From the May/Jun 2004 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
When Bill and I were married 40 years ago, we knew we wanted a big, Catholic family. We were blessed with exactly that. A large family. A Catholic family. In 1963 that didn’t sound like such a big deal, but in retrospect, it took a lot of work to accomplish both.
Of course, the most fundamental piece of this puzzle was finding the right mate. For years I prayed to St. Joseph to find a good Catholic husband. And I prayed to St. Anne.
Good St. Anne, get me a man
As fast as you can.
And if he should die, get me another,
Perhaps his brother
I don’t know if it was St. Anne or St. Joseph who found Bill for me, but I knew the moment I met him he was the answer to my prayers.
We both wanted a big family but the good Lord, in His infinite wisdom, only sent 11 children, three of whom He promptly took back to heaven, I suppose, to help the rest of us to get there some day.
Humanae Vitae came out in the early years of our marriage. Many of our Catholic friends were upset by the Church’s teachings on contraception. They claimed it wasn’t fair for the Holy Father to tell us how to live our lives. They went from one priest to another until they found one who would condone birth control. None of those couples are still married today.
Bill and I tried to put all our trust in God. We knew he would only give us what we could handle. After the sixth child, we decided to try Natural Family Planning. With the proper motivation, it works perfectly (motivation being the key!).
Keeping in Touch
A big family doesn’t just happen and neither does a Catholic family. You don’t have the babies baptized and expect them to grow into practicing Catholic adults all by themselves.
They have to be sprinkled with holy water, fed the Blessed Sacrament, and have a daily dose of prayer for nurturing.
We firmly believed that the more our children included God in their daily lives, the stronger their faith would be when they grew up.
Every time we heard a siren, we said three Hail Mary’s. First, in case it was an ambulance, for the sick or dying person. Second, in case it was a fire truck, for the firemen and those who need their help. And third, in case it was a police car, for the officers and the person who has committed a crime to be sorry and come back to God.
When we passed a Catholic church we blessed ourselves with the Sign of the Cross and said, “My Jesus, I love you” to acknowledge the fact that we were aware that Our Lord is there in the tabernacle, and we bowed our heads at the name of Jesus.
At bedtime, night prayers could take hours!
“God bless Mommy and Daddy, Erin, Colleen, Beth, Patrick, Matthew, Michael, Sean, and Seamus. God bless Wilbur (our dog), all our relatives, David’s hamster who got his foot caught in his wheel, David’s fish, who’s floating upside down for some reason, maybe because he didn’t like the bologna David and I gave him for lunch, David’s dog—well he doesn’t have one yet but I’m supposed to pray for him to get one only his mom said “no” because of his snake that got out of the aquarium because his brother took the lid off and . . .”
This is the perfect time to find out what’s going on in your child’s life. (“Who’s David?”) If they’re having a bad time at school or with friends or there’s something special they need, this is where it will come up. They know they can talk to God about anything and the fact that you’re there listening is okay.
From the time they were very little, we encouraged devotion to the Guardian Angels. We taught our kids that from the instant God breathed a soul into their bodies He blessed them with their very own angel. And this angel will be with them every instant of every day, finally taking them by the hand to meet Almighty God face to face when their life is over.
We encouraged them to name their angels as Bill and I named ours. (Fred and Bartholomew, respectively.)
We reminded them that their angels are always in the presence of God, so they can intercede for us. They are messengers, so we can send them to be with a sick friend or a lost child, but they go so fast they never leave our sides. We often encouraged the children to send their angels to visit Our Lord in the tabernacle, to keep Him company for us since we couldn’t be there with Him ourselves.
Many nights I stood by the front window at two a.m., praying for my errant teenagers and asking my angel to go with them and bring them home safely.
The family Rosary was the single most important thing our family did together, next to the Mass.
We prayed the Rosary every night after dinner. Most of the time it was a battle. I knelt in front of the statue of Our Lady with five little boys wrestling and fighting behind me and three adolescent girls pouting and clamping their jaws shut in revolt. I could hear the boys hassling each other, their rosary beads being used as towropes for their Matchbox cars . . . and I couldn’t hear the girls voices at all!
I remember once asking a priest friend if we just shouldn’t say one decade every night instead of the whole Rosary. Maybe the kids wouldn’t resent it so much.
“Sure,” he said. “that’s just what the devil wants you to do. First you shorten it, then you stop saying it altogether.”
We didn’t shorten it. We hung in there and over the years we have reaped bountiful blessings that I know are due to the daily Rosary, the most important being that all eight of our children are practicing Catholics and they pray the Rosary with their own children.
We’ve always said grace before meals and continue to do so, even in restaurants. Out loud. Many people have remarked that it reminded them to pray, too.
I imagine more Confessions have started “Bless us, O Lord . . .” than “Bless me, Father.” But the habit of confession is one of the most important gifts we can give our children.
When there’s been a major blow up at home, it’s edifying for children to see their parents in line for Confession with them. It’s an awesome grace to be in the car together going home, realizing that Almighty God has forgiven all of us and has drenched us in His love and given us the ability to forgive each other and to start over.
This is especially true during the high school years, when kids are up against a veritable smorgasbord of sinful activities and behaviors that are so very tempting. If they’re in the habit of going to Confession regularly, they’ll receive the graces necessary to overcome those temptations and, if they fail, the confessional is the one place they can go to make their peace with God and have a fresh start tomorrow. As Catholics, this is one of our greatest treasures, yet it seems to be our best-kept secret. I’ll never understand why our Confession lines are so short.
Food for the Soul
Our dinner table turned into a catechetical roundtable when Bill and I realized our children were not being properly catechized in the Catholic school they attended. They learned a lot of “love thy neighbor” but not much in the way of dogmas or doctrines of our faith.
With at least 10 at the dinner table every night, we’d cover religion from kindergarten to high school. “Please pass the potatoes and what did you say the Third Commandment was?” “I don’t care if you are a sophomore and your theology teacher told you there’s no such thing as original sin, he’s wrong. If there were no original sin there’d be no need for redemption. We wouldn’t have needed a savior. Christ wouldn’t have come and died on the Cross for us. We wouldn’t have had Our Lady. If there were no original sin we’d all still be romping around in the Garden of Eden. And yes, I’ll be glad to go and talk to your teacher and the principal, tomorrow!”
Then the little kids would pipe in, “Who’s Reginald Sin and where’s the garden Eve played in?”
The discussions weren’t always so heated. Sometimes they were just plain funny. But they went on every night.
These are some of the ways we tried to live our faith with our children. Forty years ago there were just the two of us. Now, seven of the eight are married and we have 30 grandchildren with two more on the way. We two have multiplied into 47. That’s an awesome gift from God! We have been blessed abundantly and I hope you will be, too.
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