If an only child discerns


What happens if an only child in a family discerns religious life and enters, but they are disowned by their family, and lose all contact with them… as I understand, we are obligated to make sure our elderly parents are taken care of. If the child is the ONLY person who would be able to arrange this or take care of them, they wouldn’t be able to do this if the family stops contacting with them at all while they’re in religious life. What would happen in such a case? Just wondering if anyone has heard of a case like this. Thanks.


The parents did the disowning. They should deal with the consequences of their decision. Just my two cents.


I’ve not heard of a case like that, but if it’s the parent’s choice to cut off communication, then they child wouldn’t be at fault for being unable to make sure they are cared for. It wasn’t the child’s decision, so he’s not culpable for it.

That’s my take at least.


Thank you for the replies… I guess I always have the question, would a person in this situation ever even BE called? To clarify, I am an only child, I have not been disowned, but I sometimes fear that, as I discern. I also wish my parents the best


A “calling” is, in my belief, a desire for a particular way of life. Investigate all paths you have an interest in and discern which one your heart desires. You could very well find you adore the religious life. If your parents disown you for that, it is not your problem if you lose contact with them and as a result remain unaware of their needs. That being said, it’s very possible that they will come to accept your decision and you may be worrying about nothing. Cross the bridge when you come to it.


Across my decades as a priest, I have seen all the permutations this equation can take.

It is a great tragedy when a child’s vocation causes the parents/family to disown the child. It is heart breaking. Sometimes the parents/family come around…sometimes they do not. This is not, however, unique to choices concerning priesthood or consecrated life.

If, at end of life, the parent(s) choose to become wards of the State/the National Health Service or to die alone according to what they have arranged for their own retirement living and health care rather than turn in any way to the child they disowned, there is not much one can say or do. It is simply tragic.

The reality is that I have seen situations arise in which the diocese/institute of consecrated life will make tremendous and even heroic sacrifice in order to enable a child to care for parent(s) in old age/end of life, either by allowing the child the time s/he needs to care for the parent or by assisting in placing the parent(s) in homes for the aged run by Religious who have that mission so that the priest or Religious can continue with their work in the Church. It is done on a case by case analysis.

Many times, actually, we can have more latitude to care for our parents than children who marry and have a family to support. I had the opportunity to care for both of my parents at the end of their lives. My bishop was extraordinarily supportive in spite of the fact it imposed a certain burden on him as well as on the diocese and my brother priests to supply among themselves all the necessary coverage to allow me to do it. Everyone pitched in, knowing they may be the one making the sacrifice today to make it happen but they may be the one who next is the beneficiary of the same willingness of everyone to sacrifice for them and their parents

It is one of those things where one may have just said to the bishop, “Please don’t ask me to take on X because I’m not in a position to take on one more thing.” And then one hears the next day that a priest five years senior in ordination has just learned his father has had a stroke and you are ringing the bishop to say “All right, what part of his work do you need me to take while he needs to be away?” One finds the way because that is the way things are done.

Many times, with the passage of years, parents and families come to see the child’s contentment in their vocation and they come to a level of acceptance, even if they never embrace it.

I will say that this is a particular issue that a candidate for priesthood or religious life does have to work through in their own mind and with the help of those who are entrusted with vocational discernment…especially if one is speaking of an irreversible and total rejection, since the person may discern (or have discerned for them) that they are not in fact called to that life.

In that very rare instance in which they are not called to that life but the family has irrevocably disowned the person for becoming Catholic and even trying the vocation, that person must be pastorally accompanied in a more intensive way as the diocese or religious institute has become, and may remain, something of a surrogate family…even if they eventually go on to marry and have a family of their own eventually

I will keep your discernment…and your family…in my prayers


The short answer is: yes. There are people who have lived precisely that.


A person can perceive inwardly, as a subjective experience, that they are called to diaconate, priesthood or consecrated life. However, the reality of being called is external. One does not call oneself. One is called by God.

