It is often said that families are the foundation of society and, indeed, of the Church. But in a world of increasing secularisation and decreasing numbers of Catholics, how can parents raise children who retain their faith and invigorate the Church’s life by taking up religious vocations?
It’s a question that countless families seek to answer.
For Nola and John Drum, the importance of passing on the faith to the next generation is something they learnt from their own parents when they were growing up.
“Both of our sets of parents were very faithful to the Catholic Church and gave us good grounding in the faith by example,” Nola says. “Our parents also gave great example to our children of love of their faith and prayer.”
After marrying, Nola and John set about continuing in their parents’ footsteps, welcoming nine children into the world and immediately setting about instilling a love of prayer and a deep faith within each child.
Nola believes it’s never too early for parents to start passing on the faith to their children. From the age of two or three, the Drum children would join in the family Rosary and listen to Nola read from the Bible each night.
Helping the children to develop a strong prayer life, providing them with solid faith formation and getting involved in parish life were three key areas that the Drums say they focused on.
“Our children were assisted in saying prayers every morning and evening and the family Rosary was said every evening and when travelling,” John says. “Nola has been a catechist for 30 years at the local public school where she taught our children and instructed them in the sacraments, as well as teaching many other families.”
Among other roles, Nola and John spent several years serving on their local parish pastoral council. Eventually their children became involved in the parish music ministry and altar serving.
Today, their nine children include two Verbum Dei priests, a Missionaries of God’s Love sister, a school teacher, a computer systems engineer, a university professor, a diesel mechanic, a civil engineer and a doctor. Five of their children are married, and Nola and John are grandparents to 27 grandchildren.
Regarding religious and priestly vocations, the Drums believe their children benefitted from a home environment where priesthood and religious life were viewed on the same level as other life paths.
“While we didn’t prioritise a religious vocation over other vocations, it was always an alternative offered to all our children as a very worthwhile lifestyle of serving God and others,” Nola says.
Further, Nola believes that having some religious vocations in the family helped her children to see priesthood and religious life as a viable option, rather than as an unusual or daunting prospect.
Reflecting upon their family’s journey, the Drums say they are no better than any other family, but have been fortunate enough to be blessed with children who embraced their Catholic faith.
They recommend families make a concerted effort to pray regularly in the home, to read their children stories of the saints, to attend Mass and receive the sacraments regularly and to encourage children to do likewise.
“Parents need to restrict the television and the digital devices which promote bad concepts which are contrary to the teachings of our Church,” Nola says.
“They should also try to counteract these concepts when children encounter them from outside the home with good reading and discussion.
“Our children did not have the opportunity to belong to a youth ministry group but we feel that it is also very important to make children feel they are not alone in their faith.”
There are a number of similar characteristics present in the French family, who reside in the Diocese of Broken Bay.
Bernard and Christine French were both raised in faithful, Catholic homes, meeting at a charismatic Life in the Spirit seminar in Sydney. They later married, and now have seven children between the ages of 17 and 34. One of their sons, Sam, was ordained a priest in 2021; another son is about to start his third year in the seminary; and their eldest son is engaged to be married.
Bernard and Christine say the responsibility of passing on the Catholic faith to their children has been their primary focus since marrying.
“It was never something just added onto their lives, it was always first and foremost,” Christine says.
As part of the Disciples of Jesus Community for several years, the French family say they were accustomed to having an active involvement in parish and community life, something which they believe helped their children to grow in their love of the Church.
“We always encouraged them to try to participate, to do altar serving, reading, music, just doing things within the parish, to be part of the community,” Bernard says.
But active involvement in the parish was just one part of the children’s faith life.
“At home, before the older ones left for school, we’d be reading the Gospel to them and we’d have a bit of a discussion about that,” Christine says.
“As the years went on, we felt a greater call to pray the Rosary nightly… and we also encouraged the children to learn a basic Catechism.
“Most important, too, was regular confession. Once a month we’d take the kids to confession.”
Although the older children attended Catholic schools primarily, taking ownership of their children’s faith formation was a key part of the family’s faith journey, Christine says. That included deciding to homeschool their three youngest children for several years.
While religious vocations were talked about at home, Bernard says his children benefitted greatly from the visible witness of priests and religious who they saw frequently.
“We have a back cabin and the MGL Sisters and MGL Brothers would sometimes stay here at our house and have a little holiday or a small retreat there,” he says.
But perhaps the biggest impact upon the family’s embrace of religious vocations came through prayer – in the home, in the parish and from the enclosed Carmelite order in Goonellabah, near Lismore, where Bernard’s aunty was a Sister.
“Every night for our Rosary we would remember any future vocations, any calls to priestly and religious life, any calls to married life,” Christine says. “It’s something that we’ve always been very open to, and have actively prayed for, if the Lord wanted our children to serve him in this way.”
Bernard adds: “In our parish, going back 40 years, we used to have a priest who started saying a vocations prayer after every daily Mass. I really believe that a lot of prayers have helped.”
The French’s third eldest son, Fr Sam French, says his parents’ example was “crucial” in shaping his faith journey.
“Their faith was not just a part of their lives, but it was at the heart of their marriage and home, and as a result, it formed an integral part of my upbringing,” he says.
“The constant life of prayer, particularly the family Rosary, was central to our family life at home. My parents’ commitment to their own marriage and desire to grow in personal holiness … played a crucial role in helping us maintain our faith into adulthood. Their reverence for the priesthood and commitment to their own marriage also provided an environment that encouraged discernment.”
Looking back on his childhood, Fr Sam says faith was at the heart of everything in the French home.
“I remember mum looking through books for creative ways of marking the liturgical cycle,” he recalls. “My personal favourite was one Lent, where there was a solid, baked crown with toothpicks in it for thorns, and every time we acted well, we could remove a thorn from the crown of Jesus.”
When asked about how families can raise faith-filled children and foster vocations in the home, Bernard and Christine pinpoint several key practices.
“Definitely encouraging them to go to regular confession, to have children in some form of service in the Church, learning the Catechism, praying the Rosary, living the liturgical life of the Church at home, and giving the kids good Catholic books to read,” Christine says.
“Sunday Mass was non-negotiable. We’d go to Mass and fill ourselves with a love of the Eucharist. It’s a blessing to go so that we can live our Christian walk together.
Their advice to other families is simple.
“Keep praying,” Bernard says. “Don’t give up. Go to Mass and receive the sacraments, and at home, try to pray the Rosary every day.”
This article first appeared in the February 2023 edition of The Bridge, the newsletter of the National Centre for Evangelisation. Reproduced with permission.