Tag Archives: children

A Christmas reflection on the gleaming light of childhood

Christmas is almost here! If ever there was a holiday focused on children—this is it.

It seems a good moment to ask: why does childhood seem to be such a sacred, even holy time? When most of us look back at our childhood, why does that period always seem to be lit up by a kind of gleaming, golden light?

As the author of nine children’s books and someone who works full-time in the pro-life movement, I’m often asked that question. It’s too easy to say that children are pure and innocent and free from all the corruption and cynicism that sometimes make adult life so stressful. That’s a true enough answer, of course, but it’s cliché. Somehow we know there’s more to the story.

I think G. K. Chesterton provided the key to unlocking the mystery in a marvelous article he wrote called “In Defense of Baby Worship.” In it, he points out that for each child, all things are new—the stars, the sky, the grass, the trees, the shapes and colors of everyday objects, are all phenomena to be experienced for the first time. The astonishment children feel at the world is much more than mere innocence. Inside their tiny heads is a whole new universe—a universe as strange and unfamiliar as it was on the seventh day of creation.

That’s why adults are so delighted with even the simplest efforts of infants. We treat everything they do as marvelous—from their first feeble steps to their first garbled words. Case in point: my one-year old goddaughter is at my house for a visit and my wife—who is her godmother—is practically jumping up and down with excitement because the child is “helping” her wrap presents. As I write these words, my wife is telling her to “go help Uncle Anthony, too.” And to her utter amazement, the laughing child has come over to my desk and proceeded to pound her little hands on my computer keyboard as if it were a toy piano. As I rush down the hallway (to safety), I can hear my wife shouting: “Good girl! Were you helping Uncle Anthony write his Legatus article? My brilliant goddaughter!”

That pretty much sums up our attitude toward infants. And it is the proper attitude. As Chesterton observed, we reverence, love, and even fear children. We have nothing but affection for their limitations because they are so obviously limited. We treat any small victories of theirs as miracles—because they are miraculous. We recognize the supernatural quality of their actions—the fact that behind those tiny, bulbheaded bodies is an immortal soul made in the image and likeness of God—a soul utterly unique and greater than all the stars and planets put together. That’s the wonder of childhood.

And at the risk of again being cliché, may I offer a suggestion?

As Christmas approaches and we contemplate the Child in the manger—through whom the whole world was made—perhaps we should remember that adults, too, are miracles of creation. Adults, too, are astonishing and supernatural, unique and precious, human and divine. As such, don’t they deserve to be treated with a bit more indulgence when they make mistakes? Shouldn’t we view their shortcomings with the same tender affection and respect we have for the limitations of the young? That doesn’t mean we should ignore or condone any wrong they do — but merely that we should be compassionate, merciful, and charitable to all God’s children —even those who are grown-up.

Perhaps if we did that, it might bring some of that golden, sacred, holiness of childhood back into our lives just in time for the New Year.

ANTHONY DESTEFANO is a bestselling author of Christian books for adults and children, an associate director of Priests for Life, and a member of the Jersey Shore Chapter

New children’s books enliven evergreen lessons for life

Children are both a gift from God and our future, so writing for them is no small undertaking. It takes a special talent to translate the world into a simpler, more innocent place full of possibilities. For two Legates, Chuck Ormsby and Anthony DeStefano, writing children’s books is a labor of love in which they impart character-building, evergreen lessons.

Godly insights for everyone

Anthony DeStefano and his wife Jordon are members of the Jersey Shore Legatus Chapter. He has worked successfully in politics and business, and is a member of the board of directors of Priests for Life and Rachel’s Vineyard. He has also been an EWTN television host and appeared on many national television and radio programs.

And through it all, he writes.

Stefano is an award-winning, best-selling author of 20 books for adults and children. His first book, A Travel Guide to Heaven, (2003) has been published in 15 languages and in 20 countries. Another book for adults, Hell: A Guide, will be out in June.

DeStefano’s latest children’s book released in October, The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted, is the retelling of Jesus’ parable of the seed in verse, beautifully illustrated by Erwin Madrid, an animator on the Shrek franchise. The story is about a seed wanting to stay in a cozy drawer rather than get buried in the ground. Faced with his biggest fear, the seed undergoes a transformation into a beautiful tree that nurtures the creation around it. It imparts the lesson that no matter how small or scared we may be, God has plans for us more wonderful than we can imagine.

