Source: Catholic Outlook, August 2016
By Elizabeth McFarlane
The Buhagiar family from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish at St Marys is no ordinary family.
Married for 23 years, Stella and Steven Buhagiar are the parents of nine children (six sons and three daughters) and the adoptive parents of four Rottweilers, but the extra-ordinary nature of their family isn’t due to its size.
It’s not even due to Stella giving birth to one set of triplets and one set of twins, though that certainly adds depth to their extraordinary nature.
What makes the Buhagiar family extraordinary is their faith. It is their devotion to living out the faith every day with charity, hope and love.
It is their hospitality and warm welcome of a cup of tea and a slice of cake despite the commotion of juggling 11 different lives and schedules (15 if you count the dogs).
It is their joy in being one family, connected to their Maltese heritage and extended family in Malta, witnessed through decades of memories in photographs, Tetris-framed across the living room wall.
It is their love for one another in the simple gesture of a phone call to Stella’s mother every day at 7pm, coordinated by the children for almost 15 years.
The Buhagiar family is extra-ordinary and according to renowned Jesuit catechist, Fr John A Hardon SJ, their call to be extraordinary is tantamount to their survival.
“Ordinary Catholic families cannot survive. They must be extra-ordinary families. They must be what I do not hesitate to call heroic Catholic families,” Fr Hardon explained.
Stella and Steven believe there is a level of heroism that needs to be lived out in order to sustain their vocation of marriage and family life.
“It sounds like a funny word, ‘heroism’, but we’ve had this conversation over the past few years and we now realise heroism means to do those things that we can do locally and do them well,” Steven said.
“It’s about putting your hand up and saying yes. It’s about saying yes when your parish priest asks you to be the parent couple of the parish youth group.
“It’s about saying yes to spending your weekends volunteering at the local nursing home or praying outside an abortion clinic rather than playing soccer.”
It’s about saying yes to the call of married life. Stella and Steven were engaged after just six weeks of dating and were married within a year of meeting.
“We met on St Anthony’s Feast Day (13 June) and we got married the following year on St Joseph the Worker’s Feast Day (1 May),” Stella said.
“We met at my parents’ front door. I heard a knock at the door and Steven was standing there. I just knew that he was the one straightaway. Immediately. It was like someone said in my head, ‘This is your husband.’
“I knew because I used to pray for him. I used to lock the door every night for my parents. I’d check the front door and the screen door, lock it, and in Maltese, I’d say, ‘Bambin (Jesus), you have to bring me my husband.’ I said that for a year or two and that’s where He brought him. He brought him to my front door.”
Within a week of dating, Steven gave Stella his Miraculous Medal and asked her if she’d wear it for him. She hasn’t taken it off in 24 years.
Steven was in the Legion of Mary at Doonside and had been given Stella’s address to recruit her and her younger sister for the evening group they were hoping to start in Merrylands.
“When I knocked on the door and Stella came out, it wasn’t as romantic for me as it was for her,” Steven said.
“Stella came out wearing fluoro socks and eating a banana. I thought she was a bit of a nerd,” he recalled with a laugh.
“I proposed when we were dancing together at a wedding. I turned to Stella and asked, ‘What do you reckon?’”
“And I said, ‘Yeah, okay. No worries.’ And that was it!” Stella exclaimed.
John, their fourth eldest, believes the faith is what keeps his family together.
“Our faith has been fostered since we were young through the rosary and the initiative to do Bible studies as a family when it got harder to bring us all together,” John said.
“It’s just those little active things that bring us together and give us that common ground so that we can draw on each other to live out our faith.
“It’s not just a tradition passed down. Our faith is something we all have to live out every day.”