St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross once stated, “the world does not need what women have, it needs what women are.”
The cultural worldview of “what women are” may have been to what St. Teresa was alluding. Society offers women no shortage of what they should resemble or how to act, but what women are goes far beyond the incomplete surface representations shown in mainstream outlets.
To clearly see “what women are,” it is necessary to view womanhood through a lens with a much deeper focus. The teachings of the Catholic faith, female saints, as well as representations of women throughout biblical history, offer a diverse and vibrant tapestry of God’s feminine creation woven together and held securely by the common threads of true beauty and dignity.
Pope St. John Paul II addressed this need for a counter-cultural view of womanhood in his 1995 “Papal Letter to Women,” stating, “When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever-relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way He honored the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love.”
Even through the most prayerful and faithful focus, God’s plan for every woman might not fall in line with that of His children here on earth. Mary found herself in this very position. As a bride to be, she, like any other woman, undoubtedly had a vision for what her life would look like. Her vision was changed when God’s plan was revealed to her, and she responded with a statement of faith: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” A model for any other Catholic woman, these words echo with both joy and sorrow throughout womanhood and, by extension, motherhood.
One need not look far within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to find examples of Mary’s great faith in action each day.
A cradle Catholic from a large, devout family, Jessica Marie of St. Patrick Parish in Arcola had an image of what motherhood would be for her. She had met her husband, Jim, in college. He was also raised in a strong Catholic household.
Jim and Jessica had a shared vision of a large family and mutual openness to life. It wasn’t long before they discovered that God’s vision was different from their own, however, and they began carrying the cross of infertility together.
“We’ve learned that being ‘open to life’ means being open to both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ from God,” explained Jessica. “God took our openness to life and gave us a ‘no’ to biological parenthood. He instead called us to His ‘Plan A’ for us: adoption.”
Since their faithful “yes” to the new “Plan A” for their lives, Jim and Jessica have been blessed three times and are now parents to a daughter and two sons. Among Jessica’s prayers is unmistakable gratitude for those who have allowed the fulfillment of God’s vision of womanhood for her. “To the children who made me a mother: Thank you, my precious little souls, for teaching me the meaning of sacrificial, unconditional love. To the women who made me a mother: thank you for choosing life and us; for your brave sacrificial love for your child, and for entrusting them to me to be their mother. I pray for you every day. Your greatest loss in life is our greatest joy.”
The great joys of their journey did not come without struggle. “The verse from Psalms 128:3 used to give me a sorrowful twinge,” said Jessica. “‘Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home.’ I used to think that I was not fruitful because I could not physically bear children for my husband. But I have begun to see that real fruitfulness comes from our thoughts, words and deeds — in my home and for my fellow man. All the behind-the-scenes actions we do as women is what makes us fruitful.”
Fruitful deeds are also what has helped Carrie Norton’s faith journey come full circle. Norton is well-known at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Fort Wayne, as a strong advocate for her oldest child, Margaret. Margaret is a third-grade student and a “Purple Warrior” — someone who is affected by epilepsy. On June 8, 2011, Carrie and her husband, Dave, arrived at the hospital to welcome their little girl into the world. During birth, Margaret suffered a traumatic brain injury from a failed vacuum-assisted delivery. The baby suffered a lack of oxygen and external head trauma. Since delivery, she’s been diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, apraxia, 50% gross/fine motor loss on the left side of her body, and a cognitive processing delay.
“Immediately after Margaret’s delivery, we were told the next 72 hours would be critical,” remembered Carrie. “Her doctors were unsure if she would survive, and if she did, what the long-term effects of the brain damage would be. Dave and I were prepared for the worst.” During this time and for several years following, Carrie’s relationship with God came to a screeching halt. “I was angry at God,” she admitted. “I believed He was punishing me.”
Carrie was eventually able to cope with Margaret’s health issues by completely immersing herself in her recovery.
“While I couldn’t control her entrance into the world, I could possibly control a better outcome for her,” she recalled feeling. “As I developed a deeper sense of compassion — especially for parents raising children with special needs — my anger toward God lessened. Conversations with parents in similar situations made me feel understood and not so lonely. I felt supported, heard and validated. We could share our fears and failures, as well as our triumphs. I slowly started feeling less like a victim and more like a survivor. God chose me to be Margaret’s mother for a reason, and I needed to be mindful of what that meant.”
These days, Carrie is at Mass and in the parish school almost daily. She enjoys volunteering in every way, handing out epilepsy awareness bracelets and teaching Margaret’s classmates about the special way God made Margaret. She has found both beauty and dignity on this unexpected path.
“I’ve learned I’m stronger and more fearless than I thought. I’ve learned that God never delivers the goods on a silver platter; His gifts are often hard to see, feel and hear. My faith journey has always centered around my ability to trust Him. In times of doubt, I think about Margaret. He made her to be my daughter, perfect just the way she is.”