Speaking specially to Catholics

This new book is his first with a Catholic publisher. “Now is the time to start writing Catholic books with the Church,” he explained. “I’ve had the sense over the last three years—and I think all Catholics have had this sense—that the Church is going through troubled waters. I’ve had a conviction that instead of focusing on the general market where I’ve had a lot of success, I should write for a Catholic-specific audience.” It also helped that DeStefano had met the publisher of Sophia Institute Press, Charlie McKinney, and was very impressed. Sophia will also publish his next two children’s books: Our Lady’s Wardrobe in April and The Grumpy Old Ox next Christmas.

DeStefano’s stories, which reflect Godly values and insights, have attracted readers across denominational lines and even no denominations. The Seed Who Was Afraid to be Planted, he explained, is also a message that applies to everyone.

Facing the universal phobia – fear

“I believe the biggest problem that people face—not just children—is fear,” DeStefano said. “People are afraid about their money, and job, and families, and health, and most of all they are afraid they don’t have what it takes to overcome their problems.” Unless we help children deal with their fears, he said, it can manifest into much bigger problems that could last a lifetime.

The idea for the book came to DeStefano during adoration while reading the parable of the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and had to die in order to grow. “It hit me like a bolt of lightning; Why not retell the parable of the seed from the perspective of the seed?” he explained. “The message is about trusting God and allowing him to transform your fear into something wonderful.”

Taking the worst, pulling out the best

It is a message that relates to Christ himself, according to DeStefano. “Jesus is the best example of the seed who was planted,” he said. “He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He died and was buried in the earth. It was the worst evil that ever took place in the world: the murder of God by His own creatures. But three days later, the Resurrection represents the greatest good that could ever happen. The gates of heaven were thrown open and all of us can receive everlasting life. If God can take the worst thing and pull out the best thing, He can pull good out of our life.”

Imparting such a vision can transform a child’s whole life, DeStefano said. “It can help prepare children to understand other deeper truths— including the love God has for us, the beauty of creation, the temporary nature of bodily death, the meaning of resurrection, and the joy of heaven.”

Far-reaching love for kids

Attorney Chuck Ormsby, member of Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Chapter, also has deeper messages in his whimsical children’s books. They reflect his own commitment to God and children alongside his full-time work at his law firm, Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. He has specialized in corporate law for over 30 years alongside raising three children with his wife, Linda, and building schools in Uganda.

“I went on my thirteenth trip there this past Halloween,” he said. “Previously we built a school in the jungle where a genocide took place,” Ormsby said. It all began in 2007 when Ormsby accepted an offer from visiting priest, Father Joseph Sserugo, to visit Uganda. He came to build a primary school on a one-square-mile piece of land that had been a place of genocide, thereby turning it into a blessing. Pope John Paul II high school was later built and is currently educating 600 students.

There is also a vocational school begun by Ormsby with another 150 students. Students can be sponsored at the Pope John Paul II High School, to defray yearly tuition. And there are also opportunities for covering their room and board at the local university (go to bridgetouganda.org to learn more).

Out of the mouths of babes

Ormsby’s foray into writing children’s books as a hobby has a humbler beginning. “We were driving in the car and one of the kids asked, ‘Why is Dad’s head ‘shaped like that’ —round and bald,” he explained. “My wife said, ‘So water runs off. If it had a dent in it, water would well up and he’d have a problem; puddles would form, birds would come drink and trees would grow.’” Thus was born Mr. Puddlehead, published in 2016 by Archway Publishing.

The brightly animated story in verse is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. The moral behind the silly story is: accept the way God made you, and see the puddles in your life as a blessing.

Life lesson from grandma

On another day, Linda came home from pushing a grandchild in the stroller with a sticky mess on the wheel that had picked up a napkin and a cigarette. From that came the story of Mrs. Sticky Wheel. She is in too much of a hurry to clean off the mess so ends up coming home with a dog, a cat, a duck and a pig stuck to the stroller.

On the first page of the second book, Mrs. Sticky Wheel marries Mr. Puddlehead. On the last page is the moral:

“She learned a lot from this haul
Address your issues when they’re small
Or better yet so not to stall
Avoid your problem after all.”

A third book is in the works. When his oldest of five grandchildren, Tiernan, recently explained that his superhero power is never getting tired, Ormsby envisioned his next book – a story where the villains are such a pest, while the superhero needs no rest.

Stay tuned.

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Gift of a miracle – from a saintly friend

As a young mother, Illinois legate Melissa Villalobos often would take her prayers and daily concerns to the late Cardinal John Henry Newman. So, when she woke up bleeding one morning in 2013 during her seventh pregnancy while her husband, David, was on a plane to Atlanta, she instinctively cried out: “please Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.” What happened next has been certified as the second miracle required for the canonization of Newman, who will be declared a saint October 13.


