The Aguiliera family of St Patrick’s Cathedral parish lent themselves to Catholic Outlook for a day to discuss how they stay a close, calm and spiritual family.
I arrive at the home of Kirrily and Oscar Aguiliera on the same day their youngest child Zoe starts school.
I remember being teary at both my children’s first days of school, but Kirrily and Oscar are smiling and welcoming as I step into their light, spacious house. There is a sense of calm in the room as we delve into what makes this family tick.
Before we met, I didn’t know much more besides they have four children aged 13 to 5 years old, Kirrily is a part-time family educator at a Catholic primary school and Oscar works in IT.
We soon start talking about how they develop faith in their family, how their children’s schooling fits into this picture and how they are involved in their parish.
The school drop-off starts the day. “Be good, be God’s, be safe, be saints,” Oscar tells the children Ben (aged 13), Tom (aged 11), Zach (aged 9) and Zoe (aged 5) as they pile out of the car.
He explains what the saying means. “I want them to understand they have been created by God for all of eternity and each of them has a purpose and meaning,” he says. “It’s important to know that so they can love and appreciate themselves. We also want them to see that everyone is your brother or sister, and we are all on a common path.”
Praying as a family
As we discuss the time they set aside to pray as a family, it’s apparent how this brings the family closer. It’s also demonstrating to the children they can speak up and are valued.
Each evening, Kirrily and Oscar create a quiet space where the whole family talks about their day. They then pray together.
Kirrily tells me, “Our nightly prayer is a review of our day. It’s important to us.” Oscar recalls that this is what he did as a child growing up in Mexico, “It was almost too successful, we’d talk together for hours,” he says smiling.
They have prayed before meals since the children were very young. “It reminds us to be grateful for the blessings we have received and the food we enjoy,” says Kirrily.
The family adjusts prayers around the seasons of the church. “It gives a nice rhythm to life,” she says.
While COVID was at its height, they would decide ‘where in the world’ they would go to Mass, sometimes watching Masses streamed from the US, Ireland and Canada. “We also tuned into St Patrick’s Cathedral Masses,” the couple says. “The kids loved seeing Fr Chris del Rosario (assistant priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta) saying the Mass on the screen. It was like he was a TV star!”
Because they couldn’t go to Mass last Easter, the family put a cross with prayers and lights on their front lawn. The idea caught on around Parramatta and, by the end of Easter, crosses could be seen on lawns throughout the parish.
Kirrily became an altar server at St Patrick’s Cathedral as soon as she could as a child and met Oscar through a parish event. They continued their parish involvement with the whole family. “We’re making memories as a family of things like participating in the Good Friday Walk, helping out with children’s liturgy and bringing biscuits to the homeless,” she says. The boys are also starting training to become altar servers and attend the Parish Youth Group – Junior Credo – opening them up to a new set of friends.
With the mention of Fr Chris, we turn to the topic of schools. Zoe, Zach and Tom attend St Patrick’s Primary School in Parramatta. Kirrily went to school there and found other parents she had also gone to school with.
“At St Patrick’s Primary, there is clearly much value placed in being Catholic by the other families. The way the school operates follows this ethos too with a fantastic connection to our local parish,” says Kirrily.
“We are surrounded by other families who want the same for their children. It really seems that we are partnering with the school in raising our children in the faith.”
When her eldest, Ben, went to Parramatta Marist last year, they immediately saw what a good choice they had made.
“Ben comes home talking about the Marist values,” says Oscar. “He is aiming to become a ‘fine man of Marist’.”
“I love how they teach the students to love and respect work,” adds Kirrily. “Ben is growing a sense of Mission – he’s learning the idea of dedicating himself to something greater.”
Oscar is thrilled at the like-minded friendship group Ben has made. “His friends build each other up. They encourage each other to be a better person,” he says.
Kirrily tells me, “When you choose a school you choose a community.” They are aware of how important this becomes in the teen years when the young people your children become friends with, have so much influence on them.
After school, we hold a photoshoot. I’m watching Zoe in amazement as she keeps up with her big brothers playing ball and smiling for the camera until she trips up. Her exhaustion after her first day of school takes over. Time for me to go.
In the car on the way home, I think about the uncertainty of parenting and remember what Kirrily told me earlier that day. “Whatever stage your child is at, ‘pray, pray, pray’ for them.
“We can do all sorts of things for them, but at the end of the day, anything can happen.
“We need to rely on God’s grace and pray.
“When things get hard, continue to pray.”
Kirrily and Oscar’s tips for creating closeness and simplicity in family life
- No devices besides a PC for homework and family-friendly video games like Minecraft played on weekends and only once on school nights.
- Phone for high schoolers only with locks on it after 8.30pm.
- Backyard play, games like Mexican Train, Uno and reading fill spare time.
- Everyone has an area they need to keep clean.
- Saturday morning everyone pitches in for a big clean up.
- Choose those that are fun, fit into the family schedule and provide balance to their lives by teaching concepts such as perseverance or community service.
- At the Aguiliera’s, it’s currently Scouts, guitar, drama, parish youth group and swimming lessons.
- Put emphasis on finding the truth rather than coming at it “my way or the highway”.
- Be open to more research if you can’t agree.
- Lent is a good time to set the family a challenge.
- Get everyone’s input but make it realistic. It should be a genuine sacrifice for everyone.
- When Lent is over, celebrate what you’ve achieved as a family!
Taking time out
With four children and parents who need care, when it comes to time out, Oscar and Kirrily make it simple. They happily sit on their back patio with a coffee and watch their children play. It’s their ‘downtime’ when they can talk to each other. “We look for little pockets of time to take a deep breath and be grateful,” says Kirrily.
This article was originally featured in the Lent and Easter/Autumn 2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.