For the Caswells, vocations run in the family

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, July 27, 2014

For the Caswells, vocations run in the family

When you hear about three religious vocations from one family, a certain picture comes to mind, a picture of generations steeped in the faith, of aunts who are religious sisters and uncles who are priests, a family heritage that reaches back to a bastion of Catholicism. That is not the Caswells.
Father Nathan Caswell and Father Joshua Caswell are pictured following their ordination on May 27 at St. John Cantius Parish. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Sister Mary Judith (also a Caswell) joins students in dancing at St. Thomas the Apostle School on Jan. 30. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

When you hear about three religious vocations from one family, a certain picture comes to mind, a picture of generations steeped in the faith, of aunts who are religious sisters and uncles who are priests, a family heritage that reaches back to a bastion of Catholicism.

That is not the Caswells.

Nevertheless, Joshua and Nathan Caswell were both ordained priests for the archdiocese in the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius on May 27. Their sister, Sister Mary Judith of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, was assigned to teach at St. Benedict the African-East in Englewood last year and at St. Thomas the Apostle in Hyde Park for the coming school year.

They are three of the seven children of John and Gay Caswell. They were born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, into a family that was originally Presbyterian, then Pentecostal. In 1996, the family moved 600 miles north to start a Catholic mission school, L’Ecole Notre Dame du Nord (Our Lady of the North) in Brabant Lake, a small community (population about 100, “on a good day,” according to Father Nathan) on an Indian reservation.

The parents and five of their seven children were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1997.

“Living with parents who consistently and actively sought the truth and changed their lives accordingly was kind of uncomfortable,” Sister Mary Judith said. “It kind of cursed us with the inability to accept mediocrity.”

In a separate interview, Father Nathan also said his parents taught their children to focus on the truth.

“We weren’t Catholic at the beginning,” he said. “But the truth was what mattered. Doing what was right mattered.”

An early desire

Of the three siblings who found religious vocations, it was the youngest, Father Joshua, who took what might be the most straightforward path to religious life. Father Joshua, the sixth of the seven children, knew he was called to ministry by the age of 7, when he thought he would be a Pentecostal minister.

Father Joshua, was exploring the idea of religious life in 2003, and came across the St. John Cantius website.

“I saw ‘restoration of the sacred’ and I saw some beautiful pictures,” he said. “At the time, the only Catholic church I knew was this little mission church. I was the least likely candidate to succeed here.”

Resurrectionist Father C. Frank Phillips, who founded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in 1998, invited the young man to visit.

“I never left,” Father Joshua said. “I never used my return ticket.”

Living in a tree house

Father Nathan’s journey was a bit more roundabout. He left home after finishing high school, working his way through western Canada, eventually living in a tree house and picking chanterelle mushrooms in the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia.

While he entered the church with his parents in 1997, he didn’t really embrace it then, and he wasn’t happy with moving from Saskatoon to the middle of nowhere at age 15.

He liked his life in the woods, he said. “I was planning on doing that for a long time,” he said.

But one day, when he was visiting a friend in town, his mother called him at his friend’s house.

“I have no idea how she tracked me down,” he said, “but she asked me to come home.”

“I thought if I was really searching for truth — and I was — then I have to make things right with my parents,” Father Nathan said.

So he went back to Saskatchewan. While he was away, he saw the ocean for the first time, he saw birds giving of themselves to feed their young, and he found himself open to the idea of a being bigger than himself.

“When you’re in the dark in the woods and you hear things, you have to pray to something,” Father Nathan said, “and I prayed to Love.”

It wasn’t until later that he made the connection to God and the church and the faith of his parents. But when he was home, he questioned them and his sister about the church.

“I got to the point where it had to be all true or all not true, and it made sense,” Father Nathan said. “But there was still a distance between me and God.”

That distance evaporated when he went to a youth retreat with his family and experienced his first eucharistic adoration. Sitting there, he asked God to send his sister to sit beside him — and she did.

“That was like my conversion to Catholicism at that moment,” he said. “Although we are all called to ongoing conversion, every day.”

When he wanted to explore religious life, he also called Phillips, who invited him to come and talk.

“Father Phillips said he was coming to visit,” Father Joshua said, “and I thought he was coming to visit me. But he was coming to visit the order.”

God made it clear

Sister Mary Judith traces her vocation to her college years. Between Nathan and Joshua in age, she entered the convent between the times they entered the Canons Regular. She was in college and exploring the idea of a religious vocation — actually on her way to spend time with the Missionaries of Charity in Harlem — when she heard a close friend of the siblings had died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

“I was really in a crisis point,” she said. “And then I could really hear God say, ‘You’re never going to be happy unless you give your life to me.”

She said God also made it very clear which community she should join, although she had never thought she would want to be part of the Sisters of Mary.

“That August, I walked away from my former life, and walked into the convent,” she said. “I believe you know you’re truly living your vocation when you become more who you are, not less.”


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