The decision ultimately is a discernment by Church authority. I thought I had a vocation to the priesthood. The thought was affirmed throughout my years of formation in various ways. It was, however, definitively affirmed when the Church, in the person of my bishop, called me and elected me to be ordained.


I always really enjoy your responses, so thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

Do you know what, if any, options exist for parents whose only child enters a cloistered, vow of enclosure type order? Does the diocese that supports the order have any sort of fund or something in place to aid them as they age? Or even just a place in a Catholic retirement home?


Actually, the solutions tend to vary and can depend upon the situation.

I have dealt with cases where the Religious was exclaustrated for a time to care of her parent(s) and arrange something stable – she remained a Religious, wore her habit, etc., but was home for a time.

The solution can vary. Some times, there will be communities of active Religious that care for the elderly that are in the same area as the cloistered monastery and the active Religious will make extra effort to accommodate or find a practical solution for the parent of a cloistered Religious, for example, when they are made aware of this situation.

Typically, these sorts of situations are handled more informally than by an established policy because they have been, historically, relatively rare. With the smaller families that mark the last decades, it is becoming somewhat less rare however.

It is important for the need to be known and understood so that a solution can be found.

Thank you for your kind comment.


Father, thank you very much for the replies, that helps me. I’m glad to know that religious communities have taken steps to help in these cases, though it would be a sacrifice for them. I just hope that if I’m ever in this situation, my parents, particularly my mother, (as I think my dad would be less opposed) - would not reject any help I could give her. It must be very tragic when someone is disowned. I hope it would not happen but sadly I know my mom is extremely opposed to me looking into this life. I will keep praying for her…

Thank you again for the reply and the prayers


Try to see it from her point-of-view.

Whenever I am faced with a discerner in this kind of situation, I tell them that they should attend retreats now if the parent is capable of being on their own. Gather those spiritual fruits. Once the parent becomes more dependent upon the discerner, that is the time to become Vincentian, and learn to be a contemplative at the bedside. St. Rosalie Rendu, DC, said she prayed best in the middle of the street. These are golden years for both of you. Don’t lose the graces that could be yours if you truly are meant to take care of them.



Thank you for the reply… I try to see things from my mom’s perspective, sometimes though this brings me a lot of feelings of fear and guilt about my discernment, because I see how much she must be suffering from all this. I am not saying that is at all wrong to do though :slight_smile: I see what you mean about going on retreats. I am actually planning on going on one, unfortunately it’s very difficult to organize with my home situation, almost impossible, so I’m praying and thinking about how I could do this. It’s not because my mom needs to be supervised though. I am hoping to discern more actively soon.

I realize that perhaps God might not call me to religious life, and I would need to be at home to take care of my parent(s). I still do not intend to marry, and in this case I guess I would look at consecrated life in the world. Alternatively, it seems like if God calls me to religious life, I would need to speak to the community about ways that my parents could be taken care of and that these arrangements are a possibility.

The thoughts (fears, I guess) that lead to this thread, were that I would believe I’m called to a particular community, talk this out with them, come up with a plan, and announce it to my family… and then lose all contact with my mom, for example, and not be able to carry out that plan due to that. The reason I thought this is because the times my mom found out that I may have been thinking of religious life, - it went quite badly, and I got the sense that I might potentially get disowned if I were to do this. I don’t know for sure and if my mom was just speaking out of being very upset, but I suppose it’s a possibility. :frowning: I don’t know if in that case, I would be obligated to not enter the community I’d discern with, because of not having anyone else to take care of my mom in the future, and stay in the world. Or if there’s another way that could be taken, but I don’t see what way. Or would I need to enter the community anyway. I’ve been asking a lot what is God’s Will in that situation, because I want to do His Will, at the same time I’d have very strong guilt leaving my mom like that when she’s not accepting my help in her old age. I guess I’m hoping there’s an answer that I’ll discover, because I do want to fulfill my vocation too, and I also care for my mom.