 Quite simply, Melissa said, “The bleeding suddenly stopped.” When she thanked Newman, she sensed a fragrance of roses so intense that it was unlike the scent of any roses she had smelled previously.

At the time, Melissa had been on bed rest for 15 days. Her placenta had detached from the uterine wall and had a hole in it and a blood clot had formed in the fetal membrane. As a result, she was getting ultrasounds weekly, and was scheduled to have one the day the bleeding stopped. When she told the doctor what had happened, he looked surprised, but the ultrasound showed that her placenta was no longer torn and that the blood clot was gone. As a precaution, she was instructed to rest. 

Even so, Melissa felt well enough to ease back into her normal activities with her children, then ages 6, 5, 3, and 1. On Dec. 27, 2013, the feast of St. John the Apostle, Gemma Lillian was born full term at a healthy weight of eight pounds, eight ounces with no medical problems. Had she been a boy, she would have been named John Henry, but that honor went to her younger brother, who was born Sept. 28, 2016. However, Gemma’s middle name comes from a passage in which Newman wrote that after Mary’s Assumption, “instead of her pure and fragrant body, there was a growth of lilies from the earth which she had touched.”


The seeds for Melissa’s relationship with Newman were planted when she saw Cardinal Newman at 2000, a series about the 19th-century English convert, on EWTN. Her interest was piqued, but it wasn’t until several years later when David came home from an evening of recollection with two holy cards bearing Newman’s image that her relationship with the beatified cardinal deepened. Melissa placed the cards in two locations in the house where they could be seen.

“As I passed the cards,” she said, “I would stop and look at him. I was captivated by his face. He looked like someone who could live today, and I was surprised that he looked so modern in his expression . . . I thought he had a beautiful face and I mean that in a holy way. His face looked so pure, loving, innocent, sweet.” Soon, Melissa was offering Newman prayer requests and sharing her thoughts with him. “We were close companions throughout the entire day.”

At the same time, she became curious about him. An Internet search took her to the website of the National Institute for Newman Studies (newmanreader.org), where she was able to access his writings, including his homilies, diary entries, and letters. Knowing he had written to ordinary people like herself gave her the confidence to continue to pray and talk to him. 


Before her pregnancy with Gemma in 2013, Melissa had prayed to Newman when she learned a child she was carrying had no heartbeat. “I prayed for strength to keep my faith. I did not doubt my faith, but I didn’t want to and . . . I begged Cardinal Newman that I would survive that ordeal.” Although her life was not at risk, Melissa said she felt as if she could die of a broken heart. “I wanted to survive emotionally and spiritually. I asked if I could keep my faith and I did. I lost the baby and remained a Catholic and I credited Cardinal Newman for that. I had no doubt that God loved me. I had no doubt that I wanted to remain a Catholic.”

After her prayer for the bleeding to stop was answered, Melissa said she wanted to honor Newman and show her gratitude by helping his canonization cause, but she waited to make sure the child would be born healthy. Her doctors had expected another miscarriage or birth of a pre-term baby with medical problems. 


Following Gemma’s birth, Melissa contacted Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the postulator for Cardinal Newman’s canonization cause, in Rome, and she and David were able to meet him and his translator in September, 2014, when both happened to be in Chicago. They took Gemma with them along with a file of medical papers and imaging discs. A case was then opened in the Archdiocese of Chicago for preliminary investigation. Several experts were hired to determine if what happened could have been explained by medicine or science. Then, during the summer of 2015, David and Melissa were called to testify before a tribunal that included Dr. Gerald Casey, a retired family medicine specialist.

As Melissa spoke, Dr. Casey said, “I felt as if I was listening to someone whom the hand of God had come down and touched at that moment in time. It was the most enriching religious experience of my life. I started to cry and some of the other people as well started to cry. It was just so moving.”

Dr. Casey, who plans to attend the canonization with his wife and seven family members, said neither he nor the other physicians involved in evaluating Melissa’s case had ever heard of anything like it. “None of us as physicians could give a medical reason why she would go from bleeding rather heavily to saying several words and not only for it to stop immediately, but to never occur again.”


Once David and Melissa appeared before the tribunal, agreeing to keep the matter confidential, a long wait began. “We didn’t know how things were going,” Melissa said. “When we would check in by email with the postulator’s translator, she would say they’re still reviewing this or that.”

