories.
My husband, our three children, and I have attended Easter vigil and Christmas midnight Mass at whichever parish my brother has been assigned to since his ordination in 1976. He gives great sermons, knowing his severest critics are right in the front pew. Afterwards we go up to his room where we talk until 3 in the morning, and then go home to sleep while he has to get up early for Mass the next morning. Martin has celebrated Mass with our family at home, at ski lodges, and out camping. How wonderful and how convenient!
At family dinners, conversations about the latest movies are interspersed with lively theological discussions, especially when Martin has just returned from a retreat or a class. He often makes reference to “your Jesuit education,” which applies to all the rest of us sitting at the table. I frequently use my brother as a “fact-checker” when I read or hear a religious statement which I think is wrong or I just don’t understand. With his remarkable fund of knowledge, he can often shed new light on a subject.
All this has brought us immeasurably closer as a family, the bond growing stronger throughout the years. It is hard to express what a joy it was to have my brother officiate at our wedding and baptize our children, and what a comfort it was to have him celebrate the funeral Mass for each of our parents. I’m sure our mother was very pleased to look down and see 12 priests and a bishop with Martin presiding.
I have been told that I have been the subject of many of my brother’s sermons. (Doctors provide good material for TV shows and sermons.) I, in turn, have used what I have heard my brother say, to console the mother of a dying child. I have often seen parallels between being a doctor and being a priest. The priesthood is more than a profession; it is truly a vocation, as is medicine. Both require emotional involvement, personal sacrifice and enormous time commitment. To be a good doctor, one must be willing to empathize with a patient and try to understand all the personal and social causes and consequences of an illness. To be a good priest, one must recognize the often hidden causes of an individual’s frailties and unhappiness, and grasp the complexities of a myriad of personal problems. It is an enormous privilege to be permitted to examine a person’s body or a person’s soul. In each case, a human being places trust and confidence in another human being who is a relative stranger. God works through each of us to heal the body or the soul, and sometimes both.
Christine A. Walsh, M.D. is the sister of Fr. Martin Kull
Fr. Kull is the parochial vicar of St. Anselm in Bay Ridge