Rorate Caeli

Guidance for young parents: how to raise a big, holy Catholic family (ongoing series)

After posting a video of a Catholic family with 15 children -- that boasted eight religious vocations -- we asked our readers (see here) to write into us and share their stories on what it's like to raise a big family, and what they did or are still doing to make their family holy, happy and peaceful. Here is one of those stories.

Please consider sending your story to Rorate (see here for very flexible instructions) to post in this on-going series to help inspire young Catholic couples to forgo the abuses of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and simply go fourth and multiply with faith and confidence in a loving and all-knowing God.

To view all of these stories, click the "The joy of big families" tag at the end of this post. For those who have sent in stories, we will post soon:

Written by John from Ireland:

I was born in Ireland in 1962 and served the Latin Mass a few times just before the NO was introduced and we were 're-trained'.  I abandoned my faith in my mid teens but life without God left me unhappy and thanks be to God, I had returned to my faith through a sometimes painful journey by the time I was 24.

The life of faith is a journey and some of our own journey follows. I do not tell families how to live their lives as each family is different but there are some Catholic practices which will help any family that adopts them.

Married life began when I was 26 and my wife was 23. We were open to life and we were just an  ordinary everyday very average Novus Ordo Catholic couple.

The Gospel we chose for our wedding was Matthew 6:24-34 where Christ says you cannot serve two masters. He then tells us not to worry about food or clothes or material things because these are the things that the pagans worry about and worrying about these things shows a lack of faith. If God feeds the birds of the air will He not also feed us? Are we not of more importance than sparrows?

Then Christ gives us this beautiful promise 'Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you'.

I have always taken this piece of scripture literally and God has never let our family down.

We have eight children, all delivered by caesarian section, and when the world told us that we should not have any more children (the doctors wanted to sterilize my wife each time after our third child) my wife, after re-reading the wedding vows, fully realised that children are indeed a gift from God and so she turned to God in prayer and asked Him to send more children.

He answered her beautifully and we now have two girls and six boys.

My wife almost died having our last little girl eleven years ago and was rendered infertile due to an emergency caesarian hysterectomy. Most people could not understand our disappointment at not being able to have any more children.

I used to tell people ' you cannot have too many children'

Jesus Christ asks 'what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his very soul'. This teaches us the value of each and every human life and therefore if each and every soul is created in the image and likeness of God, how can you have too many images and likenesses of God?


Our life has not been without its difficulties but when difficult times come I always examine my heart to see if there is some area of my life where I am not seeking first the kingdom of God. When I find something (as I invariably do) I then strive to amend my ways.

We have also had some very special help along the way which I would like to share.

Our first help arrived just after we were married when I began to work as a bar and restaurant manager in a recently renovated building.  One day on a back corridor of the building, I noticed a picture frame sticking out from some builders rubble that was due to go to the dump. On inspection it turned out to be a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with our Lord standing in the centre of the picture surrounded by twelve promises given by Him to St Margaret Mary Alacoque at Paray-le-Monial.

I asked the owner of the establishment if I could keep the picture and it still has pride of place in our sitting room.

One of the promises given by Our Lord to St Margaret Mary is that He will establish peace in the families of those who expose and honour His Sacred Heart. We have found this to be true.

I cannot recommend the Sacred Heart devotion enough.

We have also been praying the family rosary now every evening for over nine years. I am ashamed to admit that I was an obstacle to family prayer in our home. My wife always had the desire to pray the family rosary but when the children were small I used to find the constant repetition tedious and the children a distraction. In the end I agreed to pray one decade every evening as a family but I must admit it was a half hearted effort.

Then one day while I was at Mass in a Dominican church in February 2004 the priest, who was to become a great friend and guide to our family, quoted Fr Patrick Peyton the Irish Rosary priest during his sermon. He said that 'the decade is the death of the Rosary' and went on to explain that if we settle for just saying one decade we will never progress to saying the full rosary.

It was like an arrow in my heart and that evening when I returned home from work I told my wife that from then on we would say a full five decade rosary each evening come what may.  Of course my wife smiled and was delighted as she had been praying for this to happen.

That decision brought immense changes, struggles and blessings to our family life.

Within two months we had put our house up for sale and we moved into rented accommodation which was closer to the Dominican priory.  That November the Dominican priest consecrated our family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and officially enthroned the image of His Heart in our home with all of our names inscribed on it.

After trying to fight unsuccessfully against our local catholic schools introducing relationships and sexuality education into the standard curriculum with the approval of our bishops, we realised that our children's souls were being endangered by those who had a duty to help us to protect them.

The following year we moved house again and enrolled four of the children into a private Catholic school and we decided to home-school the younger ones.  The chaplain at the Catholic school (since deceased may God have mercy on his soul) only celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass and so we inadvertently discovered another treasure of the church which is hard to find here in Ireland.