In the meantime, their son, John Henry, was born, and on Jan. 3, 2019, Melissa gave birth to their youngest, Blase. When she came home from the hospital with Blase, Melissa said she decided not to look at her phone when she got up in the night to nurse because she didn’t want to read anything that would keep her from going back to sleep. But early on Feb. 13 while nursing, she had a strong prompting to check her phone and learned that the second miracle for Cardinal Newman’s canonization had been approved. “It was like being hit with a thunderbolt.”

Because David and Melissa had been unable to talk about the miracle for so long, no one in their DuPage County Legatus Chapter knew about it. They debated whether to say something at a meeting days before the canonization date was to be announced July 1. “I didn’t know if my name would come out that day and I didn’t want Legates to read it in the paper,” Melissa explained. After praying about it, she requested a few minutes to speak. “Everyone was blown away,” she said, adding she hopes eventually to share more of the story with the DuPage and other Legatus chapters.

David and Melissa Villalobos will attend Cardinal Newman’s October 13 canonization in Rome along with their seven children.

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer. 

Real-life thorns of a pro-life family

How in the world does an active family of eight, with children from teen to toddler, actually practice stillness?

 I’ll tell you.

You shift your thinking. Make it as much of a priority in your family as scheduling band camp and soccer tournaments, piano lessons, and ACT prep courses. Almost every saint heard God in the quiet, not on the loudspeaker at a cheer competition. Participating in extracurriculars or volunteering in your community are all good and often holy endeavors as our children learn important skills such as teamwork, time management, goal setting, problem solving, and conflict resolution. But if we desire peace and purpose, we must make room for God’s love. How can He shine His light in if we insist He fit into our packed schedules?

Everything does have a cost; you just have to decide what currency you’re going to use and how high a price you are willing to pay 

Newsflash: living a life with purpose and intention will not be popular. Friends may beg you to join the crazy fray once again, or they will sigh and wistfully share that they wish they could live your carefree life, but they are just too busy. Don’t get sucked into the lie, y’all. If you are a slave to your life, it’s because you choose to be.

Leave it to St. Francis de Sales, a 16th-century saint, to have advice applicable five centuries later: 

Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden; just cultivate your own as best you can; don’t long to be other than what you are, but desire to be thoroughly what you are. Direct your thoughts to being very good at that and to bearing the crosses, little or great, that you will find there. Believe me, this is the most important and least understood point to the spiritual life. We all love according to what is our taste; few people like what is according to their duty or to God’s liking. What is the use of building castles in Spain when we have to live in France?

Or, as we say in Texas, don’t hang your wash on someone else’s line. 

Our family learned from our mistakes of overdoing life. We learned that the view from the land of busy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, every once in a while we’re tempted to jump back in that lane for a fleeting second. Then we pause, look heavenward, and do a family check. Is this serving God, or it is serving our egos? Are we doing this in the name of “preparing our kids for college applications,” or are our motives honest and true?

Excerpt used with permission from Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus, by Kathryn Whitaker (Ave Maria Press, 2019). From chapter entitled “And other lies we tell ourselves,” pp. 119-121. www.avemariapress.com 

KATHRYN WHITAKER is a Legate in the Austin Chapter, Catholic author, blogger, speaker, and freelance graphic designer. A sixth-generation Texan, she was raised an evangelical Protestant, converting to Catholicism on the eve of her wedding. She has appeared in USA Today, Iowa Catholic Radio, The Son Rise Morning Show, Relevant Radio, and is a regular guest on The Jennifer Fulwiler Showon SiriusXM. Kathryn and her husband, Scott, live with their family in Austin, Texas. teamwhitaker.org

Training up a child in the way he should go

A child’s brain can only receive what it is made to receive, and children’s brains change a lot as they develop. The littlest kids (toddlers and preschoolers) understand right and wrong as a matter of avoiding punishment or receiving rewards. As they get older (elementary school), they understand moral concepts like “fairness” or “justice” (consider how they protest an “unfair” rule).

During the “age of innocence” before puberty (also called the “latency period”), a child’s mind is not made to receive graphic or explicit truths about the tough moral issues, especially regarding sexuality. That’s why the Pontifical Council of the Family’s document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS) says of preadolescents:

This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex. During those years, before any physical sexual development is evident, it is normal for a child’s interests to turn to other aspects of life. …So as not to disturb this important natural phase of growth, parents will recognize that prudent formation in chaste love during this period should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be necessary (78).

…Being an independent adult is not just about being able to hold a job and balance a budget. If your child hasn’t developed those skills by adulthood, then he might end up in some lawyer’s office filing for bankruptcy – which is bad but isn’t the worst thing in the world.

