What is happening at St. Bernadette’s Mothers Group?
For years, I had felt alone in the task of trying to raise my son in the faith and found it so difficult to connect with other truly Catholic mothers in the world who shared my values. I found there was no shortage of parenting advice to be found in the secular world. I read a lot of Today’s Parent magazine. It was all useful and interesting, with all sorts of ideas from how to organize your baby’s nursery, to fun crafts and family outings, tasty new recipes to help curb picky eating, and even various disciplinary techniques for certain behaviours. However, there always seemed to be an important component missing, which was how to raise a faith-filled child with strong character. I went to the library, and joined many different mom and tot groups, but it was all very secular.
My spiritual director suggested I start a Catholic mother’s group. I thought “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly! What would I DO with such a group? I have no resources!” A few months later, while browsing the internet, I came across a link to the Mothering, Full of Grace television series on Salt and Light. I watched the first episode which was available online and then promptly purchased the DVD set. “THIS,” I thought, “is what I was going to use! It was perfect!” For the first time I found a resource that addressed topics relevant to moms from a Catholic perspective.
The Mothering, Full of Grace television series gave me the courage and moved me to create a mothers’ group in my parish of St. Bernadette’s in Ajax.
It started quite simply: an ad was placed in our parish bulletin, along with a poster at the back of the church. I had one mother show up for our first meeting. It was a start. Since then, our little group has grown to almost 100 women from across Durham Region. Moms who come out have various backgrounds and experiences: they are homeschooling moms, working moms, and stay-at-home moms who have all graced this group with their faith and presence. We have moms with newborns, as well as moms with teens, and even moms whose children are adults—so we run the gamut. I have been running our mothers group for about seven years now and I can’t begin to describe the blessings that have come from it.
I don’t have any formal training in theology, nor do I have a background in religion. Most of my career was spent as a self-employed corporate computer trainer. When my first son was born, I decided that I really needed to be home with him during the day, so I took a job teaching night classes at the local community college. When my husband and I adopted our four younger children (they all came at once), I quit that job to be at home with them since they all have very special needs. In reality, I spend very little time at home due to all of their various therapy appointments. Plus with all their extracurricular activities, there are some days I spend more time in the van than in my house!
Graces Witness and Received
Being a mother’s group leader has opened me up to receive so many of God’s graces. I have I really enjoyed the fellowship of other like-minded moms! We are all struggling with different things, but what draws us together is the importance we place on wanting to raise our children well and in the Catholic faith. I have seen moms return to the church and to confession after 20 years as a result of attending Mothers Group. We also offer our intentions in prayer before each meeting. So many of our prayers have been answered! For instance, we prayed for the conversion of three husbands and so far, two have converted!
As a leader, I simply see myself as a gatherer for the Lord. I allow Him to use me as a means of gathering women together to support each other and pray together. I also see myself as a disseminator of information. I’m always shooting emails out to my mom’s letting them know of various Catholic retreats, conferences and workshops that are happening locally. I also share Catholic news and articles or resources that I feel are worthwhile. I want moms to realize that our Catholic faith reaches beyond the walls of our parish.
One thing my mom’s tell me is how they look forward to coming over, putting their feet up and having a nice cup of tea! It’s one of the few occasions in their lives where nothing is being asked of them! Mothers Group is also a great opportunity to meet and make good, holy friends! I have seen the beautiful networking of moms who used to be strangers to each other at the parish. We would all see each other at mass but not really know each other. Mother’s group has changed that! The establishment of this vibrant community of moms and their families who look out for each other and pray for each other has enriched St. Bernadette’s immensely. Not only do we offer each other spiritual support, but also practical support such as passing on children’s clothing and toys, as well as preparing meals for each other when things are tough—as it was with me when we adopted our four youngest children.
The Importance of a Mother’s Ministry in the Church
Why do we need a mother’s ministry in the Church? The answer is simple. Pope St. John Paul II said that “As the family goes, so goes society.” Look at the state of society nowadays, then look at the state of families, and finally look at the state of mothers, the hearts of the families…They are stressed out, pulled in a million directions with many demands placed on them so that they are easily distracted from their primary vocation— Holy Motherhood. At home, many moms are struggling with so much more than faith. They have a lot on their plates. Many of these moms are doing a majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to child rearing, and in particular imparting the faith to their children. The husbands are either lapsed, not Catholic, or anti-Catholic. Who is going to pass the faith down to the next generation? We NEED to minister to moms! We need Mothers Groups to encourage and support each other and remind each other about the “important stuff.” Also pray—we really need to pray for each other!
If I had to impart one pearl of wisdom to someone wanting to do this it is: being a mother’s group leader is not always easy. It might be a bit rocky in the beginning, but once you find your groove, it is one of the biggest blessings in your life! The www.CatholicMomsGroup.com site is so supportive and helpful through every step of the way. Dorothy has always been a fount of glorious encouragement! I also really appreciate all of the marketing materials—pamphlets, flyers, and business cards. It makes promotion of the group so easy!
There were many times in the early days when I had to re-evaluate whether to continue leading this group due to lack of attendance. Some nights, there was only one other mom, plus myself! It is a humbling experience. I kept reminding myself “Where two or three are gathered in My name so am I in their midst.” I also grew discouraged based on the fact that many of the moms were at different places on their spiritual journeys, with some openly hostile to various aspects of our Catholic faith, while others who were very faithful, thought they didn’t “need” the group. However, I realized that our differences were part of what made this a beautiful ministry. At the heart of it all, we all love our kids and want what’s best for them spiritually. The interesting thing is that even though some of these moms eventually left, many kept coming back, saying that the moms group was the only venue they had to discuss such matters of faith.
In contrast, the fruits that have come from running a mother’s group have been immeasurable! I have mentioned some already, but I really find that running a mothers group has renewed my own spiritual life and it’s a truly beautiful thing. Our group has even branched out to organize different family events in our parish throughout the year, based on our Church’s liturgical calendar. We have spearheaded an All Saints Day party, an Advent party, a Lenten gathering, and a Marian celebration in May, all in the hopes that this will bring our faith to life for our children and involve them more in the faith community. We even started park meetups in the summer so we could continue to socialize with our children.
The words of St. Teresa of Avila neatly sum up my experience with the ladies in my group:
“I try to surround myself with people who seem to be making great progress in the love and service of God, with those who place their trust in God alone. I seek out those who are single-minded and courageous in their desire to do great things for the Lord, and who place all their trust in him. Do as I do and you will find that they will be a great help to you as they are to me.”
I feel like we truly are a family of faith and am ever grateful for the gift of these wonderful ladies in my life.
Interview by Rema Celio
Cathy Haynes is a former Corporate Computer Trainer and R.C.I.A. instructor, who holds a BMath degree from the University of Waterloo. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to 5 children under 12, 4 of whom are recently adopted. Cathy has happily hosted a Catholic mother’s group for the past 7 years.
Rema Celio is a happily married mom of two young boys and lives in Toronto. She is an active member of St. Benedict Parish.