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.