It’s Friday morning and there is coffee brewing in an unused classroom at St. Philip’s Parish in Falls Church, VA. Christina Landauer sets out donuts and stirring sticks while her two year old son plays with a Lightening McQueen riding car. Her infant is asleep in his stroller, and the two older children are in school. She is setting up for the moms group, which she founded.
I attend this group, and I’ll admit, it can be terrifyingly isolating to embark on the path of stay-at-home mother, particularly for those among us who did not grow up with sizeable experiences with young children. The endless, sleepless nights and the stresses of finicky napers and picky eaters can be enough to set anyone on edge. In these times, a welcoming home of women who are traveling the same road or who have traveled it is a comfort unlike any other, akin to the ugly duckling reuniting with her family of swans.
As Mass ends, other mothers slowly trickle in, some holding the hands of preschool aged little ones, some wearing infants or carrying them in a car seat. Some moms have both with them. There is an option for babysitting in the next room so that the women gathered can relax. A few kids go over to play, a few stay with their mothers.
As the group settles in, everyone introduces themselves: newcomers and old friends alike. They begin in prayer and Landauer shares a reflection on growing in holiness as a mother. There is an option for Confession and the chance to share, bond and grow as mothers.
I for one have been tremendously impressed by the kindness and warmth of the women in the St. Philip’s moms group. This is not a high school clique, but a community of folks who care, who are earnestly striving to follow Christ and are who are grateful both to help and to be helped along the way.
Landauer has been leading this ministry for two years now. After attending a MOPS group (Moms of Preschoolers) at Columbia Baptist, a program run by mothers and for mothers, complete with babysitting, speakers and the chance to come together and share their journey through this season of life.
Landauer felt that she benefited so much from the fellowship of MOPS that she wanted to bring that type of community to her fellow mothers in the Catholic Church.
After meeting with Fr. Dennis Donahue, the pastor of St. Philip’s, Landauer started to advertise a St. Philip’s Mom’s Group both for stay-at-home and working mothers with events during the day and occasional evenings opportunities for mothers who work.
The group grew quickly, with over 60 women on its email list and more being added weekly.
Landauer, who is originally from Elmhurst, IL, moved to Virginia in 2008 after marrying her husband, Paul, and brought with her a background in youth ministry from the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“Families, especially children, need to feel welcomed, loved and at home in the Church,” she said. “This means creating safe space and community for the family in addition to Mass. I think offering the moms good hospitality and support in their vocations goes a long way.”
The St. Philip’s Mother’s Group meets regularly every other Friday. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facing a new dimension of the world, technological development, Shelly Marstall, mother to three-year-old Hannah, is drawing Catholic mothers together through social media. Her facebook group, “NOVA Catholic Mamas” boasts over 250 members, all spread through word of mouth.
Marstall moved with her husband and daughter two years ago to the Northern Virginia area.
With the job market created by Washington DC, NOVA is packed with transplants, who moved from other parts of the country and Marstall felt called to reach out to them when she discovered that there wasn’t an easy way to find and connect with others.
She recalls hearing the adage at her parish, “when the kids are in school, you and your daughter will find friends more easily.” Marstall didn’t want to wait two or more years for that to happen. So she created a group online to connect new and old residents of Virginia, particularly for Catholic mothers striving to live out their faith while raising a Catholic family.
While she and her husband had lived in Wisconsin, Marstall benefited from membership in such a group and wanted to share similar fruits with the mothers of Northern Virginia.
At first she held back though, “because of the pressure to make sure it was done right.” Marstall earned a Master’s in Theological Studies from Ave Maria University and wanted to ensure the group guided women in accord with the Church.
Marstall said “many groups online can be impersonal, dramatic and never break beyond the virtual. I wanted this group to be a safe place to share, learn, and connect so real relationships could blossom and combat the epidemic of loneliness today.”
Drawing on her background in marketing, she took the plunge and created the group to help connect mothers of all ages to help share events and resources, make friends and grow in the faith, and the “NOVA Catholic Mamas” facebook group was born.
Taking up the Call
Later, when Marstall, Landauer and others gathered at a meeting of the St. Philip’s Mom’s group, women from all over the diocese discussed the importance of finding fellowship in the somewhat counter-cultural vocation of Catholic motherhood.
“Mothers are hungry,” said Landauer; heads nodded. Because of the private nature of parenting, institutional support is often low.
The new mom ministries sprouting up at parishes, the older ones that are long running, and new digital communities are allowing these motivated lay women to take up the charge and bring the Gospel into the lives of families through the area.
Director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of Arlington, Therese Bermpohl said, “So many young married couples are living far from family and friends with no one to share the daily joys and struggles of family life. These groups two examples of how young Catholics are answering the call to be Christ for one another. They are creating these smaller, intentional communities within the parish where mothers can find support and love from like-minded Christian women.”
The Office for Marriage and Family Life maintains a list of parish resources at http://www.arlingtondiocese.org/familylife/family_life.aspx. A few others available are:
-The facebook group is “Nova Catholic Mamas”
-Join St Philip’s Moms by emailing email@example.com
-St. Thomas More Moms firstname.lastname@example.org
-New Catholic Mamas on meetup.com
-Holy Half Hour for children and families is available on First Fridays at 10:30 am at the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean VA
-Mom & Kids Mass, 2nd Thursdays at 10:00am at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alexandria