Maria-Cruz Gray receives a blessing from the "beautiful hands" of her newly ordained son, Christopher, who will go on to bless many more.
To get a sense of the emotions that mothers of seminarians experience when their sons are ordained to the priesthood, Extension magazine spoke with two mothers in the mission dioceses whose sons were ordained this summer — one to the priesthood and one a transitional deacon (the step before priestly ordination). These young men were supported by Catholic Extension throughout their studies, for which their mothers were grateful. Both also were humble about their roles in their sons’ holy journeys — and immensely proud and overjoyed at the blessing of having a priest in the family.
Maria-Cruz Gray, who serves as director of Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, spoke to us just weeks before her son, Christopher, was ordained. It might seem inevitable that Christopher felt a calling, given not only Maria’s position, but also her husband Forrest’s position as a deacon and director of the diocese’s permanent diaconate program. Maria, however, took no credit.
“I’m very grateful, but we didn’t encourage it,” she said. “It has to come from the Lord. We are normal people. We would be proud of anything our children did. But Christopher is following the Lord. What Catholic mother wouldn’t want that?”
Christopher is the youngest of the Gray children, born many years after his two older siblings — an “oops” baby, according to Maria. “I had him when I was an old lady,” she said with a chuckle. “He was a very happy, normal kid, but he always told me, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a priest.’”
Perhaps the surprise of Christopher’s birth was an illustration of the mystery of how God works because his dream of the priesthood was still strong when he graduated from high school. Taking the long view, Maria said she wanted him to be sure. “I told him to first go to college, meet girls and then think about it. I thought he needed time.”
But then Christopher graduated from college and said he was ready. His commitment never wavered.
So what is Maria feeling now, as she awaits his special day? “I am so numb and excited, and my husband is just beside himself. We are so happy for Christopher. On that day (ordination), I probably won’t even recognize my own name.
“Christopher has so many dreams for what he wants to do for the people of God,” she said. “Yes, I am grateful to the Lord, but mostly I am prayerful. We pray for him because it’s not an easy life, but the Holy Spirit guides people.”
She added, “If I met another mother whose son was considering the priesthood, I would give her a big hug and say, ‘How blessed you are!’”
Margarita Barragan, with her husband, Rafael, at her side, clutches her son’s hand during the Mass celebrating his ordination as a transitional deacon at Holy Family Church in Yakima.
In Cowiche, Washington, in the Diocese of Yakima, Margarita Barragan shared the story of her son Eduardo, or “Lalo,” in the weeks before his ordination as a transitional deacon. One of nine children of Margarita and her husband, Rafael, Lalo started out as a fieldworker. Going to seminary was not part of his plan. “He worked harvesting apples,” said Margarita. “At 16 years of age, he would harvest 10 to 12 bins every day. He also worked in an apple packinghouse from seven in the morning until 10 at night.”
Lalo ultimately got his GED, went to college, and worked at various jobs for 10 years while also serving as a youth leader at his parish. But unbeknownst to anyone, his heart was being pulled toward seminary.
“Before he told any of us that he wanted to go to seminary, one of my nieces had a dream that my son Jesús (Lalo’s brother) who died in an accident, came to her and said to congratulate Lalo on the step he’s taking. We didn’t know what step that was,” said Margarita. “Then Lalo came to us and said, ‘I’m thinking about going to seminary.’”
According to Margarita, Lalo’s vocation came from deep within him and was a “gift from God.” And while she and Rafael were overjoyed, they knew they could not afford seminary tuition. “We said, ‘By all means do it, but sadly, we can’t help you economically. But you have our support in prayer and in all other ways.’”
Because Catholic Extension provided a scholarship for Lalo to attend seminary, his dream has been realized. His mother was overcome with emotion. “Imagine it,” she said. “Put yourself in the position I am in. I am a mother who is proud, happy and thankful for all of her children, but right now, especially for Lalo. Anywhere he goes, he will be a faithful servant of God.”