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Kevin and Kit Cummings, the parents of Father Evan Cummings, C.S.P., with their son

When their son first began the process of joining the Paulist Fathers, Kevin and Kit Cummings, the parents of Father Evan Cummings, C.S.P., were supportive but filled with questions. (Photo: Marie Mischel)

HOW ARE my parents going to take it? This can be a nagging question for those looking at the possibility of joining a religious community. While each family is unique, VISION brings you the stories of two parents who wondered about everything from contact with their child to who would pay seminary costs.

By Kevin Cummings, father of Father Evan Cummings, C.S.P.

For as long as we could remember, Evan wanted to be an engineer. When he came home one Thanksgiving and declared that he felt called to be a priest instead, we were surprised but not stunned. We had always been open to a religious vocation for our two sons; we didn’t push it, but it always made the list of possibilities.

We were proud that he was considering a religious vocation, and at the same time we had a lot of questions. We had no idea what the process of becoming a priest looked like or what Evan would have to do. Would he finish his bachelor’s degree or go right off to seminary? Who would cover the cost of seminary? What would his life be like in seminary and after?

We started researching and found there wasn’t much information available for parents. Most of what we did find was along the lines of, “Congratulations! Pray for your child!”

This wasn’t entirely satisfying. Two things helped us. First of all, Evan’s vocation director from the Paulist religious community came to Utah to visit us. We had him over for dinner and then sat on the patio and talked for a couple of hours. The relaxed atmosphere made it safe for us to ask our questions. The second thing that helped was learning that formation (preparation to be a priest) was about ongoing discernment. It wasn’t a single moment in time, but a process that would continue through the next several years.

Based on that first conversation, we realized that we had a lot to learn. We decided to start a blog to record our experiences of Evan’s journey and to post answers to questions as we found them. The blog still exists at

We dove right in and explored the nature of vocations, the role of a vocation director, the difference between a religious priest and diocesan priest, how long formation took, what the stages were, whether religious are happy in their lives, and whether or not we’d be able to talk to Evan. The big question (and the one that drives the most traffic to our site) is: Who pays for seminary?

Through the blog, we heard from other parents and young people with questions similar to ours. Religious life is a mystery to most Americans. Most of us only know the priest as that guy on the altar every Sunday, and we only know religious sisters if some happen to minister in our community. Otherwise, everything we know about religious life comes from TV and movies.

There can be a clericalism that separates the priests from the people. Priests and religious are often seen as remote and unapproachable, so it’s natural parents think that they will lose contact with their child. Our experience with Evan has been quite the opposite. We’re able to talk to him frequently. More important, we were able to visit him in the seminary as welcome guests of his community. Through those interactions, we got to meet and spend time with several priests. Getting to know them gave us insights into what Evan’s life would be like.

After Evan began his discernment—entering the Paulist Fathers in 2013—we made it a point to host visiting priests for meals as often as possible. Even though they weren’t in Evan’s order, they were able to tell us about their experiences, good and bad, of the priesthood. The more we were able to see the priesthood through their eyes, the more comfortable we felt with Evan’s path.

Our ease with Evan’s vocation started with that positive first interaction with Evan’s vocation director. He clearly understood that, in a very real way, Evan was contemplating leaving our family and joining the family of his order. He didn’t tell us, “Thanks! We’ll take it from here.” Over time we could see that Evan would be safe and well cared for. And so today Evan is part of two families, ours and the Paulists.

Lori Williams with her daughter, Sister Kelly Williams, R.S.M.
Lori Williams with her daughter, Sister Kelly Williams, R.S.M. (Photo courtesy of Lori Williams)

By Lori Williams, mother of Sister Kelly Williams, R.S.M.

My initial response to our daughter entering religious life happened while she and I attended a youth conference when she was in high school. She and several other teens had gathered for Eucharistic Adoration. I happened to look their way briefly. In that moment, God spoke to my heart, “Will you be OK with my plan for her?”

Kelly had never been one to openly cry in front of others even when she was hurt. In that moment I saw her glowing smile and tears of peaceful joy. I quietly whispered to myself and to God, “Yes.”