Like Carrie, Marissa Jarzynka has learned how strong and brave she is as well. A faithful member of St. Mary Parish in Huntington, Jarzynka can regularly be found at Mass or school with her three young children: August, Blaise and Gianna.
As a full-time registered nurse and newly single mother of three, Jarzynka’s image of motherhood has shifted.
“I used to think that being a mother meant that I had to have everything perfect. I needed to make sure I had a clean house, dinner on the table and have it ‘all together,’” she admitted. “I have come to the conclusion that being a mother means you do your best to make sure that your kids know that they are loved and have a purpose.”
The challenges of divorce were never part of Jarzynka’s plan. While she envisioned spending a married life raising children with her husband, she is accepting this new plan as part of her faith journey and is choosing to see the beauty and dignity in each hardship.
“I have come to understand that there are some things in life you literally have no control over, but you can control how you react,” she explained. “I know that God is the author of my life and He is not done with my story. As I navigate this new and unknown territory, I know that God is guiding me. When I think of the future I planned and lost, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by what I still do have. I have these three precious children who bring me so much happiness daily, and I thank God for that. Being a mother is my greatest honor, and I can only hope I do half as good a job as my own mother.”
By reevaluating society’s depiction of who they should be and accepting God’s unexpected plans, all three women have been able to not only recognize but to fully embrace the unique beauty and dignity of their own womanhood. Jessica summed it up this way: “You do not have to be married. You do not have to be a mother. You, as a woman, are fruitful when you do little things for others. May we as women all see that our fruitfulness is not limited to the physical, but truly comes from performing acts of mercy in the everyday.”
Motherhood as the wife of a deacon
By Samantha Rohloff
May 9 of this year is that annual special day reserved for women who hold the prestigious title of Mom. But for women whose husbands are ordained clergy, motherhood may look a little different.
Lori Giovannini, wife to Deacon Louis Giovannini, who is assigned to St. Pius X Parish in Granger, dubs motherhood “a calling.” Underlining this idea, Annie Tardy, wife to Deacon Melvin Tardy Jr. of St. Augustine in South Bend, said, “I feel that I was chosen to be a mom, because not all women are mothers.”
Just like with any vocation, motherhood holds tremendous responsibilities — a duty to her children being one of the greatest among them.
“My children are my reason to wake up every day, to help them and to take care of them,” said Elvia Sandoval, wife to Deacon Victor Sandoval, who serves at St. Patrick in Fort Wayne. And while Deacon Victor and Elvia’s children are no longer young ones, “They are still my little kids,” continued Elvia, “I love them so much; they are the most beautiful part of my life. “
Annie deepened the conversation of a mother’s duty to her children. “You’re molding children of God as best you can and preparing them for life on their own. It involves sacrifice and unconditional love, but the rewards are priceless.”
How the role of mother develops within each family is unique, which can especially be seen among the wives of deacons. Lori said that being a mother married to a deacon has encouraged her to step up when helping to develop the faith of her children. She also said that because of the many expectations society places upon the children of clergy, things can sometimes be more difficult for them.
“My role as a mother is the same,” said Annie. “I am always there for my kids, even though they are now grown.” Annie continued, “I now also have a responsibility to assist my husband on his deacon’s journey. If anything, the diaconate has enriched what we were already doing. I am involved in church, through youth ministry. Sometimes I am a mother figure to them, too.”
Fathers who are deacons usually take their domestic roles as husband and father quite seriously, because of the same deep faith that compelled them to answer the call to the diaconate.
“He is a super dad,” Elvia said about her husband. “He loves them very much and is there for them when they need it.” She continued by saying, “He has a beautiful heart, he is very intelligent, responsible and is thoughtful. I’m very proud of him.”
Along the same line, Annie shared this about her husband: “I admire the time that he devotes to our kids. And he doesn’t budge on certain values like faith, family and education.”
Annie spoke on the balance of family life and responsibilities to the Church that a married deacon must undertake. “As a husband, he makes sacrifices so that our needs are met as a couple and family,” she said.
Annie loves that her husband “is devoted to God and [is] truly dedicated to his role as a deacon. He lives it earnestly and is a real ambassador to Christ.”
Mother’s Day for the wife of a deacon is celebrated in the same way as other mothers do. Elvia said she is spoiled by her family with gifts and eating out. Annie’s family comes together at home to recall fond memories, and they go to church together.
As is the case with any vocation, God is at its center.
“I thank God for choosing my husband to serve Him,” said Elvia. Watching one’s husband love the Lord and serve Him with his whole heart, mind, body and soul is beautiful, agreed Lori. Whether motherhood is served through marriage to a layperson or to a deacon, it is a blessed vocation.
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