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Vocations: Wenke Family keeps in contact with faith and each other


(Part 2 of a 2 part story)

Father Emmanuel Wenke, OFM Conv., and his sister, Sister Frances Marie, CP. (Photo courtesy of the Wenke Family)

Deacon Matt had thought about a religious vocation in his mid-20s and visited various religious groups, but also had a deep desire to have a family. While finishing his master’s in psychology, he met his future wife, Mary.

“Whenever we were together, we would pray together with the idea that when we were married, we would pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day,” he said. “I liked the thought of that, because my work in mental health was stressful. And I thought, well, this way, the home will be like a monastery. There’ll be peaceful times of prayer to replenish me because I had very stressful caseloads of people who were acutely and chronically mentally ill. So, I had a lot of stress.”

Years later at a Men’s Conference, he heard about the Permanent Diaconate program. At 54 and experiencing the early stages of Parkinson’s, he felt he was not the right candidate for the role.

“All these priests came up who were some of them in their 80s and 90s, and they were still very actively serving the Church,” Deacon Matt recalled. “So, I thought, well, maybe I’m not that old and I’m not being open because I’m using age as an excuse. And here’s these guys who can hardly walk, some of them expending their last energy to serve the Church. So that made me decide, I’ll go to the booth that they had for the Diaconate program and I’ll get the information and I’ll look at it. So, I did. And Mary and I talked it over.”

He met with the Diaconate formation team and found them supportive.

“So, I went through the five-year program and was ordained in 2019. And it’s been one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me,” he said.

Sister Frances Marie, now a Passionist nun in Whitesville, Kentucky, has limited communication with her family. She spent time at different monasteries to experience the charisms of different religious orders. Her mother reveals that Sister Frances Marie doubted her ability to serve God in such a capacity.

“She felt actually humbled to feel called to the cloistered life,” Mary Wenke said. “She felt like, ‘Why me?’ But she really was open to God’s promptings and very much wanted to be in God’s will. I would say she’s very direct and very driven.”

They share a 30-minute phone call once a month, visit twice a year, and they write letters back and forth.

The Wenke family, which includes a Conventual Franciscan priest, a Passionist nun, and a deacon, as well as a chef, a teacher and sergeant in the Air Force. (Photo courtesy of the Wenke Family)

“We do a family phone call,” Mary said. “We get everyone on the phone at the same time. She hears from everybody. Her brothers aren’t very good, and I’m not very good either at writing to her. So that phone call means a lot. We can kind of touch base, you know, get to the important things.”

“Of course, we love her dearly,” Deacon Matt added. “When I found out a few months before she entered that she was doing that, I think I cried more than I ever did in my life because I knew I would miss her. So that was difficult. But I was mesmerized by what she was choosing to do. When you read about the vocation and realize these sisters are dedicating themselves to communal prayer seven times a day. It’s like they’re leaving this life with their family to enter religious life. There’s a holiness about the calling that is beautiful. And we realized we couldn’t just feel sorry for ourselves missing our daughter. We had to see the value of her life of prayer for affecting the world. So, we realized that we had to sacrifice along with her; like joining her in sacrificing the frequency of contact we would normally have as a family.”

They found a support group with the families of the other sisters whom they met while visiting their daughter.  

“I knew we were leaving her at a beautiful place. I immediately started thinking of that in my mind as home for all of us, because that’s the only place we can all meet as a complete family, if we all go to Kentucky. So, it’s kind of a nice thing. I frame it in my mind that she’s home and the rest of us are out in the world,” Deacon Matt said.

Mary Wenke has followed her vocation as well. 

“I got married 32 years ago, and I have been a wife and mother, and homeschooled my children, which I think is a vocation. And now I’m working full time, actually, out of the home. But I think of my role as a support for these men. But they’re nurturing and cultivating faith here, I think, is part of what we as a couple have done as a family. So, I believe that I have a vocation, have lived a vocation and a religious one at that just as a married woman.”

“None of us would be doing this without her,” said Father Manny. “She’s put up with a lot.”

Looking back Mary sees how God drew the family to Himself through the Church, prayer, the sacraments, and the support of faith-filled people.

“As Deacon Matt stated, as a couple we started praying the Liturgy of the Hours when we were engaged (morning and evening prayer), after a few years we added a daily rosary. Then after moving to Olean, we started attending daily Mass as a family after joining Morning Star Family Holy Hour. I believe this weekly time of family eucharistic adoration changed our family life and continues to be a source of strength and support of our faith. Through this common prayer time and the moral/faith support of the members of this group, a Catholic culture was developed and nurtured in our hearts, minds and souls. I believe this cultivated the fertile ground for vocations in our family.”

The Wenke’s have a total of six kids – Father Manny; Sister Frances Marie; Jude, a chef in Hamburg; Abram, a fourth grade teacher in Phoenix, Arizona; Samuel, has been married for one year, and he’s a staff sergeant in the Air Force in North Carolina; Matthew, 15, is still at home.


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