Mother's love during my incarceration was unceasing, and ever so deeply was her devotion. She not only gave birth to me; at this point, she protected and preserved me when I was most vulnerable. Her hiatus would have been to my detriment; I would have failed not only survival but possibly the will to live also. From turning myself in to finishing my sentence in the Penitentiary, mother remained lovingly reliable. Even after denial of bail, she was the trumpet and glue holding the network of family and friends in a state of love for me. Mom was my window to my family and the outside world. She was the visitor I can count on every few days, rain or shine. Behind the glass, I saw tears held back and selfless fake smiles to protect me from negativity.
My guilt poured as she aged 10 years in the span of one, from all the stress. The prosecutor wanted 14 to 16 yrs and mother just wanted to make sure I was going to survive the next few years. Often when I was able to call out, I couldn't speak when my mother picked up. Like a lost little boy that needed his mom, and had nothing left in me to go on, I couldn't speak a word, not even hello. If I had spoken, I would have come undone in the worst way, and in jail, its forbidden to cry at all because you would immediately get preyed upon. “Who is this?! I am going to hang up if you don't talk?!” Then she went silent for a few seconds because intuitively she sensed it was me. “Son? I know its you, I know you can't talk, and you need to hear my voice. Listen to me; you will be ok; everything will work out. I love you son, and everyone loves you. We will not stop loving you and will always be here for you.”
As an immigrant, oblivious to Western incarceration, she asked my lawyer if there was a way she can go to jail with me so she can feed me because I was shriveling up from the outcome. She prayed constantly and cried out to God everyday and night. She fasted and made many promises to God wanting to trade her life for mine. I tried to stop the visits, but mother never failed on them, even when I became so hopeless and couldn't go on believing there was anymore hope to get out or survive and I wanted to be forgotten because of the pain from the glimmer of hope.
Mom always reminded me to pray to God constantly and told me God will take care of me in there and He will watch over my isolated children. Mother was at every court session, many times with food in hand hoping to give me a bite because it absolutely tortured her to see me so thin. Years later to this day, I watch her pray everyday before every meal, and I see her do it under her breath for everything. She reminds me that no one stands besides another as much as a mother for her child. There is nothing comparable to a mother's love in my opinion. From my childhood to my incarceration and the aftermath, my mother had become my hero because of all that she is and continues to be in my life.
Written by Kyle T. in Calgary for Faithfully
Danielle Tomiak (Sacred Heart Parish, Calgary) is quick to admit that the adage ‘like mother, like daughter’ rings true for her and her own mother, Tracy Tomiak.
“Our temperaments are kind of the same. Our reactions are kind of the same. As I continue to grow up, I hear myself sounding like her. And we look very much alike. It’s cool to have that connection with my mom,” said Danielle, the fourth of five siblings.
They will even be brides at the same age. Tracy was 23 when she married her husband Bill Tomiak 30 years ago, and Danielle will be 23 when she marries Nathaniel de Jesus this June. As Danielle prepares for her vocation, she’s reflects on how her mother has been a model of both strength and femininity throughout her life.
Many don’t know that Tracy suffers from chronic pain after her car was rear-ended 15 years ago.
“She used her suffering and united it to Christ for the greater glory of our family. She accepted it and turned it into something good. She used her struggles and her weaknesses and turned them into strength,” said Danielle, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church.
Tracy, a member of Holy Name Parish, went on to achieve her masters in counselling and now runs her own marriage and family counselling practice.
“My mom is a powerhouse. In my eyes, she is the view of feminism in the world today. She’s fought for her (counselling) career not because ‘I’m a woman, I deserve a career’ but because she wants to help people and love people through her own feminine genius,” said Danielle.
But for most of Tracy’s adult life, she worked inside the home raising four daughters and one son, now aged 21 to 29. And she is now active in the lives of her two young grandchildren.
Written by Sara Francis
Monica Boehm (St. Michael Catholic Community) turns 30 this year, and she will welcome her third child in August. This Mother’s Day, she reflects on how her grandmother, Mary Vos, already had seven children by the same age.
“I have deep admiration for her (doing that) at that time. I look at her at that age as really giving her whole life to having children and raising children,” said Monica.
