Entering the Orangevale home of Brian and Jeanne Condon on a Wednesday morning, coffee is brewing in their kitchen and breakfast is being cooked by their son, Ben, 23, a diocesan seminarian home for the summer from his studies at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park.
The house is more peaceful and quiet than years before, when Jeanne was homeschooling their seven sons and one daughter, Elisabeth, 21, who’s still living at home while working and pursuing studies to be a nurse.
Brian and Jeanne met in a San Francisco Bay Area camera shop where he worked at the time. Jeanne was a single parent and had a toddler, Daniel. Brian took the news in stride on their first “date” over a soda on his break. After Jeanne and Brian wed, they had seven more children (including Ben and Elisabeth): Matthew, Michael, Samuel, David and Thomas, Ben’s twin.
Jeanne and Brian celebrated 35 years of marriage in June. Their home is modest and their backyard is quite large and accommodates several sitting areas, a vegetable garden, eight chickens, two dogs and a cat. Jeanne works at St. Clare Parish in Roseville three days a week with duties in the rectory and Brian drives a bus four days each week for routes in downtown Roseville, after working in the camera and photography industry for a few decades.
Homeschooling their eight children kept their Catholic faith and family first. “They each have a different story to tell about it,” Jeanne laughs. “Home is where they first learn how to love. And if you can’t get that right, what do physics, mathematics, geography and other subjects matter if you don’t know how to love?”
“Homeschooling kept our spirituality together,” Brian adds. “And besides that, seven boys needed to run around and they had too much energy for a classroom.”
They worked hard to keep materialism and other secular influences to a minimum. By necessity, the family lived frugally. “We didn’t have much money, and we often say ‘Simplicity chose us, but we have embraced her,’” Jeanne says. “We made it joyful, because we had so much in human relationships around us. Instead of materialism, we made experiences.”
Each weekday started with the “School of Quiet.” With eight kids, “there is noise all the time,” Jeanne notes. “I wanted them to get used to the quiet, so they could listen to God speak in their hearts.” There was the morning offering and the Gospel reading, the Angelus at noon, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 p.m. and the rosary in the evening. The chaplet was followed by “tea time” and Jeanne reading poetry. “We would talk about what was going on in each other’s lives and who we needed to pray for,” she says. Today, with the perspective of years gone by, Jeanne and Brian reflect and offer some advice to other parents about how they worked diligently to create a loving family and a home that would encourage and support vocations.
In addition to a rich prayer life to ground a family, they stress also entering into parish life fully. After they moved from the Bay Area in 2004, they made it a priority each Saturday to go to St. Mel Church in Fair Oaks for confession followed by an hour in the Eucharistic adoration chapel and then Mass on Sunday. “The only requirement we had for our kids was that they bring something spiritual to read,” Jeanne says. “We figured we would put them in front of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit do the work.”
“It was important for our children to have that structure and a good base of values,” Brian says. “We strengthened them in their walk, so they could face any challenge and choose what they want in life.”
“The continuous call to prayer throughout the day offered a routine and helped to pace our studies as well as to give us moments for contemplation and quiet,” Elisabeth reflects. “Having so many opportunities to pray helped us to develop a favoritism to certain prayers which led to our own growth in faith. Various obscure prayers were said daily during morning prayer: the golden arrow, the crucifix prayer, a Holy Spirit prayer and the Guardian Angel prayer were just some of those. My parents would let us lead prayer time and let us read the daily Mass readings. This gave us the delight of being leaders of the faith in that moment.”
“Our greatest happiness is in listening to what God wants us to choose,” adds Elisabeth, who has attended several discernment retreats with various communities of women religious and is still open to the possibility of religious life. “Our parents make sure we know we have many different options, whether it is in school, careers or vocations. They have us pray about our vocation, so it isn’t just this is what I think I’d like, but what God wants for me.”
The routine of prayer, reading Scripture and the lives of the saints, and regular Eucharistic adoration were major elements in developing his own faith over time, Ben says. “At a certain point it becomes your own faith as you take responsibility for it and for your relationship with Christ. We read a lot about the lives of the saints which was exciting – seeing these people take the faith as their own, and suddenly that’s possible for me too.”
Ben says a major factor in his decision to apply to be a seminarian after graduating from high school was that Jeanne and Brian invited priests for dinner at their house as often as possible and that he developed a close friendship with many priests. These include Father Liam McSweeney (former pastor of St. Mel Parish), Father George Snyder (pastor of St. Clare Parish in Roseville), Father Alex Estrella (pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Grass Valley), and Father Aldrin Basarte (parochial administrator of St. Mel Parish).
“It was wonderful to meet so many priests,” Ben says. “When I was thinking about the priesthood, I would think, is it even attractive? Is it even something I want to do? For me to see priests who were joyful and loved to be priests made it something exciting that I want to do because it’s a joyful life. I thought I could put my heart and life into this and it would be a joyful outcome. Having the inspiration and confidence from these other priests to enter seminary was so crucial to my decision.”
Jeanne and Brian also took the advice of a priest who Jeanne heard speak at a conference. “I said I have seven sons and what can I do to help with vocations?” she recalls. “He said pointedly, don’t do anything, let God do it. Don’t get in the way. So I constantly said it’s your choice, but just listen to what God has to say….”
The above comes from an Oct. 21 posting by Julie Sly on the website of the Diocese of Sacramento.