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 Mark Andrew:

While the stories of large families will encourage newly weds, they are likely to be nervous about the coming responsibilities and aware of their lack of knowledge.

An anchor in my life as a father of a large family was the Penny Catechism learnt as a child. 

The first two questions are:  Who made you?  - God made me;  Why did God make you? - To know, love and serve Him in this life and to be forever happy with Him in the next. Then, we learnt we are made in the image and likeness of God because we have an immortal soul.  We must take more care of the soul than the body for,“What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?”

Each person is created by God for love.  Each child is a sublime prayer and gift to God who, guided by parents co-operating with the graces of their calling, will forever give love and praise to Almighty God.  

It is no wonder that families obedient to God’s will are so blessed.  At times it is hard, exhausting and calls for many sacrifices, but then, He sacrificed His life that we might be blessed. Parents follow in His footsteps that their children be blessed.

I remember thinking that marriage was the first serious and possibly the most important decision I will ever make and I have no experience of handling such responsibilities.

Two things helped my wife and I to be confident about our mutual decision.  Before we met, we both had a devotion to Our Lady and prayed to her for a good spouse, parent and Catholic. 

We met within a group of friends. While not thinking of marriage, each of us recognised the other as potentially good partners and parents.  We told our children to do likewise, pray and make your judgments of potential spouses before you fall in love.  Once the bug strikes the intellect tends to jelly.

We were married as Vatican II ended.  We looked forward to a large family of six or so, but forgot to count.  God blessed us with four boys and six girls.  He blessed us even more with two priests in the SSPX and an enclosed Carmelite sister and twenty eight grandchildren, so far.  All bar one of the family practice the Faith of Tradition.  The black sheep succumbed to the attractions of the world rather than reject the Faith.  With all the siblings praying for her, I am sure one day she will return.

Soon, my wife started the daily family Rosary.  This holy habit continues in the families of our children.

In the 1970s, when we had six children, we joined the Legion of Mary. It revitalised our faith. Assigned to visiting families, we saw many examples of grace at work but also, the shadows creeping across the Church.

Mother prepared each child for its First Communion and Confession forming a personal, spiritual, lifetime bond between mother and child.

My dear wife set the spiritual tone. Her love of God and Our Lady and willingness to offer the struggles and exhaustion of her motherly duties to the full inspired both husband and children. When she felt unable to cope, she would tell Our Lady and ask for help. Always, the difficulties melted away.

We became concerned that the children lacked enthusiasm for the joys that should be theirs.  The solution was to throw out the TV.  Immediately, they starting reading, playing games together and reveling in life around them.

Meanwhile, the children kept arriving to the delight of parents and siblings.  Mothers are heroic creatures.  They make feminists look like wimps.

With a large family, you live in your own Catholic society.  The happiness and peace, that lies under all the hustle and noise, attracts those from outside. This tends to keep the children close to home.

As head of the family, my responsibilities were made immeasurably easier by my wife’s acceptance of my authority.  It so deepened my love and respect for her that I could refuse her nothing, but then, she was wise enough not to ask for anything that would cause problems.

That is the way grace works.  Submit to God’s order, and the blessings are far beyond what can be achieved through one’s own efforts.  St. Augustine put is succinctly,“Love and do what thou wilt”.

The divine source of parents’ authority was a theme that was impressed upon the children. 

When there was a battle of wills over important and usually unpopular matters, we had to make it clear that our authority comes from God to be exercised in guiding our children towards the only things that mattered - to know, love and serve God and be happy with Him in Heaven.

We had two slogans in our family, “You will be different” and “Life isn’t fair!” The first is a reminder that our calling to the one, true Faith requires the courage to overcome human respect. The second slogan was a call to endure the unpleasant things of life.  Any complaints about things not being fair  drew down the sibling chorus,“Life isn’t fair!”

A tip for fathers when  the wisdom of Solomon is needed in family disputes, make it plain that this requires some thought.  The longer you think about it the more likely it is that the problem will solve itself, either by a cooling of passions or feminine intuition.  The bonus is that this show of slow deliberation is seen as a sign of wisdom.

I had great respect for my wife’s intuition.  I have no doubt it was guided by grace and an ability to quickly sum up a person’s worth.  It was a joke between us that her quick intuitional conclusions were correct but it would take me some time to work out why and let her know.  She was the cavalry. I was the infantry.

After ten years of theNovus OrdoMass, by a conservative parish priest, we felt our faith slipping.  We were finding it difficult to pass on the Faith to our children. We did not know what to do. A friend told us of an “illicit” Tridentine Mass.

In a small crowded room of a private house we heard the words,  Introibo ad altare Dei...immediately, both of us knew that this was what was missing, the Mass that comes from the Apostles.

At first, our children thought we had gone over the top. Nevertheless, the Mass of Tradition reignited their faith.  The older siblings, who had left home, saw the good effects on their siblings and joined them.

For supporting the Tridentine Mass and a priest, my wife and I were called to see the Bishop.  He knew the family and was courteous but would not answer any of our questions or worries. 

The interview ended with him saying,“I have to be obedient.  You be obedient.”  The plus side to this was that we had lost our good reputation and so were now free from the restraints of “human respect”.

In the mid 1970s, I read the encyclicals of the pre-Vat. II Popes and the Vat.II documents.  A great help was the writings of Michael Davies.

In the late 1970s, my wife began to hear about this French bishop who preached like a Catholic.  We became acquainted with the SSPX and several families who supported them. We realised that we needed to be under a truly Catholic Bishop.  Just the Mass and sacraments were insufficient for a growing family.

The nearest regular Sunday Mass offered by the SSPX was a hundred miles away.  For the Mass and for the companionship of like-minded families four hours driving each Sunday was worth it. The children made life long friends.

Up till now, life had been relatively easy, then came the real fight for the souls of our children.

We discovered how dire was the state of Catholic teaching in supposedly Catholic schools. My wife and I were at a loss how to challenge the dangerous teaching of the Faith and associated subjects such as English literature. Here the ever active grace of the Sacrament of Marriage came to the fore.

We discovered an anger within us against those who were placing the souls of our children in danger.  Knowing the Faith and reading the warnings issued by good writers, we were able to recognize and articulate the failings in regard to Catholic education.

Education is very tightly controlled in the UK.  Home schooling is possible but very difficult, especially after Primary level. There was no alternative but to withdraw our children.  They were heroes in accepting the situation. Between them all, they attended sixteen different schools.

Some families attending the SSPX Mass were sending their girls to the traditional Dominican Sisters and the boys to SSPX schools in France. In 1987 we made a flying visit to the traditional schools and, despite not speaking French, persuaded the Superiors to take in two daughters and two sons. Then came the biggest crises of our family life, telling the children.

It was a terrible time.  The resistance to such a drastic change was immense, but, their souls were at stake.  As parents, we were doing what we saw as best and relied on Our Lord and Our Lady to see all of us through it.

The letters home were heart rending.  As they learnt the language and made friends things settled down.  They never quite enjoyed the stricter, character forming discipline compared with the UK but in the end recognized its benefits.  They received a superb Catholic education. Later, two more daughters joined them.

This education nurtured two religious vocations.  The youngest son entered the SSPX seminary in 1992.  The youngest daughter, after further education, entered the enclosed traditional Carmel in Belgium.

A thought, if we had limited our family those two vocations would not exist.

They say that for such blessings, God asks for a sacrifice.  This came on our return from the seminary, my wife was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The family rallied around and looked after her as a queen deserves.  She said her twelve children are my crown that I will wear in Heaven.  There were two little ones we never knew who were lost before birth.

Four months letter she died at home surrounded by most of her family.  Her last words were those of the family Rosary.  Our youngest was twelve.  Her siblings looked after her  - and me. It was a comfort to see it as having half of oneself in Heaven.  Her prayers for her family will be heard by God.

Two years later, our sixteen year old daughter died suddenly.  It was a holy death.  She offered all up to God.  There is no doubt that she went to Heaven.  Since this is the purpose of marriage, the sadness is counterbalanced by joy.

When our son was ordained, his older brother left the business world and took his place at the SSPX seminary and was ordained six years later.

Marriage is an adventure far more enthralling than exploring continents or climbing mountains. The treasures discovered are the shining souls of children and grandchild and the experiences are those of God’s generosity.

Why are we surprised when God keeps His promise to bless families?  I invite you to slowly read and dwell on the prayers of the traditional Nuptial Mass.  There is the beauty of Love sharing His Love with the two lovers become one so that their love may become many.