Tea, giggles and teaching my daughter the feminine genius

I was 20 years old when I began using oral contraception.  About to be married and unsure of how pregnancy and children ought to fit with Holy Matrimony, I did what most women my age did: I went to the university health clinic, saw a doctor who spoke nary a word about the ensuing side-effects or possible long-term health complications, and procured a prescription for the birth control pill.

Unfortunate as my story is, it’s also anything but uncommon.  Countless women in my generation have spent some amount of time utilizing hormonal contraception, and a fair number of us have suffered for it, too.  I wasn’t Catholic back then but I am now, and I’m determined to pave a better way for my daughter.

At eleven years old, she’s slipping ever so slowly out of little-girlhood, and moving closer and closer to young womanhood.  And like any Catholic mother, I want her to grow to fully embrace her beauty and dignity as a woman, to feel empowered and comfortable with her body, and to have an overwhelmingly positive self-image.  She’s made in the image of God, after all.  I want her to marvel at the work of God in her life, and to understand her identity and preciousness in Christ.

So on Saturday, my daughter and I snuck away to a Mother Daughter Tea hosted at Holy Name Catholic Parish, in Sheridan, Colorado.  The event was organized by Carrie Keating, Certified FertilityCare Practitioner of the Creighton Model of NFP, who described the event as a way “for young girls to learn about health, beauty and virtue as they become women. Moms need more spiritual, medical and practical resources to help them.”

We arrived to find tables set with fresh flowers and white linens, and a rosary waited at each girl’s seat.  Music played in the background, and each of the participants received a folder containing relevant, thoughtful information.  Later there would be scones and jam, tea sandwiches, and the opportunity for the girls to make a craft while the moms listened to a presentation on the facts about contraception, delivered by a local Catholic doctor.

By the time Maye Agama and Cara Rhyne, consecrated laywomen with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, had opened the day with their talk about Our Blessed Mother, the tables were overflowing with thirty young girls and their mothers.  When I asked Carrie later why she felt it was important to include both mothers and daughters in the day’s activities, she responded that “at the ages of 10-12 there is an openness to hearing this information, and an opportunity for mothers to gather together to mentor their daughters.”  I couldn’t agree more.  As mothers we want to supply our daughters with the truth about themselves and about the world, but it’s an admittedly daunting task.  In a day and age where there is so much confusion and ambiguity surrounding gender identity–and womanhood in particular–we need the support of our faith community.  We need to encourage our daughters to embrace the strength of their femininity.  And every single one of Saturday’s thoughtful details served to do just that.

During the course of the tea we also heard from an enthusiastic Kim Perez about Blessed Pope John Paul II and the feminine genius, and Carrie Keating explained cycles and charting in a way that was accessible to young girls.  Then I confess that I had to keep myself from clapping and cheering, as Catholic physician Michelle Stanford asked us to have an open mind before detailing the significant medical problems and risks associated with oral contraception, not least of which is its abortifacient effect.  This was information I wish I’d had all those years ago, and which I believe is essential for all mothers to know—according to Dr. Stanford, by the time our daughters and their peers reach the age of 24, 82% of them will be using some type of hormonal contraception.  And not only that, but 25% of adolescent girls currently have a prescription!

There was room for giggling (lots and lots of giggling) during Lynn Grandon’s candid and ebullient presentation on the physical changes these girls will experience during their transition into womanhood.  If my daughter hadn’t been feeling confident and empowered about puberty before, she certainly is now.  To see this information presented within the context of who God created my daughter to be, with both humor and straightforward honesty, was unbelievably refreshing.  Best of all, it has begun a delightfully open and constructive conversation between my daughter and I, to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Back when I was a new bride coming from a non-Catholic background, I hadn’t yet connected the dots between how God created my body, and who God intended for me to be as a woman.  I speak from experience when I say that my marriage and my life are both so much better for having rejected the birth control pill, and since embracing an openness to life through Natural Family Planning.  It’s exciting to consider that, with the help of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother, I can now pass these incredibly beautiful truths on to my own children.  And I can say without reservation that we need more events like this, with faith communities coming alongside mothers and fathers to support them in this mission.

Armed with her new rosary, fresh and inspiring knowledge, and a pretty bag she’d been gifted with that morning (containing things like candy, and girly hand sanitizer), my daughter stepped out into the sunshine.  There was a confident, happy smile on her face.  She was beyond delighted to be a girl, and a beloved daughter of God.

Speaking as a Catholic mother to a Catholic daughter on the precipice of womanhood, I can’t imagine hoping for anything more than that.

Carrie Keating wanted me to tell you that this event  “was generously hosted by Holy Name Catholic Parish. Of the 21 moms who filled out the evaluation at the September 12 event, 20 of them would definitely recommend the Mother Daughter Tea to a friend. For those interested in hosting a Mother Daughter Tea, please go to www.mdtea.us.”

Brianna Heldt is a Catholic writer, speaker, and podcaster.  Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, and she has been a featured guest on BBC radio.  Adult converts to the Catholic Church, Brianna and her husband are parents to eight children–four by birth, and four by adoption.  They make their home in Denver, Colorado.  You can keep up with Brianna’s adventures on her personal blog, found at www.briannaheldt.com

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”