What’s worse is your child becoming an adult and not knowing the difference between good and evil. Or, if he does know it, not having the maturity and the will to choose what is good. If our children aren’t developed in those areas, then they might end up separated from God for all eternity – which is the worst thing in the world.


If there is one underlying truth I have found in forming my own teenagers, it’s this: they will accept and embrace a worldview that makes sense to them – even if that worldview is difficult to live out in our culture. They are made to receive not just rules of Church teaching, but reasons that support those teachings. 

Excerpt by Leila Miller and Trent Horn, from Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues (El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers Press, 2018), from Chapter One “Getting Kids to Heaven,” pp. 16-18. www.madethiswaybook.com

LEILA MILLER is a revert to the Catholic faith, working in advertising before marrying and raising eight children. She’s been widely featured on TV, radio and print media, and wrote several books including Raising Chaste Catholic Men. She and husband Dean now have several grandchildren.


TRENT HORN is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers, specializing in teaching Catholics to graciously and persuasively engage those who disagree with them. Each week on the “Catholic Answers Live” radio show, he dialogues with atheists, pro-choice advocates, and others. He is adjunct professor of apologetics at Holy Apostles College, and author of numerous books including Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope and Love.

Most Catholic kids in public school leave the Church

What percent of applicants were accepted to Yale last year? Only 6 percent.

Pretty poor odds, right?

Now consider this: What percent of Catholic kids who never attended Catholic school will go to weekly Mass as adults? Only 5 percent.

Pretty poor odds, indeed. Consider further that most Catholic children (about 84 percent) will never attend Catholic school, and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. We are losing the next generation of Catholics with stunning speed. By the time they graduate from public school, most young Catholics will head for the Church’s “exit” door, never to return. These aren’t faceless statistics: these are our children and grandchildren.

In spite of all the handwringing within the Church over why young Catholics are leaving the faith, few Catholic adults (or clergy) have faced this fact: public schools are toxic to our children, poisoning their self-understanding and undermining their faith. Why aren’t we talking about this? More importantly, why aren’t we fixing this?

Perhaps older Catholics, who grew up when the culture largely supported Christian living, fail to appreciate the magnitude of this cultural shift. Previously, the cultural undertow generally pulled most people along in the right direction. Today’s cultural undertow is a riptide, brutally yanking our children far from shore, submerging them in polluted waters and suffocating their faith. Public schools, along with entertainment, social media, consumer culture, and celebrity influencers, are our cultural waters.

Perhaps Catholic parents who attended public schools themselves think, “Well, I turned out all right,” not realizing that today’s public school environment is radically different.

The game-changer is public education’s reckless stampede towards full-blown gender ideology. Under the guise of “inclusivity” and “tolerance,” schools are indoctrinating our children in a false anthropology that is destructive, destabilizing, denies scientific reality (that we are male or female, forever), and contradicts Catholic teachings.

Put plainly, the public schools are lying to our kids about who they are. Rather than a unity of body and soul, the human person is presented as a jumble of disconnected dimensions such as “gender identity,” “sex assigned at birth,” “gender expression,” and “sexual orientation.” Gender ideology says it’s normal for these dimensions not to align. A person with a male-sexed body can identify as a girl, and insist that others address “her” by female pronouns; classmates must nod along, “affirming” the child’s chosen identity. Gender ideology also teaches kids that it’s normal for transgender-identifying persons to pursue body modification through cross-sex hormones or radical surgery. Put differently, teachers, counselors, and administrators will “affirm” a transgender-identified child, even if this means supporting a 16-year- old girl’s desire for a double mastectomy (because she feels like a boy) or an 18-year old boy’s hopes for genital surgery to validate his identity as a “real” girl.

Worse, schools are keeping parents in the dark about kids’ exposure to gender-affirming curricula, whether transgender-identified students are sharing restrooms or locker rooms alongside opposite-sex students, or even their own child’s “gender identity.” State legislatures and local school boards pass regulations forbidding school staff from telling parents if their own child shows signs of gender confusion unless the child consents. The schools comply under the pressure tactics and litigation threats of LGBT activist groups bent on influencing how other people’s kids understand themselves.

As parents know, there are no do-overs on childhood. One hour a week of religious education cannot possibly counter a child’s daily immersion in gender ideology. Parents, clergy, and Catholic philanthropists need to see what’s happening and enable all Catholic kids to receive a Catholic education. The alternative is to watch helplessly, as the Pied Piper of gender ideology pipes our children over the mountain, never to return.

