God calls three siblings to religious vocations: Family members see the abundance as a mysterious, divine gift
November 15, 2021
How three religious vocations blossomed from one family – that of Tony and Mary Davis of St. Mary Parish in Bellevue – is somewhat of a mystery, even to family members.
Two of the siblings were ordained as priests this past May.
Dominican Father Frassati Davis, 29, entered the seminary first but was ordained a week later than his younger brother, Father Tony Davis, 27, of the Archdiocese of Denver.
Sister Kara Davis, 32, of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, will soon make a more permanent commitment to her religious community, as she makes her first annual vows Nov. 27.
The Daughters of Charity don’t have temporary and permanent vows as many religious communities do. They make the annual vows instead. They profess their first annual vows – of poverty, chastity, obedience and service to the poor – typically five to seven years after entering the order, at a time when sisters of other religious communities would be making their final vows.
A fourth Davis sibling, Lindsey, 35, lives and works in Portland, Oregon, and has been able to share in the family’s joy at ordinations and other events.
Why God called three of the four Davis children into religious life is “kind of a mystery,” said Father Frassati, who serves at St. Patrick Parish in Columbus, Ohio, and was interviewed by phone. Other family members responded to questions by email. Statistically, odds aren’t in favor of multiple religious vocations because most people who discern religious life don’t end up in religious life, Father Frassati said. “They find that God is calling them to other things, and that’s good.”
Sometimes an extended family member who is a priest, brother or sister helps plant a vocation seed. But “there’s no history of that at all” in his family, he said. “So it’s a mystery of God’s providence.”
LOVE, PRAYER AND SACRIFICE
No one in the family would describe their family as extraordinarily religious.
But there are some influences they pointed to: the love and self-sacrifice they were surrounded with as they grew up – and prayer.
“I wouldn’t say we were particularly ‘holy’ in ways you might expect for a family with two priests and a Catholic sister,” said Sister Kara, who serves in Chicago as a speech therapist for children and as a disability services coordinator for low-income and working-class families.
“But when people ask me this question (about how her family influenced her vocation), my simple answer is love,” she said. “I never doubted for a moment that I was loved. Our parents saturated us with their love, just to give us a taste of God’s love for us and what that feels like. I think when you have that kind of radical love in your life, it makes you think about how you’re called to love.”
Father Tony Davis, who plans to become a military chaplain following his first priestly assignment at St. Stephen Parish in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, echoed many of her sentiments.
“My family provided me with a foundation that helped me discern the will of God when the time was right,” he said.
“We did not grow up in a super Catholic environment,” he said. “Yes, we went to Mass on Sundays, we prayed before dinner, and my parents were involved in the Church, but it is not like we just sat around and read the Bible all day. We played sports, we played outside, we fought, we argued, but most importantly, we loved.
“I think the main reason I was able to encounter the Lord in college and then receive a vocation to the priesthood is because I grew up in a family that taught me what love and sacrifice looked like,” Father Tony Davis said. “My father taught me with his example what sacrifice and hard work looked like, and my mother taught me about compassion and love.
“I never doubted that my parents not only loved me, but that they loved each other,” he said. “Love was present in our household, so when the time came to encounter and listen to the fullness of Love, I believe I was well disposed to listen.”
CHRIST AT THE CENTER
The parents tried to keep a simple focus for their family, said Mary Davis. “We lived out our faith by making God our priority. Life was lived through the lens of Christ being central to everything.”
The mother is a resource teacher at Ss. Peter and Paul School in Omaha and was honored by the archdiocese in September as an educator of the year. Her husband is retired from the Air Force and works as a contractor at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue.
“We stressed the importance of helping others before self, because it is in service that we are helping God, and nothing is more important,” she said. “It’s really pretty simple. As I heard Father Tony say in a homily … ‘It might not be easy, but it is simple.’”
“Our home was pretty normal, but one thing that cannot be ignored is that our kids were surrounded by friends, family and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bellevue,” all providing “wonderful examples of Catholic life,” she said.
Father Frassati said his parents’ prayers have been crucial.
“I knew that the Lord was at work just because my parents always prayed for us, even if we didn’t always know it,” he said.
Being raised in a military family also helped him, Father Frassati said. The family lived in North Dakota, Tennessee, California, Virginia, Nebraska, Japan and Illinois. They lived in Bellevue from 1996 to 2003, and the parents returned to Bellevue as empty nesters in 2012.
“I think moving around so much helped prepare me for a vocation where I would not be able to stay in one place for the rest of my life, especially being a religious,” Father Frassati said. “We can move all around the country, we can move to other parts of the world, and be able to move on relatively short notice. It really requires you to have that skill of being able to adapt, without that feeling of your whole life being ripped from under you.”
Sister Kara first felt God calling her to religious life at age 14, but she had to delay that calling.
“I first considered religious life when I was a freshman in high school and participating in a Confirmation retreat with my religious education class in Okinawa, Japan,” she said. “As part of the retreat, we were given an envelope with letters from family and friends back home, full of encouragement and promises of prayers. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, and my response to that love was the desire to give myself to God.
“As a 14-year-old, I thought that meant being a nun,” she said. “ I considered it briefly, but since I was a teenager, I knew I wasn’t going to run to the convent any time soon and figured if God was calling me to religious life, I’d figure it out later, especially since I didn’t know any sisters or religious communities.
“I started college at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in 2008, and the thought of religious life re-entered my mind from time to time, typically while on a retreat or pilgrimage,” Sister Kara said. “Sometimes folks would even ask me if I ever considered being a nun, and I felt embarrassed and wondered why they would ask me that question. I was particularly caught off guard when my boyfriend brought it up!
“I was on the Newman leadership team and involved as a Bible study leader, retreat and pilgrimage leader, and participated in the Catholic Scholars Program to study theology. I started going to daily Mass and meeting with a spiritual director because I had the desire to deepen my relationship with God, not to discern religious life.
“However, the tug in my heart never went away, and eventually I started visiting communities and talking with sisters,” she said. “After getting involved with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and living at a Catholic Worker House, I felt called to deepen my vocation to serve Christ in the poor and found the Daughters of Charity to be a good fit.”
“In 2014, after graduating with my master’s degree in speech-language pathology from Eastern Illinois University and walking over 500 miles across Spain to complete the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I moved in with the Sisters in New Orleans … as a pre-postulant,” she said. “I was also in New Orleans the following year as a postulant.
“On August 21, 2016, I celebrated my Incorporation into the community, officially becoming a Daughter of Charity, wearing the habit and using the title ‘Sister.’ I moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to begin my 20 months as a seminary sister,” similar to a novice in other communities, she said.
Sister Kara belongs to her order’s Province of St. Louise, based in St. Louis and including much of the eastern United States.
“On April 20, 2018, I celebrated my Sending on Mission,” she said, “and was sent from the seminary to Chicago for my first mission, and where I continue to serve today. The Sending on Mission is a similar stage of formation to temporary vows typically celebrated by religious communities after their novitiate,” she explained.
Father Frassati belongs to the Dominicans’ Province of St. Joseph, which covers much of the eastern United States. He said his order’s central mission is to preach for the salvation of souls.
“What attracted me to the Dominicans was their emphasis on formation and solid preaching – just kind of this intellectual aspect that really forms everything that we do as priests and religious,” he said.
Before religious life, he was Alexander “Alex” DiMeo Davis, named after two great-grandfathers. His religious name is a tribute to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a lay Dominican from Italy who died in 1925 at age 24 and was beatified in 1990.
Father Frassati initially entered the seminary to become a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Peoria in Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before taking time off in the Omaha area to discern a calling to a religious order.
He worked for a year in campus ministry at Mount Michael Benedictine School in Elkhorn and lived at the abbey there. At the same time, he volunteered with the Pro Sanctity Movement, helping with Confirmation retreats and other assignments.
Father Frassati visited different religious communities and in 2014 was persuaded by a friend to make a retreat with the Dominicans in Washington, D.C.
“I came back to Omaha thinking it wasn’t for me,” he said. “But the more I prayed about it, the more it seemed like it would be really good for me to be open to being a Dominican. Even once I applied and entered and took the habit, I was not 100% convinced that this was for me.”
But the more he prayed, the more he became convinced.
“There’s a lot that happens in prayer,” Father Frassati said. “There’s a lot that God does to us and for us. We tend to think that we’re in control of our narrative and of who we want to be and what we want to accomplish. But once we’re actually open to what God wants, that’s when we’re going to be truly happiest.”
Father Frassati was formed as a novice in Cincinnati and studied for the priesthood in Washington, D.C. He spent summers in Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago and New York City. In his last year of formation, as a deacon, he taught at a high school and worked in a hospital.
As his first priestly assignment, he ministers to youth and lives in a community with seven other Dominicans.
FATHER TONY DAVIS
“When I was in college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, I had a huge conversion back to the Catholic faith,” Father Tony Davis said. “Some would call it a re-conversion, and this is what caused me to begin discerning my vocation.”
“I had my re-conversion in February of my freshman year of college, (and) I quickly dove straight into the faith,” he said. “In December of that same year, I visited the seminary for the first time, and I decided that despite not having a desire to be a priest, that I would give God a shot.”
He began studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver in 2014. He and his classmates began with a “spirituality year,” “diving into Scripture and catechism, the lives of the saints, apostolic work, retreats and community life.
“It is truly an incredible year because it gives guys a time to discern their call to the priesthood in a very intentional way before entering a formal class setting and beginning philosophical and theological studies,” Father Tony Davis said.
“During most of the year, I did not feel called to the priesthood,” he said, but “I told God that I would be there until he told me to leave. I decided that just as I heard the voice of God when I had my re-conversion back to the faith, I would not leave until I definitively heard his voice affirm or reject a call to the priesthood.
“Long story short, on a 30-day silent retreat that concludes the spirituality year, I not only received a clear affirmation that I was called to the priesthood, but I also received a call within the call.”
“It was very clear that I was called to serve the lost and forgotten sheep scattered throughout the world in the United States Armed Forces,” he said. “So I am a chaplain candidate, and when my time at St. Stephen’s Parish in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is complete, I will go active duty with the USN (U.S. Navy) and USMC (U.S. Marine Corps) as a Catholic chaplain.”
“Priesthood is hands down the most amazing gift I have ever received,” Father Tony Davis said. “I get to lay my life down in service of God’s people for the rest of my life. It is a humbling and daunting task, but it is totally worth it.”
Mary Davis credits her children for their openness to their vocations.
“I think that our kids are really good listeners,” she said. “Three of them heard God calling and they said yes.”
“God’s plans are always the best, better than anything we can dream up,” she said. “We are not sure why he called these vocations from our family,” she said, “but since he did, we are grateful.
“We have to be open to whatever is in front of us. We pray, listen, and support one another and continue to cooperate with God’s plan.”