Ten Pillars Behind Holy Family’s Mom & Tots Success
Lots of Toys & Laughter
Walk into the church hall at Holy Family Parish in Bolton on a Wednesday morning, and you might get the impression that you had stumbled upon a child’s birthday party. Toys are strewn across the floor of the sizeable space while toddlers flit about, busy in their play. Over the din, laugher erupts periodically as the mothers gather to catch up and connect.
And that’s to say nothing of the bounteous offering of foods – everything from fruit to bean dip to crackers and cake – proudly displayed in the center of the kitchen. But this is no birthday party. It’s Moms and Tots, a weekly gathering that has been taking place in this Bolton church community for the last eleven years.
Deacon Discovers a Need
When Deacon Robert Suthers first arrived at Holy Family, he noticed something telling about the parents who arrived to interview for Baptism – namely, that they didn’t seem very comfortable or well-equipped to take care of their children. Adjusting to being a new parent is a challenging enough task on its own, but without the support of nearby friends and family, it can seem downright monumental. Recognizing a need in the community, Deacon Robert and his wife, Gabrielle, resolved to meet it. They gave of their own time and resources to give local moms a much-deserved break, as well as to develop a network of support between them. Though the group began with only a handful of moms in attendance, that number has swelled in recent years to reach as many as fifty moms per meeting.
Heart Warming Hospitality Welcome
Gabrielle insists that Moms and Tots has never been about formal programming. Instead, the Suthers’ goal was to create a space where mothers in the community could come together and socialize, learning from each other by sharing their stories. The couple is also adamant about making all mothers feel welcome, be they cradle Catholics or non-believers. “We welcome them,” says Gabrielle of non-Christians. “We want people to know that the Church is a living community, not just the Mass, and not just something you have to do.”
Open Door to Sanctuary & Visiting Religious
To emphasize their point, the Suthers make sure that the doors to the sanctuary are always open during Moms and Tots meetings, inviting the moms to spend some time in prayer with Our Lord. Priests and seminarians are also frequently in attendance, getting to know the moms and demonstrating that the Church is in fact a community of persons. The couple’s determination to, “live the liturgy” never fails to inspire, and it has even led some moms back to the Catholic Faith.
Mothers Love it
“It’s been a Godsend,” says Charlene, a mother of four. “I know that we would still have our faith, but I don’t know if we would be where we are without this group.” Her son agrees, referring to the other moms and kids as his, “church family.” Another mom, Melissa, candidly shares that Moms and Tots helped her to get over post-partum depression. “Before, I was just a Sunday Catholic,” she admits. “I would go and leave without talking to anyone.” But that all changed after attending Moms and Tots.
“We try to give moms a good experience and a community to belong to,” Gabrielle says. “We get to know each other, and we deal with issues as they come up.” Indeed, the group has faced some tragedies in the past, and each time, the moms come together to care for those in need. When one mother lost a child, for example, the other moms resolved to support her through it. They cooked meals, sent flowers, and made themselves available to help in any way necessary. The incredible outpouring of love and generosity was enough to keep the mother’s spirits up, and she admits now that she never could have gotten through such an ordeal without the community’s support.
Grace Flowing from the Sacraments
No doubt about it, the Moms and Tots group at Holy Family is one-of-a-kind. The seeds of community and love that were planted by the Suthers so many years ago have sprung up into a beautiful garden, one that moms are simultaneously grateful for and awed by. Though this couple may not have set out to do something extraordinary, the love with which they minister to moms has managed to transform seemingly ordinary acts into one extraordinary witness. There is no doubt that grace flows from the couple’s 49 year old marriage and Deacon Suthers’ ordination 19 years ago! Coupled with their knowledge of the Catholic faith, and their experience as both parents and grandparents, this dynamic couple is making a huge contribution to ministering to moms in their community.
Another thing you will notice at the the Holy Family Mom’s and Tots group is a dedicated group of volunteers. Besides Deacon Robert Suthers and his wife Gabrielle, there are at least six other volunteers who help out weekly, come rain or shine. I have had an opportunity to meet them personally and they are a force to be reckoned with. Dynamic, dedicated, committed, hard working, joyful volunteers are a rare breed. My hats off to them! Shopping, preparing a weekly themed breakfast, setting up the organized chaos with toys, creating an ambiance and welcoming moms, all takes work – that’s one thing that this group is not shy of, doing the work necessary to make the weekly breakfast robust, playful and a safe place for moms to share their hearts, joys and struggles.
Secret Sponsor – Anonymous Benefactor
Behind the scenes, there is an anonymous benefactor which sponsors the breakfast. Yes, you heard me right. Someone has been inspired to pay for this weekly breakfast for moms, in a true sense, living out the gospel by feeding the hungry moms in their community.
Can you please pray for the anonymous benefactor, the volunteers and this magnificent couple? Every time I talk to them, they say they aren’t, “doing anything.” In our minds, they are co-operating with the Holy Spirit and doing it all.
Dorothy Pilarski is the founder of Dynamic Women of Faith, author, motivational speaker, blogger , guest columnist with the Catholic Register and a facilitator on Salt + Light TV.