MARY RICE HASSON, JD, is the Kate O’Beirne Fellow and the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. She co-authored, with Theresa Farnan, PhD, Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child From Public School Before It’s Too Late (Regnery, 2018) and was a speaker for the Holy See’s panel on gender ideology during the 2019 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

When Kids Need A Safe Haven

When the police took five-year-old Bonita White from her apartment, she was more relieved than scared. Her drug-addicted mother had left her alone with an infant brother for a week. There was no father involved.

The two little ones were taken to Our Little Haven (OLH) in St. Louis, Missouri, a home for the youngest victims of abuse and neglect. “Everyone assured me that I would be okay, and I trusted them,” Bonita said. “I remember it was a delightful time. I had my first birthday party and Christmas there and went fishing for the first time. They were so loving!” Our Little Haven was home for Bonita and her brother for a couple of years until they transitioned back with their mother following her treatment for drug addiction. Things were better, although there would be other programs in their future as safety nets for a family headed by a mother with mental health and addiction problems. “My mother loved us the best she knew how, but she was sick,” Bonita explained.

Today, 28-year-old Bonita credits Our Little Haven with having had a major impact in her life. She has a degree in psychology with a social work emphasis, works with Head Start for early childhood intervention, and plans to attend graduate school in psychology next year. Her 23-year-old brother, Terrence, plans to graduate with degrees in mathematics and engineering next year.

Serving Children for 25 Years

It has been 25 years since Scott and Kathleen Hummel made the leap from their social work jobs to creating a program caring for young children from troubled families. Scott is now the executive director and Kathleen is the therapeutic director.

The couple met at Rockhurst University where they received undergraduate degrees and then earned masters in social work and received honorary doctor of philosophy in humanities degrees from St. Louis University. They both knew well the results of abuse and neglect during early childhood. Scott worked at a homeless shelter for families, and Kathleen worked with pre- adolescent girls having serious mental health problems.

“We noticed there was a significant similarity in the families we served that boiled down to a need for early intervention,” Kathleen said. “We wanted to help children from traumatic homes and not wait until they were 12 years old when so much damage has already been done.”

In the early 1990s in the St. Louis area, Scott said that not a lot of people were working with children from birth to 10 years old. The idea grew to create an early intervention program for children from abuse and neglect situations, to heal—mind, body, and soul—while living in a secure, loving environment. Since nothing existed like they envisioned, they created it themselves, establishing relationships with other social service agencies, recruiting a board of directors, hiring staff, finding office and residential treatment space, and securing funding. It was a five-year process from idea to reality. “We’d try to push it away and God in his awesomeness, kept pushing it to the forefront,” Scott said.

The Cookie Jar

Inspired by Dr. William Brennan, retired social work professor from St. Louis University, a cookie jar analogy became the inspiration for the Hummels. It goes like this: when we are born, we are all given a cookie jar. Throughout our formative years, we are given cookies in the form of good experiences and praise. Around the age of ten, the cookie jar is sealed up and that is what we have in life.

“When I was three years old, trauma was losing my red crayon,” Scott said. “We see children who have no cookies in their jar, who come from violence and neglect. For us, that is why we are doing this—to fill up their cookie jars. It’s a response to the gospel of caring for each other.”

Scott pointed out that programs such as OLH become opportunities for others to live out Jesus’ command that we love one another by giving through volunteering or donating to support their work. “It is our honor to invite people to participate,” Scott said. “We are invitational not expectational. If there’s any success, it’s because we are getting out of the way and letting God and the community help.”

By the Numbers

According to Scott, statistics indicate that without intervention, many of these kids end up dead or in prison. “Those are two options not consistent with the Gospel,” Scott said. “Had the community not helped children like Bonita, pulling her out of the cycle of abuse and neglect, we would have lost her God-given talents. That’s not God’s design for these young people.”

There are also pragmatic costs, he pointed out. “Longitudinal studies, from the child welfare to juvenile systems to the adult system, indicate that they will die at about age 62 — what kind of a life is that?” Scott asked. “And it costs about $1 million per person instead of putting that money into better schools and parks and highways.”

Our Little Haven (OurLittleHaven.org) helps around 600 kids and their families a year; either reunifying them or finding more suitable placement. In 25 years, 18,849 children have been helped. They are private, not-for-profit, partners with Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services to provide services which include a therapeutic preschool, a pediatric mental and behavioral health outpatient program, and the Taylor Family Care Center, which runs the foster-care program. The in- house residential program that was home to 25-40 children ended 10 years ago in favor of foster care.

