Recently I concelebrated funeral Masses for the relatives of two priest-friends. The first priest was burying his mother. The second priest was burying a beloved sister.

A special grace must have been given to these men to preside at these services while they were experiencing such painful loss. You could see the sadness in their eyes as they struggled to celebrate the Eucharist for these beautiful women. They seemed emotionally at sea yet both managed to do what they wanted to do most — to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for them, to express their love and gratitude for them and to show their great trust and faith in the Resurrection and future reunion.

These men and these Masses were truly inspirational and, I imagine, deeply moving for those who were in attendance and those viewing on livestream. Courage, faith, family love and hope overflowed. Their mother and sister would have been so proud.

Subsequently, these funerals reminded me of the important role of women in the lives of priests.

My first priest-friend remembered his mother as a person of deep faith, a no-nonsense Catholic with a heart full of love. He talked about a childhood where faith was taken for granted in the home, with firm expectations that each member lives out their lives with integrity and a desire to make the world a better place in which to live. While his parents did not push their children to a religious or priestly vocation, he saw that his parents set the stage for their children to choose a life of purpose. Clearly, whether she had directly promoted it or not, his mother had made it possible — I’d say even probable — for her son’s religious vocation.

There is an old and perhaps paternalistic adage that still has a kernel of truth in it: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” And it follows, that in a great many instances — the mothers of many of our priests provided the best possible garden for a priestly vocation to take root and grow.

Other women, too, have made it possible for young (and sometimes older) men to choose the priesthood. Grandmothers, sisters, godmothers, aunts, nieces, cousins, female in-laws, female friends and classmates have also fostered awareness of, and commitment to, priestly religious service. Many Religious Sisters fostered vocations in big ways. Countless parish priests have nuns to thank for their choice of the priesthood.

Most of us priests are blessed — or have been blessed — by deep female relationships in our lives which forged, sustained and sustain us. Our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, nieces, in-laws, female school friends have all made an unfathomable impact in our lives and vocations. In a real way, scores of encouraging women have regularly produced, encouraged and inspired men for the priesthood and, most of the time, simply went unnoticed or taken-for-granted. Their priest-sons, uncles, brothers, in-laws and friends got the public recognition and the privilege of serving the Church. These forgotten women, however, were — and are — the real silent forces behind that great band of servant-brothers.

At the end of the one of the funeral Masses I attended, the priest-son and celebrant of the Mass for his mother took the urn with her remains into his arms at the end of the Mass. For me, that was a touching moment I won’t quickly forget. There, in his arms, was the valiant woman who first brought him to faith and to the Church, the woman who made it possible for him to celebrate this Mass for her. He would bring her now from the church to her place of rest, honoring her with gratitude — for the gift of his life, his faith and for his vocation. A job well done.

Father Thomas Morrette is pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls.