Danville mother promotes “spiritual motherhood” for priests

By: By Jennifer Willems

DANVILLE — With seven grown children, Mary Dyas has an active prayer life.

She prays that they will be happy. She prays that they will remain strong in their faith. She prays that they will continue to seek out God’s plan for them and follow it.

She prays for other people’s children, too.

One of her “very special prayers” each day is for men and women who feel a call to the priesthood or religious life and don’t have the support of their families.

“I’m flabbergasted at how many parents do not encourage their children,” Dyas told The Catholic Post. “If (children) even voice the possibility of a vocation they are dissuaded.”

She knows how important support for a vocation can be. One of her six sons, Stephen, came to her in the seventh grade and said he thought he might be called to the priesthood. He wanted to study with the Legionaries of Christ, a religious community they knew well through summer retreats and family connections.

Even though it meant he would have to leave home to begin his formation in the eighth grade, she let him go.

“I believed he would be in hands of good Catholic role models,” she said. “I thought, ‘If they don’t think he has a vocation, they won’t keep him. If he doesn’t like it, they won’t keep him either. But if he likes it and they think he has a vocation, it’s a win-win situation.'”

Stephen was one of 48 men ordained for the Legionaries of Christ on Dec. 22, 2007, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. He currently is serving at Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Cornwall, Ontario, in Canada.

Dyas said Father Stephen’s vocation and the vocation of all priests is also a winning situation for the world.

“My son could be a CEO or a doctor or a lawyer and those are all commendable professions,” she said. “But my son’s work is for eternity. It’s for God. There will be no end to it.”

And she doesn’t despair at the thought that her priest-son won’t give her grandchildren, the way many other parents do.

“I told Stephen, ‘Every soul you save will be my spiritual grandchild.’ That’s the way I look at it,” Dyas said. “I pray for everything he does, like I do for all my children and grandchildren.”

His ministry also made her aware of the need priests have for another kind of motherhood — spiritual motherhood. Through this effort, women are encouraged to offer their prayers and sacrifices to strengthen and support the clergy.

In the Diocese of Peoria, this work has been entrusted to the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary at Nazareth House in rural Henry and is supported by the Bishop’s Commission on Women in the Church and in Society. A new member of the commission, Dyas said her hand “shot up” when the group was seeking a chair for its spiritual motherhood committee.
She told The Post that all the clergy in the Diocese of Peoria are covered, but the goal is to have five people praying for every priest.

“How blessed we are to have a bishop who thinks so much about his priests,” Dyas said.

Talking about spiritual things comes easily for Dyas, who grew up in a family where the faith was lived throughout the week and not just on Sunday.

Her parents, John and Mary O’Neill, were active in their parish, St. Jude in New Lennox, and hosted church functions on their property. John also took the Pilgrim Virgin statue to houses in the area, and Mary would gather the children around her for night prayer.

Dyas continued that reliance on prayer when she started her own family. After her marriage ended in 1986 and her children were grown, she explored a vocation to religious life. She currently works as a teaching assistant in a special education class at Southwest Elementary School in Danville.

A member of St. Anthony Parish in Hoopeston, she serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. With her sister, Mary Elizabeth Timmons, she teaches second grade in the parish religious education program.

As Mother’s Day approaches, she thanks God for the gift of all her children and grandchildren and the special gift God entrusted to them in the form of Father Stephen’s vocation.

“It isn’t just a personal thing. It’s not just my son, the priest, but our son the priest,” Dyas told The Post. “It affects all of us. It’s a privilege, a joy and a blessing for our family and our friends.”

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