Kay Halfmann remembers attempting to pray the Rosary as a family when the children were little. Sometimes, the kids would squirm or not pay attention. Typically, a full Rosary takes about 15-20 minutes to complete, depending on what prayers are added at the end. But for a 3-year-old, that may seem like an eternity.
Kay and Paul Halfmann kept it simple with their seven children. They prayed one decade of the Rosary each night, finishing an entire Rosary over the course of five days. The practical approach for their young children worked — not only did they learn prayers at an early age, but they saw the importance of praying together as a family and created a routine.
“You would never not teach your children how to read,” Kay told a group of parents in early March at St. Joachim Parish in Old Mines. “You want your kids to have a relationship with Jesus — and that’s through prayer.”
The Halfmanns started D:6 Ministries in 2020 to help Catholic parents as they raise their children in the faith. Married for 32 years, the couple uses real stories of raising their own seven children, ranging in age from 15 to 30 years old, along with a humorous approach, to share practical ways to bring children the truth of who they are as children of God. Paul also brings with him more than 20 years of experience as a youth minister, including at the couple’s parish St. Joseph in Imperial.
The ministry was named after a passage from Deuteronomy: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
Nearly 80 percent of people who leave the Catholic Church do so before the age of 24, according to Pew Research. The Halfmanns believe that giving parents a practical approach with small steps in teaching children from a young age about the importance of building a relationship with Jesus over time is key to keeping them engaged in the Church well into adulthood.
“In this day and age, people think if they can’t do it perfectly, then they can’t do it at all,” Kay said. “We tell them it’s OK not to be perfect.”
“As humans, we tend to prioritize different things,” Paul said. “Part of what we say is that if you do something as simple as taking four or five minutes to pray, that’s going to change their lives.”
Real world experiences
On a Saturday morning, 8-year-old Henry Brueggen led the prayer before breakfast at his grandparents’ house. The weekend breakfast is a regular routine that Kelly and Josh Brueggen and their five children share with Kelly’s parents, Chris and Tracy Farrell, at their home just outside of Old Mines.
Kelly and Josh, who attended the Halfmanns’ talk in March at St. Joachim Parish, said they appreciated the couple’s approach and how they’ve stuck it out over the years. “We saw how they were consistent in their routine,” Kelly said. It can be hard when it seems so many people are leaving the Church, she said, “but you do this because you love your kids, and you love God.”
In addition to taking their children to Mass every Sunday, the Brueggens make sure prayer in the home is a priority, as well as instilling a sense of service to others. Conversations about God and other faith-related topics frequently take place during car rides.
Bedtime stories and prayer are part of the family’s routine until recently, when Kelly was on bed rest with an injury. Their 6-year-old daughter, Charlotte didn’t want to miss out on her special time with her mom, so the girl asked her if she could bring prayer and story time to her mom’s bed instead.
“She still wanted that,” Kelly recalled. “Creating that habit for them is a big deal.”
Creating routine is especially important for their second-oldest son, Jackson, 9, who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“I remember saying to Josh often, ‘What is the point? I am getting nothing out of this Mass’” as they taught their children expectations for behavior at church. “I remember a friend of mine said that, spiritually, you’re getting grace.” In those early years, it was difficult to pay attention to much of what was going on, “but I see that the grace of it now is the routine that we have created,” Kelly said. “Jackson knows the expectations for behavior, and that we will go to Mass every weekend. We knew that we had to just keep going even when it was hard.”
‘God offers us so much more’
The Halfmanns recall hearing a recurring line from other adults their age — they had raised their children in the Catholic Church, but their children stopped going to church in adulthood. “They were heartbroken — we had multiple people sharing the same story with us,” Paul Halfmann said. “I feel like God is saying the domestic Church has fallen into ruin and He wants us to help rebuild it.”
The Halfmanns surveyed more than 50 families they knew about what they did with their kids. What worked and what didn’t? They discovered several central themes, which have become the pillars of D:6 Ministries: prayer in the family; forming a conscience with morals; remembering who you are as a child of God; and living out the faith and evangelizing others. The overarching mission is teaching parents to pass on the faith to their children.
The ministry propelled from concept to reality when the pilgrimage company Paul had been working for went out of business because of the pandemic. Through prayer and discernment for several months, they realized this was their sign from God.
“I feel like God gave us this mission,” he said. “People have been so affirming. When I call to parishes, people tell us that this is so needed.”
Father Tom Vordtriede, who serves as a spiritual advisor and board member with D:6 Ministries, said the Halfmanns’ experience and witness serve as an encouragement to other parents in strengthening family life, and raising children in the practice of the faith and with strong morals.
In his seven years of priesthood, Father Vordtriede has seen firsthand what many other priests are witnessing — a high percentage of families who just aren’t participating in the sacraments, including Sunday Mass attendance.
“These are good families; I don’t always know what the missing piece is — if they’re busy or they feel like they can’t do it,” he said. But the Halfmanns’ witness shows that “you don’t have to be perfect, or this ‘amazing’ Catholic just to live a faithful life. Sometimes that missing piece is that encouragement from other parents — I think people can relate to this.”
The couple also have a particular focus on the importance of attending Mass, which is central to the faith.
Paul frequently uses an analogy in their talks: “Let’s say you’re going to work to provide for your family. What if your boss made you a deal? If you come in at 9 and give your all for one hour, I’ll give you everything you need. You need to check in a few times a day, but all I ask of you is one hour at work.”
That’s what God asks of us in our relationship with Him, he said. “But God offers us so much more — and it’s Himself, every Sunday at Mass,” he tells parents. “It’s how He wants us to worship Him. When we go (to Mass) we’re at the Last Supper — we’re at Calvary. At Mass, we receive the Body, Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.”
Our children have hearts that are moldable, Kay said. “Model to your children what is important. Don’t deny them that — we need to give them the spiritual food that they need.”
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