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The Secret to Helping Children Find Their Vocations - Mary Donallen

The Secret to Helping Children Find Their Vocations


Mary Donellan says parents can find in homeschooling the unique opportunity to fully foster their children’s desire to discover their God-given vocations.

This surely ranks as the most popular question posed by Big People who are trying to start an amiable conversation with young children:

“So! What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Take a moment, though, and pity these questioners when they come to my house!

They’re expecting ecstatic or at least calmly emphatic responses such as, “A firefighter!” “A nurse,” or “A trapeze artist—no, wait, a NASCAR driver!” (At this declaration, the Big Person jokingly asks the parents if they work in life insurance sales.)

Vocations Reality Strikes!

But invite these questioners to my family’s home, and they will receive responses much more befuddling, though certainly no less enthusiastic:

“After I own several horses for a while, I want to be Sister Margaret Imelda of the Blessed Sacrament!” one chirps.

“I want to be a priest, because it would be awesome to say Mass . . . and because getting married is gross.” (That’s a twelve-year-old brother answer there, given before he returns to the arduous task of assembling a LEGO pirate ship.)

“I want to be a homeschooling mom with at least ten kids. We’ll live in a slightly crowded house because it’s more pleasantly noisy that way. We’ll do science experiments on the kitchen counter and say the rosary every night. Anything else sounds boring to me.”

(At this moment the Big Person smiles kindly but wonders if these children are answering a question she didn’t actually intend to ask.)

Homeschooling: Focusing on What God Created Us to Be

Across the years of my family’s Catholic homeschooling adventure, we’ve hiked through the domestic landscape of faith formation and education—a landscape that’s mingled with riots of sibling fun (and occasional wrestling matches), joy, suffering, and grace.

In this adventure, my parents harnessed the unique opportunity homeschooling provided them to faithfully foster my siblings’ and my awareness of, and desire to discover, our God-given vocations.

They rightly molded our perspectives on secular careers, and taught us that these ambitions should ultimately be subjected to, or placed at the service of, this calling from Our Lord. I’m forever indebted to my parents for this gift.

Through living out their own vocation to the married state like the true lovebirds they are (and lovingly raising four careening kids), our parents showed us how a career should only assist us in living out our vocations, if such careers are needed—and so our vocations took on an enchanting light, as enchanting as the thought of being an ER doctor or a symphony composer.

What would our vocations be? How would we discover them?

A few old vignettes of our messy little home-church now follow for your entertainment (dim the lights and cue the grainy home videos):

More than once upon a time, my little brother meticulously donned a long white undershirt in place of a chasuble and, with grave reverence, distributed saltines in place of the Eucharist. A toy box was covered with a white tablecloth (stained with grape juice on more than one occasion!) and functioned as the altar.

My youngest sister, barely a toddler with a mop of curly hair, functioned as his disgruntled altar server, lector, cantor, you name it, while my mother and sister were the congregation and attentively obeyed his commands. This was aptly called “playing Mass.”

More than once upon a time, my younger sister constructed a nun’s habit from bedsheets and piously wore them for days on end, pretending our home and backyard were a convent and its adjoining garden. (Hard to do with all the chaos, but she did a brilliant job, nonetheless!)

And once upon a time, while I avidly pursued both classical ballet and fiction writing, I couldn’t ignore my love for little kids, nor resist deeper daydreams of simply being a wife and homeschooling mother, like my own mother.

Eventually I set aside the rigors of ballet, and much later on the ambition of having a series of novels published, as my prayers to St. Anne bore fruit and I was given the gift of living and growing in love in an authentically Catholic courtship.

My younger brother, now nearly a teenager, assists at Mass almost every week (along with my youngest sister), and the sibling who once dressed up in bedsheets is now prayerfully discerning a religious vocation . . . and we know we’re only at the beginning, with many more exciting things to come!

The Battle for Love

Homeschooling provided my siblings and me with this central focus on what God created us to be, for one simple reason: because we homeschool, we live constantly in a church, or, to be more precise, our domestic church, our ecclesia domestica.

Our family’s domestic church was laden with sacramentals, with beautiful religious paintings, holy water, holy books and prayerful habits that reminded us, imperfect people that we are, that Heaven is our only true home. The colorful life of our family served as a constant reminder that (in the words of Pope St. John Paul II)

“The family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love.”

That is why we care so deeply about our vocations.

Our parents who homeschooled us have raised us to care about this struggle between “love and all that is opposed to love,” and have cultivated our desire to step into this earthly battle for love that holds eternal consequences.

This is where vocations come into play.

Whether my siblings and I join the battle as priests, religious, or husbands and wives, we know God will lavish His grace upon us because we are walking the road He designed for our feet, and that’s what we truly desire for our lives.

So while we might be sacrificing the glistening NASCAR track or the beckoning trapeze (well, except for maybe on the weekends now and again . . . no need to limit ourselves!), we know that living out our vocations is only the beginning of the adventure.

About Mary Donellan

Mary Donellan
Mary Donellan is a mercifully blessed homeschool graduate who lives among gorgeous Southern foothills and winding country roads. She spends her hours humming in the laundry room, cherishing her loved ones, reading voraciously, soaking in music, and adoring her Lord at Latin Mass.

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