Diocesan women called to be spiritual mothers

Joan Lawlor, leader of the Orans ministry for the Diocese of Palm Beach, has kept priests in her prayer intentions since she was 12 years old. “When I was a young girl in Brooklyn, a missionary priest visited my parish requesting donations for his mission. In addition to monetary support and supplies, he emphasized that his mission needed support through prayer. I thought to myself, ‘I can afford that!’ To this day, I pray for all the priests who are leading missions and their intentions,” said Lawlor. 

This desire to pray for priests became the impetus for the Orans ministry Lawlor now leads. It was established by Lawlor through the Diocese of Palm Beach Office of Vocations in 2009, as dioceses across the world were amid the “Year for Priests” declared by Pope Benedict XVI. Orans is a ministry for women who commit to prayer and sacrifice with and for the priests of the diocese and was founded with the intention of continuing the spiritual support for priests beyond Pope Benedict’s year-long declaration. The ministry celebrates its 10-year anniversary this summer and Lawlor looks forward to renewing the Orans mission for more years to come.

The word orans refers to a praying female figure in early Christian art. An example is the icon titled “Pentecost,” which depicts the Blessed Mother praying with the apostles. “At Pentecost, Mary received the renewed gift of the Spirit so that her spiritual motherhood would be fruitful. It is this spiritual motherhood that Mary, through Orans, invites us to share with her,” said Lawlor.

Lawlor explained that spiritual sons (priests) are assigned to spiritual mothers (women in the diocese) through the Office of Vocations. A notification is mailed to priests upon their ordination, but neither party knows who they pray for or who is praying for them. Committed spiritual mothers are asked to give daily offerings on behalf of their spiritual son and attend at least one weekday Mass per month. One weekly rosary and daily recitation of the Prayer for Priests are also part of the commitment. A woman of any age and of any state in life may be a spiritual mother.

“This ministry only asks for a woman’s sacrifice through prayer. It’s not about meetings, fundraisers or events. In fact, the spiritual mothers don’t’ meet at all. It’s just about a spiritual connection that supports the religious in their mission to serve. What many faithful don’t realize is that priests need our prayers just as much as we need theirs,” said Lawlor.

Many interested in the ministry ask Lawlor what inspired the name and significance of Orans. She highlighted two examples from scripture:

“In his Gospel, Luke tells us about the Galilean women who journeyed with Jesus and the twelve apostles, providing for them out of their resources. The women accompanied Mary as she prayed for Jesus to bear the weight of the cross on the way to Calvary, and they shared in her grief at the death and burial of Jesus. We look to the example of the Galilean women who accompany Jesus and realize that we can accompany our priests in prayer and provide for them out of our resources—that is, our sacrifice and offerings.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes the founding of the Church. Returning to the upper room after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles ‘devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.’ The Holy Spirit responded to their prayer on the day of Pentecost, when he bestowed his gifts on all those present, transforming each one according to the specific mission each would have in the new Church. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit led Mary to exercise the spiritual motherhood that Jesus had granted her from the cross. We see this reflected in the words of Jesus on the cross to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son,’ and to John, ‘behold, your mother.’ With these words, Mary became the spiritual mother of all of us, and of priests in a particular way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Mary is the perfect orans, a figure of the Church.”

Although the Orans ministry has been very successful, Lawlor hopes to provide one spiritual mother for each priest in the diocese. “Right now, there aren’t enough women to assign one to each priest. It would be encouraging to see our numbers grow in community. Prayer is powerful and so many clergy need our support, now more than ever.”

For women interested in becoming a spiritual mother through the Orans ministry, contact Consuelo Minutoli, Administrative Assistant for the Office of Vocations, at 561-775-9552 or cminutoli@diocesepb.org.

Prayer for Priests:

Dear Lord, we pray that the Blessed Mother wrap her mantle around your priests and through her intercession strengthen them for their ministry.

We pray that Mary will guide your priests to follow her own words, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).

May your priests have the heart of St. Joseph, Mary’s most chaste spouse.

May the Blessed Mother’s own pierced heart inspire them to embrace all who suffer at the foot of the cross.

May your priests be holy, filled with the fire of your love seeking nothing but your greater glory and the salvation of souls.




Art in the Roman catacombs of the first and second century Christians is an example of the “orans” depiction. Frescoes show the image of a female figure praying with extended arms and open palms, indicating that these early Christians recognized Mary’s role as spiritual mother and as intercessor for her son. This image is titled “Pentecost,” which is on a plaque that hangs in Joan Lawlor’s home. She used the icon on a prayer card containing the Prayer for Priests, which the women in the ministry use for daily prayer. (CECILIA PADILLA | FC)