“She is very selfless. I just find motherhood more difficult than she found it. Maybe it came naturally to her, or maybe it didn’t. She did struggle. I know there were times where it was hard.”
“As a mother myself, she has always taught me the importance of unconditional love, and slowing down the time we have with (our children) because the world moves so quickly around us. To raise our children to be mindful, kind and caring people.”
Monica describes her 88-year-old grandmother as the matriarch of the family. With 11 children, 51 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren, Mary and her late husband Hank have left an incredible legacy.
“She’s the head mother that I look toward, and I base my motherhood off of her,” said Monica. “She would not just get us together, but get us having fun and bonding. She has a ton of energy. And she is so stylish. Her hat and shoes always go together. She presents herself very well.”
Every December, Mary hosts a Christmas party at a downtown hotel for her entire extended family. They go skating in Olympic Plaza, swimming at the hotel pool, followed by Mass, dinner and a talent show where everyone is encouraged to perform.
Mary, who sings and plays piano, has always tried to develop her children’s musical talent. The family created an album under the name ‘Vos Family Singers,’ performing at the Calgary Stampede, the Spokane World's Fair, the Montreal Olympics and a tour of Great Britain.
But while music is important, it is Mary’s Catholic faith that is the foundation for her close-knit family. A long-time St. Michael Community parishioner, she attends the parish with several of her children and grandchildren, including Monica.
“She is always telling us to surround ourselves with those who enhance our walk with Jesus. That’s her big reminder to us in our lives. She always reminds us to trust God’s timing. And also to place your anxieties on the Lord,” said Monica.
After Mary’s husband Henry died four years ago, Mary got a custom rosary made with the initials of her grandchildren engraved on each bead. She dedicates a Hail Mary to each of her grandchildren as she prays the rosary daily and afterward, she sends a text to whichever grandchild came to mind during her prayer.
Mary has managed to pass on a Marian devotion down through the generations. Growing up, Monica remembers her mother Cathy Sandquist’s desire to imitate Mary, Mother of God and Matriarch of the faith. “I always remember my mom saying ‘let me be more like the Virgin Mary.’”
According to Monica, faith and family is the foundation upon which Mary has built her life and created a legacy for generations to come.
Written by Sara Francis
So, I keep trying. Although sweeping the floor with a two and four-year-old is something akin to shoveling while there is an extreme snowfall warning in effect, I do believe it shows the depth of our love. And even though every corner of the house, don’t be fooled, every corner is filled with dust, but as the main area is clean, this should reflect my love.
The big moment came when I asked myself - What did he give me this year?
Lorenzo, you constantly give me lessons in humility. You challenge my every thought about myself as a patient, extra loving, non-yelling person. You make me laugh at how much you already understand humour and silliness and intonation. You melt my heart when you ask me to “cudo” you each night in your big-boy bed. I am awed by your ability to express yourself to anyone, and everyone who’ll listen and I look up to your courage and heart-on-sleeve passion.
So, I’d say this year when it comes to your birthday gifts, you gave me many more gifts than I could’ve ever purchased for you.
I can’t wait to see your pushed-out, soother-toothed smile, hear your lisp and feel your pudgy fingers around my neck tomorrow morning. I can't wait to brush your screamed-out tears off of your dry cheeks and help you “boow nose peas” when it drips. I pray I will find the grace that I’m certain God is providing me, to be extra patient with your loud voice and big emotions and help your brother and Papa, to do the same.
You are my love baby, my Valentine’s Day reminder to have extra love in my heart and I can’t wait to sweep the floor out of love for you again tomorrow.
Papá (Sebastian), Elias and I love you so much we could just “ea chew”. We love every moment of you. And I love that my call in life is to live the little things for you with great love, sanctity and joy. Thank you for challenging me always and keeping me in check with my pride. I love being your Mama.
Written by Cyra Roman, parishioner of St. Peter's Parish in Calgary
Most Reverend W. T. McGrattan, D.D., Bishop of Calgary
Picture: Rest on The Flight into Egypt, c. 1510 by Gerard David
Written by Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice & Outreach Ministries
As my pregnancy progressed, medical concerns for the baby’s life and my own life were discussed. The doctors recommended ‘terminating the pregnancy’ at around 27 weeks. I refused all ideas of ‘terminating.’ Then the doctors suggested testing to see if the baby would have chromosomal issues. This would not change my decision, but the result may have affected their ideas on how to treat this high-risk pregnancy with respect. The test came back normal, and we learned that we were having a son. We immediately gave him the first gift that parents can give their child, his name. Brandon Joseph.
It became ‘medically necessary’ to deliver the baby early, thereby terminating the pregnancy, but not necessarily the baby. Immediately after birth, baby Brandon was baptised.
Every day of Brandon’s life had value because of the effect his personality had on each person who met him – his parents, his sister, and the doctors, nurses, volunteer cuddlers, interns, roommates, and extended family. Brandon lived for seven months. Just as any loved one who dies in a family, his memory continues to influence our family to this day.
Today, I am the educational resource consultant for Calgary Pro-Life Association. School teachers invite me to their classrooms to give presentations on positive self-esteem, and the miracle of life/fetal development, to students in grades five to 12!
During one presentation, students hear the sound of the fetal heartbeat that started between 18 and 22 days; then learn that at four weeks, they were the size of my thumb nail; at six weeks their brain was developing, and at 12 weeks they were the size of my thumb! We continue to talk about the development of the fetus until birth.
All of us have a responsibility to affirm life in our culture. We need to ask ourselves: How are we modeling the virtues of motherhood to our daughters and the virtue of fatherhood to our sons? How are we raising men who will support women in that natural affection that they ought to have for their children?
Tell everyone you meet, no matter the age or stage in life, that they really matter and that they have a life purpose that is exciting to watch as it continues to be revealed day by day! This is how we share the pro-life message so that women and men will know that they have the right to life; and the right to choose life for themselves; for their own children now, and in the future.
When I was a little girl, I remember my mom talking about her career aspirations – the things she dreamed of doing before I came along – and how when I came, she decided that staying home with me would be better. I vividly remember looking up at my mother, who was the most wonderful person I knew and in my 4- or 5-year-old mind thinking, “I want to be just like you.” I often go back to this version of myself when I start getting anxious about the path I’ve chosen; to stay home with my children like my mom before me.
Last week I found myself having the conversation about “what I do,” with other women. A bunch of soccer-moms trying to make small talk leaves me a bit wary.
“I stay at home with my five kids.” I said, eliciting replies of “Wow,” and “Five? You have five children?”, and then “and do you work?” (the question I was dreading).
“I work,” I say carefully, “having five kids means there’s a lot of work.”
A somewhat uncomfortable laugh. “Oh, of course, there is. Five! I just can’t imagine. But before kids, what did you do?”
“My background is in journalism. Now sometimes I freelance on the side,” I say.
I sense relief as I share this. A collective sigh as I share what I’ve contributed to life beyond the home. I do mean that sarcastically, because though I highly respect meaningful work outside the home, I don’t see why it can’t be on equal ground with the meaningful work many other women and I do within our homes. Aside from my household though, I am privileged to have the time for mother’s groups, school volunteering, and to commune with other moms who stay home. Women are needed in so many roles, and the choices we have today are abundant. There is a bit of material sacrifice in staying home, but I say this as a woman with the choice that many others don’t have due to poverty. The few things we don’t have compared to the time with my children are small.
I don’t view my position in the home as one might view a typical job, so I don’t want to call it a career, but I so badly want to convey to others that it is fulfilling. If I said the word “vocation,” in the soccer-mom crowd, I’m not sure what kind of looks I would get.
In explaining vocation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (898) states that “it belongs to the laity” – that is people who are not priests or religious; ordinary people like your average mom – “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them toward God’s will.”
That means that even I, an ordinary mother, have a role to play in the kingdom. In my endless laundry, in my nightly wakings with babies and in all of the budgeting, story reading, disciplining and other seemingly mundane things that I do in my home, there is the opportunity to “direct them” to God and His ultimate plan.
I certainly know quite a few Catholic mothers whose vocation also includes a career balanced with home. But I think we must remember that mothers in any walk of life are not the sum of what they do, but that motherhood is wrapped up in womanhood and indeed humanity itself.
