A Seminarian’s Story: The Rosary and the Grace to Say “Yes”

September 30, 2022

Photo above: The author, Andrew Kelley, (third from left) pictured with a group led on pilgrimage to Lourdes, France by Bishop Thomas Daly (second from left) in August 2022. The Sanctuary of Lourdes dominates the background.

By Andrew Kelley

Marian devotion through the Holy Rosary is something that is a part of our DNA as Catholics. Many of us grew up on the Rosary. Catholics possess more rosaries than any other sacramental, it seems, and even those Catholics who have ceased to practice their faith cannot help but spout off a “Hail Mary” or two in a time of need. For me, as for many of my brothers and sisters in faith, the Rosary has played an important role in my life. Notably, it sat at the heart of a series events during my college years that led me to reclaim my faith as my own, culminating in my decision to enter the seminary.

My relationship with the Rosary changed when I heard about something called “The Fifteen Rosary Promises.” In an apparition to Bl. Alanus de Rupe, Our Lady said that she would obtain from her divine Son these fifteen special graces for whomever faithfully prays the Rosary. I was skeptical, of course, inclined to believe that this was magical or phony thinking. But my disbelief failed to quell my curiosity, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if it’s true? What if these things really do happen to rosary devotees?” If the promises of grace turned out to be true, I certainly did not want to be the one missing out! It just so happened that Lent was right around the corner, and I thought I would give this Rosary thing a try by making the daily recitation of the Rosary my Lenten penance for the season. At the time, I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. Hindsight 20/20, I think that decision marked “the beginning of the end,” if you will, the turning of a new leaf in my relationship with the Lord that would see me drawn out of my self-love and into the transformative love of Christ.

That Lent, the floodgates of divine grace were opened, and God’s gifts poured into my life for the next year-and-a-half following this commitment to the Rosary. I would see a kindling of my desire to attend daily Mass (4th Rosary promise), I would develop an openness and desire to pray with the saints and learn from their biographies (13th promise), and I would experience a greater sensitivity to my sin and a greater sense of the courage I needed to face them before Our Lord in the confessional (3rd promise). As you can see, one grace led to another, and my life was filled with a kind of joy that was altogether new to me, a joy that can only come from nearness to the heart of Christ.

A few months later, I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii, and while we were there, I would often walk to the beach to pray the Rosary as dusk drew near. It was my custom in those days to offer the Rosary every so often for my future wife (at the time, I still believed my vocation was to married life), and I would do this by offering a decade for her faith and health, a decade for our relationship, a decade for our children, and so forth. As I entered into that prayer and called to mind the intention for my future spouse, it was not the thought of a married vocation that entered my mind, but that of a priestly vocation. As this graced idea entered my vision, so many of the key experiences of my life, including those following upon the Lenten Rosary practice, came into focus at once in this new vocational lens through which I was looking, the lens of a priestly call.

Andrew Kelley with younger brother in Hawaii

The author (left) with his younger brother while on their family vacation in Hawaii.

I was seeing the events of my life as part of a providential preparation for the “Yes!” that God hoped to hear from me in response to His invitation to become a priest. I thought, “What if this whole time I’ve been praying for my future spouse, I’ve really been praying for the Church? What if my prayers for my wife’s faith have in actuality been prayers for the faith of the Church, and what if my prayers for our children have been prayers for the people to whom I would become a spiritual father, and the Church, a mother?” My initial reaction to these realizations was one of fear, of course. So intense was my fear that I could not bring myself to pray a sixth decade of the rosary for an increase in vocations, as Bishop Daly requested, because I was afraid the Lord would answer my prayer by calling me.

Overwhelmed with it all, I swam out into the ocean to find some solitude and try to get my head straight. I turned myself toward the horizon and offered my anxiety-ridden prayer, saying “Lord, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be a priest because I do not think I will be happy there. But if You want it, I’ll do it.” Only now, writing this, do I realize just how present the Holy Spirit was in that utterance. The months of praying the Rosary, going to daily Mass, frequenting confession, and reading the saints had prepared a dwelling place for the Spirit in my heart by whose power my “Yes” was possible. How Marian that “Yes” was! I had made my own fiat, as Our Lady did, and am I to suppose that the Rosary didn’t play a part that? Can there be any doubt that those fifteen Rosary promises are a part of something true when one considers the power the Rosary gave a young man to turn his life towards Christ and bend the knee to God’s holy will?

Andrew Kelley’s seminarian portrait for the new formation year. In the Diocese of Spokane, seminarians are permitted to wear clerical attire after their completion of philosophical studies.

This new school year at seminary began only shortly after the conclusion of my pilgrimage to Lourdes, France where I once again encountered the maternal love of Mary, Our Mother. Now, as then on the beaches of Maui, I feel strengthened and freed by her prayers to live that life of charitable and generous submission to God which she so wonderfully models. Though my devotion to her is far from perfect, her devotion to me, to all of us, is unfailing, second only to her devotion to her Son. As we enter the month of October, the month of the rosary, let us once again dig that string of beads out from the bottom of our sock drawers and recommit ourselves to that Marian devotion that is a part of who we are as Catholics. We come to Mary and ask for her special help in our efforts to imitate Jesus in our lives. By praying the Rosary, we entrust ourselves to her maternal care and protection and offer our Blessed Mother the chance to do for us what moms do best.

O Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for us!
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!

Andrew Kelley is a seminarian for the Diocese of Spokane receiving formation as a First-year Theologian at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, CA.