The Hummels raised their own children alongside running OLH. Maggie, now 26, was born the same year OLH opened, Peter is 24, and Sarah 21. It was the pregnancy of their first child that pushed the Hummels to take the plunge. Kathleen either had to put in for maternity leave or let her boss know she would not be coming back. Scott had to resign from his position at the family shelter also. They took a deep breath and began at the cusp of their own beginning as new parents and have never looked back.

“We pray and rely on the community and continue to be grateful,” Kathleen said. “This has all been God’s doing.”

“There are frustrations at times, but then an alumnus like Bonita stops by,” Scott said. “I think God sends those people at just the right time.”

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Drawing Kids to the Glow of Catholicism

When Bishop Kevin Rhoades challenged teachers in Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese to think of ways to keep young people from leaving the Catholic faith, Legate Betsy Williams took it to heart – and prayer.

In the quiet of her adoration hours before the Blessed Sacrament, an idea began to take shape: Immerse students in the beauty of the Catholic faith, giving them an emotional connection to the truths they learn.

New program emphasizes Catholic beauty

Last month when classes began, Williams’ idea debuted as the Light for the World program at St. Anthony de Padua School in South Bend. The program consists of houses, or small faith communities, within the school, and monthly retreats that focus on a saint and a virtue he or she exemplified.

The houses, which will be named for various saints, will have activities throughout the year to foster a sense of community. During the monthly retreat, each house will rotate among four stations, spending 30 minutes at a time in adoration, listening to a talk by a priest, working on a service project, and singing and learning about the Mass.

“Catholic schools do an amazing job of teaching the truth and this is so very important,” said Williams, who previously taught preschool and first and second grades at St. Anthony. “. . . That doesn’t need to change, but what needs to be added is leading [students] to the truth through beauty.”

Legate John Tippmann, Sr., who is helping Light for the World get started through a grant from his Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation, agreed. “I have seen what the problem is and it is that we know we’re losing children, Catholic children, at an alarming rate. They just lose interest in their faith.”

Keeping the faith – through love for Christ

Tippmann said when he grew up, it was far more likely that students attending Catholic schools would graduate with a love for their faith that sustained them the rest of their lives. Today, he said, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 25 percent of young people between the ages of 21 and 29 attend Mass weekly. And, according to a talk given in March at the University of Notre Dame by Katherine Angulo, associate director for youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, 6 in 10 young Catholics celebrate their First Communion, but only a third go on to receive Confirmation. Angulo also said the median age people stop identifying as Catholic is 13 and one of the main reasons youth are leaving the Church is that they have no emotional connection to the faith.

“We want to teach them to love the faith instead of just learning the rules and regulations of it,” Tippmann said. When Williams presented Light for the World to several members of his foundation’s board, Tippmann said it resonated with his own experience of the faith handed down to him by his mother, for whom the foundation is named. “It seemed like this would help teachers to do a better job of teaching the Catholic faith and love for it.”

The foundation agreed to fund the first two years of the program at St. Anthony at a cost of $23,000 a year, which covers expenses and part of the salary for an additional teacher. If the program takes off, the foundation may continue to fund it or possibly support expanding it to other schools.

Kids ask to go to church

Williams, who will be the teacher directing the program as the school’s Catholic identity representative, drew on her classroom experiences to develop Light for the World. More than two years ago, she began taking her firstgraders into the parish church on Fridays to pray a rosary for their pastor, Fr. Robert Garrow, and for Bishop Rhoades. “They absolutely loved this time in church and in the silence,” she said. “They would beg to go during the week.” In talking with the students, Williams learned that they felt happy and peaceful during the Friday visits. “‘That’s the peace of Jesus,’ I told them. They were hooked and couldn’t get enough.” Next, Williams formed an adoration club so that all students in the school could have the same experience of being alone with Jesus in the quiet of the church. Twice a month for an hour after school, students in the club would meet to pray the rosary, sing and sit quietly.

Adoration will be a key element of the monthly retreats because, Williams said, she wants students to have an opportunity to unplug and listen to what God may be calling them to do with the gifts they have been given and to develop a lifelong habit of taking their concerns to Him.

Williams hopes through Light for the World to show students and their families the treasure they have in their faith – a treasure often left behind by putting travel, sports, and other distractions ahead of attending Mass. “So many kids and families are dropping away and abandoning our greatest gift for the pull of the world.”

As a means of reaching out to families, all the talks given by priests during the monthly retreats will be recorded and available to view online. Family members of students also will be invited to attend the retreats.

