Husband & Wife Articles


Christ Encounters

With five children, our family relies on God’s surprises

By Sue Haggerty

September transitions are tough. Our summers are filled with long days of family time and adventures. We bond and reconnect over lazy days of swimming, S’mores, and endless worlds of imagination. Back to school means homework, projects, activities and stress. But the school supplies are bought, the backpacks labeled, the teacher assignments received, and the school bells are ringing.

Watching them go off always tugs at my heart, especially when the next one starts kindergarten. School is the beginning of a countdown to when I won’t be the center of their universe, and kindergarten starts that clock. For the first time, I have to let go of their hand and trust. Even though we send them to a good local Catholic school, no one knows our children as well as we do. No one loves our children as well as we do. As primary educators of our children, making decisions about their education can raise agonizing questions. Am I doing what’s best for them? Is this good for our family? However, through prayerful discernment and trust in God’s grace, we have been blessed in unexpected ways by encounters with Christ.

Sue Haggerty and her husband, Pat, are parents to five active children: Moira (9), Orla (7), Aoife (5), Eamon (3), and Oisin (2).

I remember when my oldest went off to school for the first time. I’m pretty sure I sobbed as I watched her walk away with her little plaid jumper and Peter Pan blouse. Serious and slightly nervous, she clearly felt the weight of my emotion. As she walked along the sidewalk, a teacher who was helping a little boy stretched her other hand toward my daughter. “This one’s for you, sweetheart!” she said. Instantly, my daughter’s nervous face broke into huge smile as she ran towards that open hand. Christ encountered.

The next year, the day after my second daughter went off to kindergarten, I delivered my fifth child. That year was quite a blur – stressful, emotional and physically exhausting. In November, my daughter was in a Thanksgiving play. My baby was sleeping as I got the other kids ready and headed out the door, but when we got to the school, the infant awoke, wailing. I started sweating. I frantically ran through the school looking for a place to nurse him and found a chair in the cafeteria. He finally settled and we headed back into the room just as the play was ending. I burst into tears. Before I knew it, moms that were still just acquaintances were giving me hugs. One held the baby, another stayed to let me watch the play on her video camera and another ran to get me coffee. Christ encountered.

One day after school, my daughter’s teacher called me over to say, “There’s something wrong. Your daughter wasn’t acting herself today and it really just surprised me.” Not noticing anything myself, I tried to think of what it could be. My daughter came over. I could tell she knew she had behaved in a disrespectful manner to her teacher. Overwhelming emotion prevented her from speaking. Her teacher asked, “Do you want to come inside and talk about it?” My daughter nodded. My whole crew headed inside. We went to her classroom where the teacher gently and lovingly asked my daughter what was going on. It turned out it was more my daughter’s response to the stress at home than anything at school. She burst into tears. I burst into tears. It was a messy love fest of apologies and hugs while my 2-year-old got into the teacher’s well-organized crates. Not once did I feel that the teacher was judging my daughter or me – just genuine love and concern. Christ encountered.

Sharing our faith in a Catholic school community gives us the opportunity to encounter Christ every day – in the parking lot, in the hallways, in the lunchroom, on the blacktop. No one is perfect. When a teacher, a student or a parent fails to be Christlike, it wounds deeply. But we must forgive as Christ forgives, and keep bringing the light of Christ to each other. As Pope Francis said in Lumen Fidei, “Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.”

As a community, we gather in Christ’s name, to pray together, celebrate the sacraments, support each other in struggles and share in each other’s joys. Above all, our duty is to form the souls and minds of our children so that they also can know the light of Christ and be that light for the world. Christ encountered.

Sue Haggerty, a freelance writer from Virginia, is married to her best friend, Pat. They have been blessed with five children who help them encounter Christ.

ENGAGE AND INTERACT: When have you seen Christ in the actions of others?