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Mary Harocopos prayed with her son, John, during adoration at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City in September.
Mary Harocopos prayed with her son, John, during adoration at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City in September.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Teachers of the faith

Moms Transmit the Faith gives Catholic moms the practical tools needed to impart the faith to their children

Mary Harocopos has been bringing her son to eucharistic adoration since he was big enough to properly fit into a stroller.

Now nearly two years old, John is becoming familiar with the elements of adoration — the smell of church; the feel of the wooden pews; the quiet of prayer time; and the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the golden monstrance upon the altar.

Mary and John used holy water when they arrived for adoration at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. She has been bringing John to the church so he becomes familiar with the elements of adoration.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
Harocopos says it’s a tradition that she’s always wanted for her first-born child. It was something that she, too, experienced as a child.

“My mom used to take me to adoration all the time,” says Mary, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City. “She found that was a good way to spend a little time with our Lord and meditate and gaze upon Him, listening to what He has to say. That really had an effect on me, and I hope it will rub off on John, too.”

On a weekday afternoon, Mary and John visited Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Taking a seat in a center aisle, Mary perched her son on top of a pew and whispered in his ear. She waved at the monstrance on the altar, as if to signify they were waving to Jesus, their friend. Later to calm her wiggling son, she nursed him while in prayer, as he reached for her face with his tiny fingers.

It’s a tender moment. And one of many small building blocks that Mary is carefully putting into place as she raises her son in the Catholic faith. In the time since John was born, Mary also has sought out the support of other Catholic moms through a local program called Moms Transmit the Faith.

Patrice Westman saw how evident that support was needed some 35 years ago as a young mother raising a family in the Chicago area. During a regular gathering of a mom’s group that she was part of, one of the women asked how they were handling faith issues at home.

“Everyone in unison looked down and then looked up and said, ‘I could be doing so much better, but I don’t feel like I really know my faith,’” recalled Westman, now living in St. Louis and a member of Ascension Parish in Chesterfield. “How can I give it if I don’t know it that well? It spurred me.”

Westman developed Moms Transmit the Faith as 12-month program that helps mothers to go deeper into their Catholic faith, and in turn better equip them to pass along the faith to their children. Westman most recently helped lead a mom’s group that Harocopos attended.

“So many mothers feel it’s important to develop (their children’s) talents, but we have to develop a close relationship with God — that is the most important thing we can do,” Westman told the mothers at a gathering at Allison Dudash’s home in September. “We can’t give what we don’t have. If we review these things, fall deeper in love with our Lord and live it, then our children pick it up.”

Setting an example

Mary Harocopos and her son, John, prepared dinner they ate with dad, George.
Photo Credit: Whitney Curtis
When John was born in January 2020, Harocopos went from working full time outside of the home to stay-at-home mother. Two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the Harocopos family, like many others, isolated themselves.

Mary Harocopos’ first interaction with other mothers was through Moms Transmit the Faith, which she learned about through her friend Allison Dudash, who hosted the monthly gatherings at her home.

Harocopos said she learned from other mothers how to maintain patience and to focus on the joyful aspects of motherhood.

“How can I take my small piece of the world with my family and do my best? In the pandemic, you’re thinking of your own home and family a lot, because we couldn’t go anywhere. How can I make my home more peaceful and my work have a pleasant and prayerful attitude?”

With more time at home, Harocopos started to look at ways to spend more time in prayer — not only for her and her husband, George, but also for their son. “We want to set that example for John and to show him how that is so important to have a conversation with God, whether that is formal prayer or more of a conversational prayer.”

Role of the mother

Mothers have a critical role in teaching the faith to their children.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children:

”Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents” (CCC 2226).

Westman tells the moms in the group that if they’re not passing along the faith, then who is? “We are little churches,” she tells them. “A little piece of society.”

When she started the program, Westman created little bullet points about the faith — aspects such as prayer, virtues, the sacraments and life after death — and turned them into small talks. She turned to other moms to ask for their feedback on the topics most important to them. Most of them were familiar with their faith, through receiving a Catholic education. But she wanted to take it deeper, exploring why the Church teaches what it does, and to give practical tips for living out and teaching those aspects of the faith.

“It’s not a blind faith,” she said. “Everything is very reasonable and within our understanding, but we need to search it out and realize that.”

After 25 years of sharing these talks, Westman was encouraged to publish her work by 2008. She also sought an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which indicates nothing within the content is contrary to Church teaching. Westman received that in 2013. The program has since spread throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis and elsewhere, mostly by word of mouth.

Relationship with God

Mary comforted John after he bumped his head.
Photo Credit: Whitney Curtis
Angie Suellentrop has for years hosted monthly groups of Moms Transmit the Faith in her home. The member of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood said hosting it in the home, rather than making it a parish-based activity, provides for a more intimate setting, helping moms to form a community, and in turn building a community around their shared Catholic faith.

Suellentrop, who co-hosts meetings with friend Shirley Zoellner, both of whom have adult children, said they see their role as mentors, sharing their personal experiences and learning different perspectives from younger Catholic mothers.

“Some of them have theology degrees, but they came because they weren’t sure how to express (the faith) to their children,” Suellentrop said. “There are others who are not sure about their faith, or need to review their faith. They are all, in earnest, wanting to do the best job for their children and to help them grow in their faith.”

Among topics that present some of the biggest challenges for mothers are addressing issues of sexuality within the context of Church teaching; as well as understanding their children’s temperance, to be able to effectively meet them where they’re at when sharing the faith.

“We try to be sensitive and open to their questions and concerns,” Suellentrop said. “We encourage them to ask questions. That gives them a level of comfort.”

Children are a blessing

Harocopos saw her time with the group as a break from the routines of motherhood. The experience gave her some fresh air to consider how to set a solid foundation for her son’s faith experience.

“To be with other mothers and commiserate, and talk about our faith — I found that so energizing and uplifting,” she said. “They’re all trying to grow in their faith and raise their children in the faith. To see other mothers who have already done that and sometimes still have struggles, gave me some fresh air.”

“My job is to take care of his physical and emotional needs, but also the spiritual,” she said. “My example is the most powerful thing in terms of teaching the faith.”

Moms Transmit the Faith

Laurie Rehm, left, and Allison Dudash attended a meeting of Moms Transmit the Faith at Allison’s home in September.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
Moms Transmit the Faith is a 12-month program that helps mothers to go deeper in their understanding of the Catholic faith, and offers practical applications for living and teaching the faith with children. The program includes talks on topics including the origins of the truths of the Catholic faith, virtues, life after death, forming conscience, the sacraments, the Blessed Mother, prayer and more.

The program is held in a group setting, typically in someone’s home. To learn more about Moms Transmit the Faith and how to join or start a group, contact Patrice Westman at [email protected].

To learn more about the program’s content, see momstransmitthefaith.com.

The Harocopos family ate dinner together at their home.
Photo Credit: Whitney Curtis

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