We started attending the Latin Mass on Sundays but I was very conscious that my small children were somewhat noisy and we stopped going after about three weeks.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder however and we returned to the Latin Mass again after a couple of months in order to savour the reverence and the glory that is given to God in the Traditional Latin Mass.

I also noticed a few months after our return that the children were effected by the silent reverence of the Traditional Latin Mass and that they in turn would sit quietly throughout the Mass.

About three years later we decided to home school the remaining school aged children and so we ended up with six children at home the others having finished.

We are just sorry that we did not home school all our children from the start.

Another recent addition to helping our family is St Joseph to whom I have developed a deep devotion and to those having difficulties I say along with St Teresa 'go to St Joseph'. He will not let you down.

Another milestone along my journey happened in 2005 when I attended a five day silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius which I now repeat every year. The retreat I attend is given by French Benedictine Monks who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass throughout the retreat.  This has really changed my life. I was a Catholic man in my forties and for the first time I discovered that there was such a thing as an interior spiritual life. I highly recommend the Spiritual Exercises to anyone looking to live a serious Catholic life.

In practical matters we look to St Paul where he says do not conform to the world.  We decided just before marriage that we could live without the distraction of television and after twenty five years without it we have no regrets.  On recent winter's evenings I would read something to the children after the rosary.  Chesterton's Father Browne stories were a favourite and sometimes I would read from the lives of the saints.

As regards internet we do allow some internet.  Strictly home school website for younger children to upload school work, nothing else.  Severely restricted for older children with most websites blocked.  They must seek approval if they wish to look at a new website so I can check it out before hand.

When the children reached about sixteen they were allowed an e-mail address on one condition.  They had to agree that I would have their e-mail access passwords until they turned eighteen and they knew that I might check their e-mail activity at  any time and without prior notice.

Our family life now consists of daily Mass (NO on weekdays as no Latin Mass is available).  We drive for one hour on Sundays to attend the Traditional Latin Mass offered by the Institute of Christ the King. It used to be a two hour drive leaving at eight in the morning but things are slowly improving here in Ireland and slowly but surely the Traditional Latin Mass is becoming more available.

My wife and I go to confession weekly and the children come along with us and usually they go either weekly or fortnightly as they need to. We also have the rosary each evening and we make an hours adoration as a family in the early hours of Friday night Saturday morning from one to two.

As regards our children, our eldest has fallen away from the practice of the faith after four years in University here in Ireland although I am confident that this will be a temporary affair. The other older children still practice the faith whilst the youngest three who have been home schooled all along have a deep knowledge of their faith.

However there are grave dangers to the faith of my children here in Ireland as the culture at present is very hostile to the Catholic faith and there is an awful lot of counterfeit Catholicism with very few Catholics upholding the Church's teachings regarding marriage and family life in full.

In conclusion, I always laugh when I hear the Church saying that we are generous on account of the size of our family. It is God who has been generous to us and I know that this big sinner does not deserve such blessings and at times I am overwhelmed by God's goodness to me. I can only hope and pray that I will become holier and that I will lead others to Jesus Christ.

Daily Mass, frequent confession, adoration of the most Holy Eucharist, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, daily Rosary, devotion to St Joseph and the Spiritual exercises of St Ignatius are all practices which I would heartily recommend to any Catholic family.   
These practices developed over time in our lives. We cannot do it without God's help.

We are married twenty five years this November and we are hoping to travel to the shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Paray-le-Monial in France to give thanks to the Sacred Heart for all our blessings and to renew our wedding vows.

May God bless you all. 


Michael Ortiz said...

This is a fine post, with lots of heroic Faith.

God bless all our families!

Rural Catholic said...

What a joy to read about this loving, courageous family. It takes real faith to live counter to the culture and do it with such love and in God's Will. What a testimony to the beauty of married love and raising children with the manual that God gave us! Many of us are sad because we didn't know or weren't taught how to 'do it right', but I love reading about others who are a witness to us all. It took time for the author to write this and I really appreciate the lessons learned. I would like to learn more about the disciplines of St. Inatius but do not know how to find a resource. God bless all!

Long-Skirts said...

John from Ireland said:

"I used to tell people ' you cannot have too many children' can you have too many images and likenesses of God?"



You can have a
BIG house
You can have a
BIG car
You can even have a great
BIG fighting war

You can have a
BIG dog
You can have a
BIG check
You can even have a party
On a great BIG deck

You can have a
BIG trip
You can have a
BIG debt
But there's one big
BIG that they hate you bet --

A great
BIG family
Full of great
BIG hearts
They're a silent rebuke to the little
BIG f*rts!

Gratias said...

A beautiful life, thank you John.

Worry not about the one that lost the faith in College. I too lost it for years and it came right back.

Liam Ronan said...

God's everlasting blessing on you and yours John.
Most edifying.

JTS said...

I've just completed module 4 of a 6 module course on Ignatian Spirituality. So far so good except for the girl sitting next to me. She said people who sit there in church praying the rosary are pretending to be pious and showing off!!! Wonder why she's doing the course? Anyway, I really enjoyed your post John, it would have taken you ages to think about and get it all down. Thanks though, it was a good read and useful. I liked the way you admitted to your mistakes. I have JUST started thinking about saying the Rosary on a regular basis. I always stick to my usual prayer list and I don't think it is anywhere near enough. Reading about Our Lady recently I have a feeling that the Rosary could help me in many ways. I was contemplating getting the children to join in and worried it would be distracting and time consuming and could I just do 1 decade instead of 5? So you have really helped me there. Talking of St. Joseph; my husband hurt his back very badly a number of years ago. I advised him to pray to St. Joseph which he did every morning and evening. His back got better after a couple of weeks. It wasn't a coincidence as his back had been close to needing surgery. He has not had any trouble with it since. I will endeavour to do some reading on the Sacred Heart. I don't know how you find the time to fit in all that you do. God Bless you all.

Rhoslyn said...

Oh, also...wonderful post! You have a lovely family, John.

I think you are right to be confident that your son will come back to God. As you said, absence makes the heart grow fonder and our hearts NEED the Lord.

Lee Gilbert said...

This, of course is a wonderful account and delightful to read. Like your eldest, John, I was the eldest son who fell away at university. My father, while maintaining cordial relations with me and visiting me from time to time forbade me to live at home. Talk about pain, but he was right. I would have influenced, and wanted to influence my younger siblings to follow me. That pain and exclusion eventually played a part in my conversion, for when life became unbearable I finally prayed to God for help.

I would not be at all sanguine about the return of any fallenway, but would pray my heart out, make sacrifices, get to daily Mass, be Monica to his Augustine. His return is very far from being a done deal and may very well be a prod for to lead a parent into an even more devout life.

I know someone who prayed for his son from the day of his birth as if he had ALREADY fallen away, as if he were already "Augustine." THAT I would heartily recommend to all Catholic parents in these times.

I would not say a word against the family Rosary, except there is a danger of making the best the enemy of the good. For example, as a ten year old, I would be having great fun playing outside with my friends in the evening twilight, but then came the call to come home and pray the rosary. This engendered quite a bit of resentment toward the practice, and I became a sullen and maybe even a sacrilegious little boy, saying the beads piously outwardly but furious inside. Not good, to say the least.

As a result, I was chary of imposing this on my own children, except in May and October. The rest of the time at the end of the day we held hands and said the Salve Regina or the Shield of St. Patrick, kissed each other goodnight and off to bed they went. It was enough. Meanwhile my wife was praying a Rosary a day for each of us. As a result, they are both practicing the faith today at ages 35 and 33.

One thing to keep in mind is how slowly time passes for little ones. Fifteen or twenty minutes saying the Rosary can seem like an eternity. You used the word tedious and that is the way it struck me as a child, tedious and interminable.

One thing I would say is if you are going to say the Rosary, keep it as spare and as interesting as possible. The Dominican Rosary is ideal for this. No creed, it begins with the Hail Mary. In the second and fourth decades the leader becomes the responder. Alternating postures would help. And for heaven's sake, no "trimmings" ( an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for the intentions of the Holy Father, another set for the poor souls, etc., etc. NO. JUST the Rosary) Another way to make it interesting would be to vary the ending antiphon from the Salve Regina to the Memorare to the Ave Maris Stella, etc. You could say it in English on Sundays, Latin on Mondays, Italian on Tuesdays, etc. Kids love memorizing things, believe it or not, and would be very proud of this accomplishment.

As beautiful as the family Rosary may be for families who can bring their children into saying it willingly, strictly speaking it is not necessary for their salvation, and if it does provoke resentment it would be counter-productive. That said, there is nothing stopping parents from praying their hearts out for their kids with rosaries, chaplets, breviaries, stations of the cross, but especially the Rosary. Honestly, that is all the family Rosary the family really needs.

Alan Aversa said...

Wow, in Ireland… Deo laus!

Elizabeth Labat said...

what? I guess you've never read secret of the Rosary by St. Louis De Montfort.

pmckarch said...

There are 2 churches we attend...
The 1st is the one we go to to assist at Mass.
The 2nd is the domestic Church where the enthroned picture of the Sacred Heart is the tabernacle and the Family Rosary is the liturgy.
The former is essential on Sundays (though more often is certainly a help), but the later essential everyday.