Genie and Frank Summers have served as missionaries for 40 years and in that time have traveled all over the world to spread the Gospel and serve the poor. In the midst of sharing the good news with the world, they were also intentional about sharing the faith with their seven children.
The Summers, speakers at the latest installment of the Archbishop’s Lecture Series Feb. 17, relayed how all families can foster a “missionary spirit”—whether they’re called to “foreign lands” or called to serve in their own communities.
“God will send you to those you’re well-suited to serve,” Frank explained.
“We’re all called to be missionaries,” he continued. “We are commissioned by the Church as infants at baptism … you must be a missionary evangelist.”
But evangelism wasn’t always a way of life for the couple. In 1973, Frank, then an atheist, and Genie, a fallen-away Catholic, were on the brink of divorce.
“I was blessed to start my journey as an atheist,” said Frank, a lawyer. “Thank God I had a terrible problem … I met Jesus that night in my troubles.”
During a night of “sippin’ Scotch” after Genie had left him, Frank felt called back to the Catholic Church, the faith he was raised in.
“I felt God was there and I felt he cared about me,” he shared. “I said, ‘Jesus, save me,’ and that was my personal encounter with the Lord.”
A personal encounter with the Lord is the first thing one must have in place to be a missionary, he said.
Genie returned home, and God started working in their lives. Along with their young son, they became active in their parish and community, prayed together, started reading Scripture daily, and began to practice natural family planning after reading “Humanae Vitae,” Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on love and the dangers of artificial birth control.
“We became a close family,” Frank said.
As their family grew, they continued to deepen in their faith and pray together including grace before meals, morning offerings, rosaries and Sunday Mass. They made Sunday “the Lord’s day,” Frank said, by spending time together.
Ultimately, they responded to the call to serve as international missionaries and since then their faith has been guided by what they call the five “touchstones” of spiritual life: prayer, God’s word, sacraments, community and service.
“We required personal prayer time,” Genie said, just like they required their children to brush their teeth or do their homework.
They also had family prayer time, which was also a good communication tool, she said, because it allowed them to know what their kids were thinking, what they needed, and what was “on their hearts and minds.”
Their children began reading and praying with Scripture from the age of 10.
“Scripture was the best part of our kids’ education,” she said.
“They were ordinary kids,” she added, “but they knew the Lord.”
They had family retreats and Bible studies, participated in the sacraments, and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours.
“Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate is our motto!” she said.
Celebrations included not only traditional holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but also holy days and saint feast days, baptism anniversaries, and major festivities around sacraments such as first Eucharist and confirmation.
“Marriage is the most important sacrament for a missionary family,” Genie stressed.
The couple will celebrate 52 years of marriage this year. All seven of their children, now grown, are actively engaged in Church ministries. They are expecting their 21st grandchild. For more information about their lay Catholic missionary apostolate, Family Missions Company, visit www.fmcmissions.com.
The next speaker in the Archbishop’s Lecture Series, to be held 7 p.m. April 21, will be John Grabowski, PhD., associate professor and director of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Grabowski, a member of The Pontifical Council for the Family, will speak on “Pope Francis’ call to mission and the role of the family.” The lecture will be in Bonfils Halls on the campus of the St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization at 1300 S. Steele St.