Service to others – mitigates focus on self

Williams developed the service aspect of the program to counteract the culture’s focus on self and to show students the beauty of loving, serving, and sacrificing for others. Each house will establish a relationship with a charity during the year and spend part of each retreat day doing something for that charity. For example, a house that has chosen a homeless shelter might make lunches for shelter residents.

The singing element of the retreats is designed to teach students that they are joining with all the angels and saints in bringing glory to God every time they go to Mass. Williams’ hope is that by teaching the students to sing beautiful songs for school and Sunday Masses, families who have been away from church or don’t attend will hear something that makes them want to return.

Strong family support is key

Although she has a background in education, Williams said the best preparation she received for creating Light for the World came from her parents, who gave her a strong, positive example of living the faith. Her father, Brian Miller, has been a deacon at St. Anthony de Padua for the last 45 years and helped her form the adoration club. “He’s given his whole life to our faith.”

Light for the World is not a curriculum, but will complement religious instruction in the classroom, Williams said. In addition to offering experiences that will convey the beauty of the faith, the program will provide suggested activities students can do with their families.

Bishop Rhoades, who approved the program, said its strength is the movement from beauty to goodness and then to truth it provides through exposing the children to the lives of the saints, prayer and retreat days, and priests and religious sisters. “It will be a very purposeful program, seeking to give the children a rich and joyful experience of learning to live the Gospel.”

He added that in visiting Williams’ first-grade classroom, he has already observed the effectiveness of her approach. The bishop said he also has seen how it involves parents who are often moved by the religious observance of their children. “I know of one parent who even became Catholic because the devotion of her daughter led her to learn about the Catholic faith. Parent involvement in this program is a real strength and necessity for the Catholic mission of the school.”

Narrow road’ to Christ is countercultural

Williams said she was confirmed in her discernment of the program by hearing Bishop Rhoades talk during his Chrism Mass homily during Holy Week this year about spreading the aroma of Christ in a world where there is so much stench, an idea he said he took from Pope Francis.

“It really hit home,” Williams said. “. . . It immediately made me think of what I was working on – to teach little ones and their families that everything the world is showing them, that they see in media, the Internet, on Facebook, is so countercultural to what we know as Catholics. I kept thinking of St. John Paul II and how he said don’t be afraid to be a saint, don’t be afraid to go against what the world is showing you . . . It’s scary to go against what everyone else is telling you is right, but if you do that, you’ll be a light for the world.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer

Without children, is a marriage valid?

KARL KEATING: Catholic couples who are not open to children are not validly married . . . 

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Of course it is! If that weren’t the case, then no couple would have a valid marriage until their first child was born. A marriage is valid as soon as the vows are exchanged and the marriage is consummated — that is, when the first sexual union takes place.

Until a child is conceived and born, a husband and wife can’t be sure they will have a child, no matter how much they might want one. Perhaps they are unaware of a medical problem that makes it impossible for them to have children.

That said, there is a sense in which the claim is true. If a bride and groom never have children because, right from the first, they never intended to have children, their marriage is invalid — not because of the absence of children, but because they did not meet the requirements for a sacramental marriage.

Marriage has two aspects, the unitive and the procreative. A man and woman join themselves in holy matrimony. They perform the marriage themselves — they aren’t “married by” the priest. The priest only serves as the Church’s chief witness. A deacon could also serve as the Church’s chief witness. Once the couple gives proper consent, the two are married. This consent must include an openness to the goods of marriage — both the unitive (“the two of them become one body” Gen 2:24) and the procreative (“be fertile and multiply” Gen 1:28). If this openness is absent, the consent is imperfect, and no sacramental marriage results. Although the parties live together, they aren’t really husband and wife. They have no marriage.

Some people think that married people aren’t really Catholic unless they have many children. Children, of course, are a great blessing, and it is a wonderful thing to see large families. But not every couple is able to have many — or even any — children. The validity of the marriage and the worth of married people as Catholics are not measured by the number of their offspring.

As Blessed Pope Paul VI discussed in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), every marriage must remain open to new life, and that is all God requires. This openness means that contraception is always a grave evil and is never morally right. Yet, if there are serious circumstances (such as the poor health of the mother), parents may limit the number of children they have through abstinence or modern, scientific, natural family planning, which takes account of a woman’s natural infertile periods but does not, as contraception does, eliminate all openness to new life.

KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith.

Catechism 101

Conjugal love … is open to fertility. By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory. Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves.

God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1643, 1652, 1654