St. John Paul II famously wrote a thank you to mothers in his 1995 Letter to Women,
“You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”
These important words have echoed in my heart since I began on my own mothering journey 10 years ago. Being the anchor and the guide is no easy task, but seeing those first steps, hearing those first words and having the luxury of time with my children is an immense privilege. Some days are hard, and it is on those days that I think “Was I ‘God’s own smile’ or was I Satan’s scowl to these children.”
The great responsibility of raising four boys and a little girl is a heavy burden, which some days is eased only by the very idea that God’s grace is upon my husband and me to do it. It also eases my mind to know that even great saints struggled in this vocation:
“I could never have imagined how much I would suffer being a mother,” wrote St. Gianna Beretta Molla to her husband in 1958, “… It’s a good thing you’re more optimistic than I am so you can encourage me – otherwise, my morale would be almost below zero.”
St. Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in a letter to one of her daughters, “I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”
In some ways, life has grown only more complicated for mothers since the time of St. Zelie, but we continue to look for the very same things; quiet reflection, rest, balance.
I find solace in the community of women I’ve built over the years; people who understand what the Catholic faith teaches about family and vocation. Without these gracious and welcoming women, I might’ve thought that staying at home with children is not for me. Coffee flows in the homes of my friends, and an understanding ear is there when I need it.
My mother converted to Catholicism when I was a child, and her example of fervent love for God and practice of the faith has shaped my motherhood. Hence, I also find encouragement within the Church I was brought up in. I’ve been blessed to encounter priests who smile on my family and welcome their noise and laughter, even in the middle of their homilies. I’ve been fortunate to have encountered those amazing people who will hold a baby, or just smile kindly at us when the children are being children. And in my role at home, it is my joy to bring the Church and its beauty to my children.
Written by Jessica Cyr, parishioner of St. Bernard / Our Lady of Assumption in Calgary.
That mission is what is crudely written in a child’s handwriting on a large post-it note at the main exit of our family home. It’s a big goal - getting to heaven, especially with all the personality flaws, conflicts, imperfections - and those are just a few of my shortcomings - we haven’t even addressed the other seven people in my family!
I didn’t start out on this motherhood journey thinking I wanted a large family. Often God’s plan for our lives goes in completely different directions than expected. My husband Dave and I have six beautiful kids ages ranging in age from almost 3 to 16. Each of my children is very individual, with different needs, temperaments, wants, goals and dreams. How do we as a family balance all that chaos and get to our ultimate goal? With grace, prayer and a lot of outside help.
In what seems like a former life, I was a Special Education teacher. In the classroom every child had an individualized plan to get them to their desired educational goal. My educational goals for our kids are for them to develop good character and to learn how to learn. With these ideals in mind, our family has been through it all in the search for the perfect educational opportunity for each of the kids. At different stages of our family life, we have homeschooled, tried blended school, done online classes, gone to private schools and finally landed in publicly-funded Catholic schools.
Through it all, the one commonality that we needed to be present: faith. What we found through our educational journey was our family needs other supportive adults to help us mold our children into the godly citizens that we hope they become. We need other people to challenge us, grow with us and keep us on our journey. We have been blessed to have some amazing teachers, priests and friends help us in the formation of our kids.
Right now, all our school-age children are in the Calgary Catholic system. What a blessing to have a publicly funded system with faith intertwined into the message. Here is the beauty I see: all my children will eventually need to retain their faith in the secular world. It is easier to surround them with people who are as serious about the ultimate goal as ourselves. In this increasingly secular world, it is tough not to feel the pressures of conformity banging relentlessly at our family door. I know there is a balance, Catholic schools invite children in, from all walks and journeys. However, the backbone of the school is Christ. Sometimes it’s hard to see Him, but He is invited in. The door is open to our children and community. This allows my children to go to school with diversity in thought and culture, which gives our family the opportunity to discuss serious questions and have heartfelt conversations about topics of faith and life before they leave our home.
At a Catholic school, the environment feels like home, because Christ is there. How we get to heaven is through Christ. In faith, I hope we will all complete our family mission and we will continue to learn and grow together to get there.
Written by Kimberly Cichon
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers