She got a headache on the bus ride home from school. Her feet ache from shoes that fit this morning but now strain against swelling flesh. She feels the baby shift inside her pregnant body, and she is both exhilarated and exhausted. Sitting to unlace her sneakers, she starts to cry. Catherine Aghaegbuna heard the girl come in and sees her sitting at the bottom of the split-entry home, her shoulders quivering. Aghaegbuna takes a deep breath and welcomes the expectant mom home. Aghaegbuna is not her mother. But on this day, and at this moment, she is all the young woman has.
Trained in addictions counselling and community service work, Aghaegbuna works at Elizabeth House (EH). Started in 1996 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis, the house provides a safe and supportive home to pregnant and parenting young women who need a safe place to live. To date, more than 200 young women have benefited from EH, one of two charities operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. (The other is Feed the Hungry).
Christians engaged in this kind of work often talk about the need to see Jesus in the eyes of the marginalized. An immigrant and a woman of colour, Aghaegbuna sees more. “I choose to work here out of my love for the youth and children,” says the woman whose typical shifts run from 5 pm to 7 am. When the mother of five looks into the eyes of the people she serves, she sees the eyes of her own children. She’s reluctant to say her parenting experience gives her an edge, but the parishioner at Corpus Christi admits that parenting her children, ages 27, 19, 18, 13 and nine, helps her through the rough spots at work. “When the women tell me, ‘I am not your daughter,’ I tell them plainly, ‘I have no reason to deceive you. I have children like you. I am a mother.’”
Moms helping moms
Since 2016, members of the St. Gianna’s Moms Group at St. Luke’s parish have made women and babies at EH house special beneficiaries of an annual Christmas campaign. Named after an Italian pediatrician who sacrificed her life for her unborn child, the moms’ group buys Christmas presents that include self-care items, make up and gift cards for the young moms. “We think about what we can do to make their day special, and some of the gifts include special notes of encouragement,” says group co-leader Michelle Widmeyer, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s.
Herself the mother of four, Widmeyer says members of St. Gianna’s feel blessed to contribute to the important work done at EH, where young women get help completing high school and preparing or starting post-secondary education or training. Life at EH also helps the women hone life skills that range from conflict management to cooking, laundry and housekeeping—all while carrying or caring for their new babies. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a young and single mother with very little support,” says Widmeyer.
That grassroots support for EH’s work is greatly appreciated, says Michelle Haywood, EH program coordinator. “We survive off private donations and are not funded by the government in any way,” explains Haywood, who often finds herself coordinating donations that range from money to supplies.
St. Michael’s parish, for example, recently donated a van load of baby and new mom supplies, as well as $4,000 in cash. “They provided everything from nursing bras to baby wipes. It was really something,” notes Haywood.
She also appreciates what members of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus do to support EH. A group of Knights from St. Peter’s recently took a lead role in a major landscaping project. Individual Catholics also step up with support, including a woman from the St. Paul Centre of the Catholic school district who organized a donation drive amongst her colleagues, says Haywood.
Given how complicated the work at EH can be, program support translates into emotional support. “We serve vulnerable and at-risk women, and this can be very difficult work. When people care about what we’re doing, it’s like an emotional boost to our residents and staff,” says Haywood, whose professional work is tempered by life experience. The mom of three, including one born during her 12 years with EH, Haywood is a university graduate whose first baby was born when Haywood was still a teen.
To learn more about Elizabeth House, or to find out how you or your organization can support the program, visit www.elizabethhousecalgary.ca or email Michelle Haywood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
For parents like Brenda-Lee Kearney, the mass is delightfully chaotic, yet peaceful. She and her husband Mike have an 11-year-old son with FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They love Jacob and they love their church. But bringing Jacob to mass is difficult and after Kearney approached her parish priest with an idea, the Special Needs Mass began.
The once-monthly, then bi-weekly masses became a regular 5 pm Sunday mass after pastor Fr. Jerome Lavigne moved to St. Pat’s in 2018. And the Kearneys are grateful. With a mission to create a loving, supportive and compassionate community that renews and restores faith and hope to families and children with special needs, the mass shows “God is really at work here in our parish,” says Brenda-Lee Kearney. Parents with special needs children often stay after mass for welcome fellowship. While most participants are from the parish, others attend as word of the mass spreads. “I believe most of us are parenting our kids in a community that doesn’t understand our reality. We are understanding of each other because we are living it.”
That message resonates with Fr. Matthew Schneider. “There is a natural sense of community when we come together to worship. Where possible, it’s nice to be able to add elements that make worship more meaningful to certain groups of people,” says Schneider, who said the Special Needs Mass at St. Pat’s on June 22.
A former Calgarian now living in Washington, D.C. where he’s working on a Doctorate in Theology, Schneider says one Catholic church in Washington hosts a regular mass that features an interpreter for the deaf. Other masses are conducted in languages other than English. He likes what St. Pat’s has consciously done to accommodate a group of believers often marginalized in the greater society.
In addition to the dimmer lights, the 5 pm Sunday mass features visual “cue cards” that tell parishioners went to sit, kneel or stand. The pictures show the appropriate action along with a simple message such as, “Please kneel for the communion rite.”
“Typically, we have the same songs at these services. It’s all part of dialing back on the sensory experience. Many of these children benefit from a very calm environment,” explains Kearney.
Faithfully spoke with Tim Neufeld, based out of Abbotsford, BC. Neufeld first achieved success as the co-founder and lead singer of EMI recording artist STARFIELD. He has toured the world for over a decade, shared the stage with countless Canadian Country, Roots and Christian artists, and won multiple JUNO, Dove, and Covenant Awards. Tim Neufeld has been married for 15 years to Carla and is the father of three children, Haven 10, Oliver 9, and Bowen 6.
What do you love most about being a dad?
Tim: I love sharing my life with my family. Of all the different roles I play in life, the husband/father role is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever known. It’s hard being a father, but in the best sort of way, and it helps me understand more about what love really is. Becoming a father made me a whole person. It made me re-evaluate what’s most important. More than anything, I want to raise good and kind people. I feel blessed to have that responsibility!
What’s it like reuniting with your family after you’ve been on tour?
Tim: It is the most amazing feeling in the world. I’m just completing a two-week tour, and have most of the summer off, so I’m looking forward to some quality time with the kids. Family ice-cream outings, building a tree fort, and Friday movie nights are just a few of the things on the list. I get to do all the things I loved from my childhood all over again through the eyes of my kids... How cool is that?
The new single BLESSED by ‘Tim and the Glory Boys’ is available to listen to HERE.
Written by Nadia Hinds
Which man of faith in the Calgary Diocese inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Joe Woodard shared:
Which man of faith in the Diocese of Calgary inspires you in their vocation as husband and father? Here is what Sean Lynn said:
Will I be a saint and lead my family to heaven? This is a question I frequently contemplate.
To be a father and husband requires heroism in the face of today’s secular society. God places a great responsibility on fathers. During my discernment as a single man, the thought of having children was the reason I was afraid to pursue the vocation of marriage. I was fearful about bringing children into a society that is morally corrupt and could very likely consume their souls.
Fr. Lasance shares the following regarding the raising of children. He emphasizes on the weight and responsibility by which God entrusts their care: "Married people have another important duty: they must bring up their children in the fear of God. At the day of their last judgement, we who have the care of souls do not fare like private individuals; we have not merely to answer for what we have personally done or left undone, but when we have given an account of this, we shall be asked about the condition of those who have been entrusted in our care. In the same manner, shall fathers and mothers be judged, not only regarding what their own lives have been but also to the manner in which they have brought up their children.”
I was contemplating this sentiment at a retreat held by Christopher West in 2015, and suddenly something clicked. If I wasn’t courageous to take up the challenge of raising holy children, how can I expect other men to maintain the faith through successive generations? The fact that I cared so deeply for the souls of children and their upbringing is the exact reason why I needed to be a father. I knew this was what God was calling me to do.
St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it”. When we read this passage, we ought to contemplate what God is calling all husbands to do. Each man is to lay down his life for his wife and family as Christ did for his Church. Christ delivered himself through excruciating pain and suffering on his journey to Calvary to be crucified.
While being a father carries burdens, it also brings many joys and consolations. One of the most moving times in my life was when I gazed into the eyes of my son, Joseph shortly after he was born. Watching him grow and learn things for the first time has been very exciting. It melts my heart when he imitates us at mass or spontaneously asks to initiate our family rosary. Daily life is sprinkled with little blessings like these. Now, rather than dwelling too much on how the evils of this world can lure our children, I focus on how I can teach my son to know, love and serve God. This is what it means to be a father.
As a father, I pray to St. Joseph - head of the Holy Family, for his intercession to be a heroic father and husband.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Written by John McDonald
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
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
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers