October 28, 2016

2016 Vocations Supplement

Siblings in priesthood, religious life support each other in ministry

Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter and her brother, Msgr. Paul Koetter, pose on Sept. 28 in the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, where Sister Mary Ann serves as subprioress. Msgr. Koetter is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter and her brother, Msgr. Paul Koetter, pose on Sept. 28 in the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, where Sister Mary Ann serves as subprioress. Msgr. Koetter is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE AND BROOKVILLE—In addition to having three sets of brothers ordained priests in the past seven years, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis also has two priests who have sisters in religious life.

Father Sean Danda, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Brookville and St. Peter Parish in Franklin County, is the brother of Society of Our Lady of the Trinity Sister Solanus Casey Danda, who teaches at St. Alphonsus School in Seattle.

Msgr. Paul Koetter, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, is the brother of Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter, subprioress (second in authority) at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. (Related: Brother priests offer advice to parents to foster vocations in the home)

The siblings recently spoke with The Criterion about their common influences in their vocational discernment, and how they support each other in their lives of prayer and service to the Church.

Sister Solanus, less than a year from professing perpetual vows, entered her religious community in 2008, seven years after her brother became a seminarian and two years before he was ordained.

They were both open to priestly and religious vocations when they were students at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I can remember having conversations with him about discernment while we were driving to school,” Sister Solanus said. “We talked about religious vocations. I got advice from him. He definitely contributed to that. Seeing his openness and having a deep admiration for him definitely affected my openness to God’s call in my life.”

Father Danda said he and his sister support each other through their prayers, regular phone calls and, in a world dominated by digital communications, by writing each other letters.

He noted that the example of a brother and sister dedicated to serving God and the Church is a witness to the broader world that “God has to remain number one in our life.

“Celibacy and vocations to consecrated chastity tell the world that being in a sexual relationship is not necessarily the end all, be all to happiness,” Father Danda said. “The world does not want that message right now. And it’s all the more needed for people to take up the consecrated life.”

Msgr. Koetter, the sixth of nine children from a family from Floyds Knobs, was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1977 when he was 25.

Sister Mary Ann, the eighth child in the family, entered Our Lady of Grace Monastery 27 years later in 2004.

They also have two nephews who are priests, including Father Eric Johnson, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany.

As they were growing up, the Koetters also had the example of a cousin who was a priest and two other cousins who were religious sisters at the Benedictine Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese.

“The vocation of religious life was real,” said Sister Mary Ann. “It was a normal thing in our family. Knowing I had cousins who were in religious life made it something I could look at. It was an option. It wasn’t so foreign.”

She also noted the example of her brother in his priestly life and ministry was an aid in her own discernment.

“Our lives are different in how we live them out,” Sister Mary Ann said, “but it is a call from God that we’ve both received. And Paul’s been very supportive. He’s someone I would turn to in order to talk about it. I think he has influenced me.”

For his part, Msgr. Koetter finds strength in the religious life of his sister.

“I feel the support of Mary Ann being in religious life and being able to share that experience,” he said. “We’re both celibate and have made a commitment to God that’s pretty important in our lives. We can mutually support each other within that.”

They also both find support in their other siblings’ vocations to married life. Together, they have several hundred combined years of marriage.

“They’ve been a tremendous witness,” said Msgr. Koetter. “And most of them have been involved in all sorts of volunteer and Church-related activities. It’s not just the example of the two of us. It’s the example of all.” †

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