Over the next few days, I began to process this extraordinary experience. I realized I had been given a gift, a window into the possibility of her future as a religious. I knew Kelly would be the one who needed to make that choice, and I would be the one to provide the space to do so.

Then I thought about the impact her potential decision would have on me. We have five sons and only one daughter. I would never celebrate her engagement or be the mother of the bride. She would not need me to be with her when she welcomed children into the world. She would have so many women to support her, to guide her, and to celebrate important moments in her life. I would no longer be her primary confidante. What place would I hold in her life?

I concluded that it would be selfish on my part to even try to hold her back. I had realized long before that night that our children really do belong to God. All that we are called to do is for a greater purpose and that purpose is to glorify the Creator. Kelly has so much to offer our troubled world, so much positivity, so much joy, and so much love for God and God’s people. It would be many years later, and with prayerful discernment, that she joined the Sisters of Mercy.

Her brothers had some initial concerns. Here is a sample:

1. How often would they get to see her?

2. Would she still get to have fun?

3. Would she get to choose her profession? (Now they know that in religious life it is called ministry.)

4. Does she have a voice on where she will live?

5. Will she have a car and what about car insurance?

6. Can they visit her?

7. Who will be responsible for her health insurance?

8. Will she have a personal cell phone?

When my sons brought their questions to me, I simply suggested they ask her instead. Soon they realized the Sisters of Mercy community is very welcoming. They see her on holidays, summer breaks, and family occasions. They all know they will be invited to attend her important formation events as well. They recognize that her voice is heard regarding how she feels called to serve, and they have visited her at many of her community homes. She is always on board with whatever fun activity is to be had when she is with them.

My mother also expressed misgivings regarding Kelly’s choice to enter religious life. Her most frequent question was, “When does she get her habit?” My mum’s youngest sister, clothed in a black habit, entered the convent nearly 60 years ago through a formidable black gate. Religious life was very mysterious at that time. For the Sisters of Mercy, much has changed since then. Mum realizes now that Kelly is very happy as a sister, she won’t need to cut her very long hair unless she wants to, and she is not required to wear a religious habit. (My aunt no longer wears one either.)

The 2020 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life revealed that parent hesitation is not uncommon. Only 60 percent of the parents were “somewhat or very much” in support, and around one half of those favorable parents fell into the lukewarm “somewhat supportive” category. I had a hint of this reality through discussions with Kelly and some of the other newer members. As parents, we always want what is best for our kids. We especially want what will make them happy. It is so important to remember that God also wants what’s best for them and what will bring them joy.

I intentionally looked for ways to support and encourage Kelly as much as I could. I did a great deal of praying and tried to remember to invite God into this life decision process, just like I did with all our children. I had to come to terms with the fact that the average age of the Sisters of Mercy today is between 70 and 80 years old. Instead of focusing on this huge difference, however, I focus on the positive. I realized Kelly would be mentored with the wisdom of so many women, who, in their advanced stages of life, are still active in their ministries.

As a Catholic lay minister myself, I was blessed to have had a working relationship with the sister who would later be Kelly’s vocation minister. I felt very comfortable expressing my thoughts during our many conversations. It took away the mystery. Throughout the formation process, the wonder of technology allowed our family to stay in touch with Kelly and to follow her journey. The Sisters of Mercy community helped me to truly be at peace with her decision. It has now been over nine years, and Kelly has embraced her life as a Catholic sister. I see clearly that our daughter is not leaving her family. Through the grace of God, she has joyfully expanded it. 

This article is based on presentations in a webinar series by VISION’s parent organization, the National Religious Vocation Conference. Find “Religious Life Today Webinar 5: Addressing Parental Concerns: Wisdom and Advice” at

Related article:, “How to talk to family about your vocation.”

By Kevin Cummings, founder of seminarian and father of two sons, including Father Evan Cummings, C.S.P.
By Lori Williams, a retired educator, parish RCIA director, and mother of six, including Sister Kelly Williams, R.S.M.




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