“Spiritual mom” Catherine Schroeder and Archdiocese of Omaha seminarian Michael Figura. COURTESY PHOTO

Equipping Disciples

Spiritual moms provide a “dome of grace” around future priests

In the summer of 2022, Michael Figura attended a diocesan seminary program at Creighton University through the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). During the program’s daily holy hour at St. John Church on campus, he often saw the same woman praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

A few weeks later, the seminarian from the Archdiocese of Omaha learned that the woman he saw at the holy hour so often was Catherine Schroeder and that she had been praying all those hours for him.

“I was so pleasantly surprised to find that the woman I had seen adoring the Lord with such faith and joy throughout the summer was actually my own spiritual mom,” Figura said.

Michael Figura

Spiritual moms agree to pray for the seminarians in Omaha for nine weeks each summer as part of the IPF’s Spiritual Moms program. More than 900 women have participated in the program since it began in 2008.

Some women volunteer as general prayer moms, receiving the names of all the seminarians attending the program and saying one Hail Mary for those men every day. Other women are matched up with one seminarian and pray a Hail Mary daily for him.

One-to-one moms also meet their seminarians at a Friends Night near the end of the summer IPF program. The evening includes prayer with Eucharist Adoration followed by a social. This year’s event will take place on July 10.

Linda Antonelli, who coordinates the Spiritual Moms program along with Lisa Goldsmith, said there are several programs across the country in which women are asked to pray for seminarians in their dioceses, but the IPF program is unique because women also pray for men from other dioceses.

Antonelli, a parishioner at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, said the program’s power is rooted in its simplicity. “Being an IPF spiritual mom is a nine-week commitment. One Hail Mary a day. End of story. It was never designed to be anything else.”

Although the program is simple, its effect on those involved is anything but ordinary.

“Several years ago, an IPF faculty member commented that he sensed a ‘dome of grace’ over the seminarians that summer and attributed it to the prayers of the hundreds of women praying for the men participating in the IPF seminarian program,” Antonelli said.

Schroeder, who has 10 spiritual sons, continues to pray for each of them long after the summer program ends and stays in contact with them whenever possible. Currently in his third year of seminary at the North American College in Rome, Figura enjoys keeping in frequent touch with Schroeder.

“Catherine and I stay in contact pretty regularly over WhatsApp,” Figura said. “She often sends me encouraging messages and we message back and forth about every month or so. On tough days her presence and words provide comfort and on good days she helps me to rejoice in the Lord. Our relationship is a huge source of grace.”

With fewer men entering the seminary, Antonelli and Goldsmith, a parishioner at St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, believe prayers are the most powerful antidote to the current shortage of priests. They also believe prayer is critical for the men who are discerning their call to the priesthood of the Catholic Church and striving to be holy men of God.

Of course, spiritual moms often do more than just say a single Hail Mary each day. While the seminarians are in Omaha for the summer, Schroeder invites her spiritual sons to her home in Hancock, Iowa, for a day or a weekend. She always encourages them to bring along other seminarians.

Michael Figura and another seminarian with horses at Catherine Schroeder’s home in Hancock, Iowa. COURTESY PHOTO

A spiritual mom since 2012, Schroeder also is the executive director of Gabriel’s Corner, a pro-life pregnancy care center in Council Bluffs. While at her home, she asks seminarians to spend time there.

Catherine Schroeder’s spiritual son Michael Figura and fellow seminarians visit Gabriel’s Corner pro-life pregnancy crisis center. COURTESY PHOTO

She said “her boys” – seminarians who hail from Alaska to Texas to Boston and places in between – feel blessed to have a spiritual mother.

Father Luis Rodarte of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, and Schroeder’s seventh spiritual son, concurs.

Father Luis Rodarte and Catherine Schroeder. COURTESY PHOTO

“When I was young, I thought a mother’s prayer for her child was one of the most powerful prayers,” Rodarte said. “My mother’s prayers have brought me to where I am today. IPF Spiritual Moms program brings that into practice. It is not simply a stranger praying for a stranger, but a woman who brings her maternal instinct into her prayer for a young man who requires prayer during a constant spiritual battle.”

Rodarte said that even if a seminarian only meets with his spiritual mother once or twice, the power of the connection is hard to describe and remains long after their summer in Omaha is over.

“Just as at the foot of the Cross, Jesus gives us His Mother as our Blessed Mother. Through the Spiritual Moms program, God gave us these women as mothers who will pray for us, support us spiritually, and in turn, we too pray for them.”

Schroeder, who learned about the Spiritual Moms program while volunteering at Spirit Catholic Radio in Omaha, feels so strongly about the program that she has recruited four friends to join. She also encourages others to consider becoming a spiritual mom.

“It is the most fulfilling and rewarding gift to be blessed to pray for a future priest,” she said. “You can help to change a life, to help your son love Mother Mary and love Jesus just a little bit more while he is discerning.”

All seminarians attending this summer’s IPF diocesan program have been assigned their one-on-one spiritual mom. However, those wishing to be general prayer moms can still sign up here.


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