“Growing up, we attended the novena every Monday night at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal,” Rita Esselman recalls. “Our faith and the Vincentian ‘way’ were central to our family life – I wanted to pass it on to our children.”
Born and raised in Perryville, Mo., Rita and her future husband, Eugene Esselman, knew Vincentian priests and brothers since their early childhood days. Eugene worked at the local newspaper and, in his free time, helped to publish the seminary paper, The DeAndrein. Rita was active in the parish and school, and worked as a full-time mother – instilling a solid prayer life and good Christian values in her children.
“The Vincentian priests and brothers made a wonderful impression on our family and our community,” Eugene Esselman says. “In addition to the seminary, shrine and local parish, the Vincentians founded a library at the school and a museum that was very popular.”
“The Vincentian priests and brothers made a wonderful impression on our family and our community.”
– Eugene Esselman
While they love reminiscing about their time in Perryville, the Esselmans still have a close connection to the Vincentians of the Western Province. Their son Tom, after attending St. Vincent School and The Cape, was ordained in 1981. Fr. Tom has been blessed with more than 35 years of priestly ministry and service.
“I remember when Tom came to us and said he thought he had a vocation to the priesthood,” says Eugene. “We were just delighted,” Rita adds. “It took some effort to get him ready to enter the seminary, but we were very excited and proud of him.”
Rita and Eugene thank God for their son, who has taught in seminaries, pursued advanced degrees, developed a distance-learning program for theology students and even moved to Kenya to serve as formation director for more than ten years. “His ministry is a great gift for our entire family.”
Fr. Tom Esselman, C.M., has played a central role in growing the Vincentian mission in Kenya and developing new programs for the seminarians studying at DePaul Centre in Nairobi. He continues to use his scholarly training and spiritual experience to shape the future pastors who will serve in the Region of Kenya.
Eugene and Rita were married in 1951 by Fr. William McKinley, C.M., at St. Vincent Church in Perryville. The couple now live in Quincy, Il., and enjoy spending time with their eight children, twelve grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. They are faithful supporters of the Vincentians of the Western Province.