Currently I’m just trying also to deal with the feelings that came from all of this, because it is affecting my spiritual life. I have to fight some bitterness knowing that if I had siblings, this issue wouldn’t exist even if I did get disowned for entering RL. There’s a possibility I wouldn’t be able to enter anywhere, but if this has been done before, maybe there’s a way. I’m just unsure what would happen to my family and if this would be running away from my obligation towards them? It’s confusing because I’m not trying to run away, I’m just trying to seek God’s Will for me, which I have an obligation to follow as well. All this has lead to the question - is God REALLY calling me, or is this impossible, and He’d never call in these circumstances.


Sorry for so much rambling! If anyone has any thoughts I’d be very grateful :slight_smile:

last night I did feel better about my discernment and the possibility that God may be calling me to some sort of consecrated life. I don’t understand but maybe I don’t need to understand right now, just trust and surrender to anything that would be God’s Will.


Being an only child is a very hard place to be.

Especially a girl.

My solitary daughterhood started when I was 16 and my older brother died, a few years after my father left us. As a person said then " A son is a son til he marries a wife. A daughter’s a daughter all of her life."

I had no choices and no freedom. Later saw other spinsters in the same situation.

I cannot blame her, But I should have made a break sooner and more fully . When she died we were alienated.

You are in a hard place indeed. And a caring and responsible daughter.
Not sure how old you are?

If this is where God is leading you, yes, follow and with all the strong advice here. You may be surprised at the strength your parents will find and be given when the decision is made. It may be the uncertainty and fear will ease when there is a sure path.


I understand the Father Mitch Pacwa’s dad didn’t want him to be a priest and told him he would cut him out of his inheritance. Father Pacwa told him that he wouldn’t be able to keep it anyway, it would need to go to the Jesuit community.


Do you have a local spiritual director? They can provide leverage for a vocation whenever there is parental consternation. I am also assuming you’re age of majority, and you can leave if you wish – not if she wishes. Time off for a simple retreat is like their making time to go on vacation.

There are online retreats you can do in your room, just try to make a time for it on a daily basis, if possible.



My closest in age cousin is an only child. She was raised by her mom alone after her parents’ violent marriage split up. I am not sure if they ever officially divorced or not, but she had very little to no contact with her father or half siblings. Her parents actually seperated before she was born. When my cousin mentioned a religious vocation, her mother was horrified. Who would care for her? How was she going to survive with very little contact with her only child? My cousin discussed all this and more with a spiritual director and had many meetings that included her mom with the vocations director. They assured them both that provisions would be made for the future care of my aunt (the mom). My aunt has had several health problems during the 20+ years my cousin has been living her vocation. Each time she was brought into the nursing home run by the sisters, and now she is there permanently. She is happy and well cared for by the sisters. My cousin has mostly been overseas in France and Rome but has as much time home visiting as I have been able to have, especially over the last several years. Now that my aunt is very frail, my cousin has been able to be there even more. Things can be worked out. I’m not sure if all orders are able to make similar provisions, but surely things can work out for others as smoothly as they have for my cousin. Communication is the key to finding answers.


Thank you for sharing the story! that is very encouraging :slight_smile: I’m really glad everything turned out ok for her and her mom. If possible, would it be possible to share the general type of the order she entered? I don’t mean the actual community or name, but for example - is it a community that cares for the elderly?

I’m glad that things can be worked out in this way. It might be more difficult for contemplative orders but I heard of arrangements being made even there.

My concern is if a parent simply refuses the help… I’m not sure what they do then… I guess it’s very important to pray now that if I’m called to religious life, God would help my mom as well.


Thank you Father. You are right of course, one may feel a desire to be a religious and not be accepted for one reason or another and thus know that that way of life was not God’s intent.

I just wanted to address her concern over whether she was “called” or not. I used to worry a lot about being “called”, I was terrified that God expected me to become a nun whether I wanted to or not. I realise, now that I am married, that my heart’s desire was always directed towards marriage. I was just trying to point out that a calling “initiates” in a desire or maybe an interest or curiosity, for a particular way of life and then begins the discernment process, but I suppose I didn’t make that clear.


I do have a spiritual director. :slight_smile: I’m hoping to make a retreat in a monastery, unfortunately my mom had a really difficult time with that when I brought it up

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