Brothers who are now priests say strong family life key to all vocations

Fathers Andrew and Benjamin Syberg, Anthony and John Hollowell, and Doug and David Marcotte pose June 25 in the rectory of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis after Father Anthony was ordained a priest. That ordination rounded out three sets of brothers ordained for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2009. (CNS/Sean Gallagher, Criterion)

Fathers Andrew and Benjamin Syberg, Anthony and John Hollowell, and Doug and David Marcotte pose June 25 in the rectory of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis after Father Anthony was ordained a priest. That ordination rounded out three sets of brothers ordained for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2009. (CNS/Sean Gallagher, Criterion)

By Sean Gallagher
Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — He had planned this moment for months, had thought about it for years. What would he say in this profound moment in his life and the life of his brother that both would remember for the rest of their lives?

Yet when Father John Hollowell came to his younger brother, Father Anthony Hollowell, to give him a sign of peace minutes after he was ordained a priest, all of his planning disappeared and he said words that he never considered: “I love you.”

This moment, which Father John described as “a blessing of the Spirit,” happened June 25 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis when Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin ordained six men as priests for service to the church in central and southern Indiana.

When Father Anthony Hollowell became a priest that day, he filled out three sets of brothers who have been ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2009.

All priests share a common brotherhood in their deep bond of ordained life and ministry. Fathers Anthony and John Hollowell, David and Doug Marcotte, and Andrew and Benjamin Syberg experience it at an even deeper level as brothers. And they hope their witness will deepen the faith of archdiocesan Catholics, and encourage them to make their families the seed bed of future vocations.

But while they recognize the importance that growing up in faith-filled families had on their future as priests, the priests acknowledged that growing up together came with more than its fair share of scuffles.

“Love fight,” said Father Anthony while reflecting on the times when he and three of his brothers would wrestle their oldest brother John.

“In our family life growing up, we fought a lot,” Father Anthony told The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. “But, in my mind, it was never outside of the context of our love for each other. You could stretch it at times. But, even in our worst fights … there was always a deep love there.”

Fathers Doug and David were the only children in their family, and were born less than two years apart.

“Just being the two of us, we played together quite a bit,” said Father Doug, pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Augustine parishes, both in Jeffersonville. “But being brothers, at times it ended up with a dispute and a fight.”

Brothers also can be “partners in crime” in both their youth and adulthood, as Fathers Andrew and Benjamin found out when they were classmates for a period while in priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

“We got into a little trouble,” Father Benjamin said with a laugh. “We’d have too much fun sometimes. There’d be some slapping and giggling with us sitting in the back of class from time to time. We got along so well.”

In the midst of all the fun times and fights they’d have as children, the brothers also had the faith planted in them by loving parents who then nurtured those seeds with love, but also in other ordinary ways.

One was an uncompromising dedication to attending Mass on Sunday.

“We were at Mass every single Sunday, unless you were bleeding or dying,” said Father Doug, who was ordained in 2013. “You were there.”

“If we were on vacation, Dad was going to find us a place to go to Mass,” said Father Anthony, who is pursuing graduate studies in Rome.

These priests all cited their parents’ example of living out their faith and their vocation to marriage.

“That was the first vocation that we were exposed to, and it was a very solid one,” said Father Andrew, associate pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

His brother recalled the influence of his parents’ dedication to spending an hour in adoration of the Eucharist each week at 2 a.m. on Tuesdays in a perpetual adoration chapel.

“Even as a kid, not being all that prayerful, I knew that my parents prayed and I knew that it was important,” said Father Benjamin, who was ordained in 2014 and serves as administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli. “I believe that so much grace over the years has come from their continued dedication to do that. God is very rich in his blessings when we continually turn to him in that kind of way.”

The Marcotte brothers also saw in their parents a witness to the importance of service in the church by “being active in a variety of things” at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield where they grew up.

“They both spent time in giving to God,” said Father David, who was ordained in 2014 and serves as administrator of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville. “That helped us to think about what ways we could give of ourselves to the church as well.”

As young adults, each of the brothers came to discern that God was calling them to serve as priests.

Among the six, the brothers who were ordained second acknowledged some influence on their own discernment from those that preceded them in the seminary. When they were in priestly formation, the brothers supported each other.

For all three sets of brothers, the importance of the family in fostering vocations is key.

“That is where vocations are found, that’s where they’re discovered, that’s where they’re fostered, that’s where they grow,” said Father Andrew. “That’s where it starts. The family is so important to vocations, whether it’s married life or (religious life) or the priesthood. Parents are the driving force behind that.”

Father Benjamin agreed. “It’s about the family. And, to go deeper, it’s about marriage. Two people who love each other completely and live that out in the church are the greatest thing that can produce vocations to the priesthood.”

The church, Catholics and the broader society should do all they can to bolster families, Father Doug said.

“I don’t think we are going to solve the priesthood crisis — or the marriage crisis — without strengthening our families,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that there are not priests who come from less than ideal family situations.

“But, I think we do have to acknowledge that strong families help people to be able to say, ‘Yes,’ because they’ve been formed day in and day out.”

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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