Family Fully Alive Articles


Fargo’s Flahertys

A family and a parish work together

By John Burger

Michael Flaherty was not as nervous as most men are when he asked his girlfriend’s father for the hand of his daughter. His future father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Dahl, had introduced Flaherty to his daughter and already had marriage in mind.

As Melissa Flaherty (nee Dahl) explained, “My dad did an excellent job finding a husband for me.”

“We had such similar life goals,” she said. “We both wanted to get married and have a family. We both came from families whose parents had been married for many years. … We know the importance of family. We had similar goals and dreams.”

Married 15 years, the Flahertys have four children and are very involved in their parish, Nativity Church in Fargo, N.D. Dr. Dahl and his family are also parishioners there, and he is scheduled soon to be ordained a permanent deacon and serve at Nativity.

The Flahertys, with their children – Joseph, 9; Molly, 7; Nicholas, 4; and Patrick, 20 months – were runners-up for this year’s Knights of Columbus International Family of the Year Award. Mike, 44, is a member of Nativity Council 6570 in Fargo.

Marriage has been joyful but not without challenges.

“I think we’ve both got parents and siblings who have encouraged our Catholic faith,” said Michael. “When we were married, we just went forth with that, but our faith was strengthened when we lost our first child, Catherine,” who was stillborn at 35 weeks.

“You just assume that you’re going to get married and you’re going to have kids and the kids are going to be healthy,” Michael reflected. “When you’re thrown a curve like that, especially your first child, it’s going to be hard because you’ve got this concept of what your life is going to be like, and God has a different plan for you, at least at that moment. It challenges your faith—it’s an opportunity to think about it, and we had such wonderful support from our families and church. It was an opportunity to mature in our marriage.”

Michael’s support was essential for his wife at that time.

“I know he’s my best friend, and we had some hard times, trying to achieve our family, but he’s always been my biggest support,” she said.

Later, after her next two children were born, she miscarried twice in one year.

“So when we had Nick, we were just really thrilled to have more children,” she said. And, when Molly was born, Melissa was “just so thrilled to have one daughter at least.”

The Flahertys have many family members living nearby, and also consider the parish part of their family.

“They are very involved in what’s happening at the church,” said Father Reese Weber, parochial vicar at Nativity. “They’re trying to make the community of the parish the community of a family. And that’s probably something they’ve learned in their own home, how important a family is.”

The Flahertys, Father Weber said, “see the value and richness of having people in their life that when they come to church, the church is an extension of their own family.”

The Flahertys are active in several programs and volunteer activities.

Fargo’s K of C Council is always busy, serving meals at parish breakfasts, preparing blankets for needy people, and helping at various pro-life functions. Michael is Cub Scout leader, and Melissa volunteers with the American Heritage Girls group. In addition, they help out with RCIA and serve as extraordinary Eucharistic ministers.

“We have a busy household,” Melissa admitted. “You want your kids to be involved and well-rounded, but it’s hard to know what’s not enough and what’s too much.”

So while Michael works as an engineer with his family’s business, she chose a career in physical therapy that allows her to work part time and be at home with the kids for much of the week. “I’m able to have some flexibility and help out at school and things,” she said.

Supporting the faith of the children starts with Catholic education, Michael said. “Our older kids are receiving not just once-a-week Catholic education; they get to see their faith in terms of Mass on a weekday, in terms of teachers talking about faith and good examples of Christian faith. They get to learn their faith—the ins and outs of it, apologetics—from parish priests who are there.

“And in our home life there’s always prayer—prayer before meals and prayer in tough times, prayer before bedtime, people we could pray for,” he continued. “There’s no compromise with regard to [Sunday Mass], it’s something we express to them that they need to have.”

Melissa happily notes that Nativity Church is growing with “more and more big families, so at church there are always lots and lots of kids.”

The Flahertys are an important part of that growth. Says Father Weber, “That life they bring from the home is bringing life to the church.”

John Burger is news editor for the Catholic website