Vocations Grow on Trees—Family Trees

On Monday August 21, 2017, while the nation was transfixed by the first total solar eclipse in 26 years, the Carrion brothers, Michael and Patrick, were busy celebrating 75 years of priesthood with clergy and religious from throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

“We invited seven pairs of family members who are either priests or religious, and even the sun, the moon, and the stars celebrated with us. Sort of like the Star of Bethlehem,” joked Fr. Patrick.On that day, Fr. Michael had been a priest for exactly 40 years and three months, and Fr. Patrick for 34 years and nine months. They invited:

  • Brothers Fr. Michael Roach and Fr. Thomas Roach, S.J.
  • Brothers Fr. Jesse Bolger and Br. Justin Bolger
  • Brothers Fr. Michael Rubeling and seminarian Peter Rubeling
  • Brothers Fr. Andrew DeFusco and seminarian Matthew DeFusco
  • Deacon Frank Laws and his son Fr. Josh Laws
  • And perhaps the most unique pair, Fr. John Rapisarda, whose dad Greg was an ordained deacon, until he was widowed, later being ordained Fr. Greg Rapisarda

If the celebration was an indication of anything, it is that vocations grow on trees—family trees.

Fr. Michael and Fr. Patrick aren’t the only priestly or religious vocations in their immediate family. Each of their parents has an aunt who was a religious sister; Sister Mary of the Divine Heart, R.G.S, and Sr. Mary Bernardella, S.S.N.D.

Their uncle Fr. Martin Flahavan was a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a frequent family visitor.

“He came to the house a lot, and he was always ‘uncle Martin,’ not, ‘Father Flahavan.’ Being a priest, to us, was something normal, something basic. It was just a part of growing up,” Fr. Patrick said.

Michael, Patrick, and their brother Timothy were all altar servers growing up in a devout Catholic household with parents Walter and Helen, but Fr. Michael’s path to the priesthood was sudden. He hadn’t considered it until he was about to graduate from high school, then almost suddenly made the decision to enter college seminary.

Fr. Patrick’s discernment process was almost exactly opposite his brother’s. His first recollection of considering the priesthood came when he was seven years old, but, though the desire for the priesthood was there, he chose to go to the University of Maryland. After graduating, he considered pursuing a Masters in Public Health.

But that was when he finally decided to enter seminary. He went home to tell his parents, whose reaction was surprising—at least to him.

“I thought, ‘If I’m ever going to try this, this is the time to try it, so I went home to tell my parents,” Fr. Patrick said. “They were like, ‘That doesn’t surprise us. Michael, he surprised us. But you? That doesn’t surprise us at all.”

While Patrick was in seminary, having a brother who was a priest—Fr. Michael was ordained in 1977, five years before Fr. Patrick’s ordination—came in handy.

“I can remember some times in the seminary, very vividly, Michael and I were coming back from burying our aunt. It was my first semester in seminary and I was having a difficult time. I was able to share that with Michael. It was safe. I needed advice, and he was there. He could provide that perspective as a priest, a former seminarian, and as my brother.”

Brother priests man the grill

To this day, they continue to be “brother priests” in every sense of the phrase.

“There are a lot of times where something comes up that you need to talk about, a struggle or a problem, and you know you’ve got somebody who understands exactly what you’re talking about,” Fr. Michael said. “He’s living the same life as me, and he’s my brother. I don’t have to reach out to somebody official in the diocese. I can always call my priest brother.”