Genie and Frank Summers saw themselves as up-and-comers in Abbeville, La., in 1973. They had the right education, lived in the right neighborhood, and worked at the right jobs: Frank was an attorney and Genie a writer. Yet despite “having it all,” including a young son, they were not happy and their 10-year marriage was headed towards divorce.
Genie, a fallen away Catholic at the time, decided to spend a weekend away with a cousin who was divorced to get glimpse of what her future might look like. During the weekend, Frank, raised Catholic but then agnostic, experienced an unexpected conversion that would dramatically change the course of their marriage and family life.
Just as Frank was breaking down over the reality of the imminent divorce, a census worker from the Catholic Church knocked on the front door. Among other questions, she asked: If he got involved with the Church what would he like to do? “Help the poor,” he responded.
Later that night, he was moved to return to confession following a 10-year absence, where the monsignor said: “If you put Jesus at the center of your marriage, he will save your marriage.”
When Genie returned home, he greeted her with a seven-page letter asking for forgiveness. Following an overnight session of talking and crying, she saw a different man, she said, and heard God say: “Genie, this is not the end of your marriage, it’s the beginning.”
The couple renewed their vows, took a second honeymoon and within a year, sold everything they owned and responded to God’s call to spend their lives serving the poor as missionaries.
This year they will celebrate 52 year of marriage. They have seven children, all actively engaged in Church ministries, and are expecting their 21st grandchild. After more than 20 years as a missionary family in places such as the Tonga Islands, Mexico, Colombia and New Orleans, they founded Family Missions Company in 1996. FMC is a lay Catholic missionary apostolate comprised of more than 200 stateside and international missionaries, both families and individuals, who address the spiritual and material needs of the poor.
The Summers will share their story of conversion from worldliness and offer ways to “Cultivate a Missionary Spirit in the Family” in the next installment of the Archbishop’s Lecture Series Feb. 17. The lecture continues the 2014-2015 series’ theme that focuses on family at the same time the universal Church is focusing on the family.
“Frank and I have what we call the touchstones of our spirituality that we have passed on to our children,” Genie told the Denver Catholic in a phone conversation from Abbeville.
The touchstones are: personal, family and community prayer; God’s word, the sacraments, community and service.
“As parents (we stressed) their daily personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” she explained. “That included private prayer, time with Scripture, daily family prayer time, and seeing us in our own private prayer.”
The children were always deeply involved in ministry, growing up in a missionary family.
“My ambition for my kids was never to have them be superlative in academics, or receive status in society,” she said. “Our intention for our kids was to be kingdom builders!”
The Summers have extensive family life and biblical training, are master catechists commissioned by the Diocese of Lafayette, La, and in 2005 Frank received the bishop’s Dedicated Service Medal. Frank holds a master of law degree, and Genie, author of “Go! You Are Sent!” an English degree.
Their talk will begin at 7 p.m. in Bonfils Hall on the campus of the St. John Paul II Center at 1300 S. Steele St. in Denver. It is free and open to the public.
Lecture >> “Cultivating a Missionary Spirit in the Family”
7 p.m. Feb. 17 | St. JPII Center
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