Sally Wallace believes that parents’ most difficult responsibility today is educating their children in the true meaning of sexuality.
“The happiness of your sons and daughters now and in the future,” she adds, “depends greatly upon whether they receive and live the truth about sexuality in a world that lies to them about sexuality every day through television, movies and our culture.”
It was with this awareness in mind that Wallace, along with her husband, Tom, of Endwell, N.Y., parents of eight grown children (and grandparents of 17) developed the Catholic Parents Program, also known as Life and Hope.
Wallace points out that the Catholic Church has long offered resources to parents who want to form their children to think with the Church on matters of love and sexuality. She notes the 1995 publication of the Pontifical Council for the Family's document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. In it the Church reminds parents they are the first and best-qualified teachers of their children — particularly in this area.
Prior to developing Life and Hope, Wallace was struck by how sex education was being presented in schools, including Catholic ones.
“I was concerned,” she says. “I didn't want to speak to [my youngest] too young, but when I read When Babies Are Made, he would snuggle close to me. He looked at me, awestruck. It was just the most precious moment. It created a closeness I can't describe.”
According to Wallace, the Catholic Parents Program connects mothers and fathers to the pure teaching of the Church on a practical level. The program helps parents promote, in a compelling way, the virtues of chastity and the preciousness of every human life.
The Catholic Parents Program began in 1997, when the Wallaces’ pastor had them gather couples in the parish to study Truth and Meaning.
In Spring 2000, the four-part sessions went over big at a Catholic high school. Commanding speakers, such as Mother Agnes Donovan, mother superior of the Sisters of Life, gave it to the parents straight.
“The parents really discovered what they heard was not disconnected from everyday life but essential to it,” says Wallace.
Next, writings and encyclicals like Humanae Vitae and John Paul II's Letter to Families and Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) were added to the program.
In 2001, four speakers were taped presenting one segment each of Truth and Meaning: psychologist Dr. Thomas Lickona, author of Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility; Oblate of the Virgin Mary provincial Father Timothy Gallagher; Father Thomas Ward, a Franciscan University graduate and pastor of two parishes in the Syracuse, N.Y., diocese; and Father Charles Connor, who has produced several EWTN series.
The event aired on EWTN under the title “Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” — a third title connecting it unmistakably to the 1995 pontifical document.
Today, the Catholic Parents Program offers parents and parishes lots of resources to choose from — videotapes of talks, copies of all the documents and encyclicals it promotes and several books. One of these is Talking to Youth About Sexuality: A Parents Guide. Presented in Q-and-A format, and aimed at junior-high and high-school kids, it draws all its content from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Heart of the Home
Father Joseph Blonski, pastor of St. Joseph and Holy Trinity Church in Aztec, N.M., was so impressed by Father Ward's talk when he saw “Life and Hope” on EWTN that he ordered a copy and presented it to his parishioners.
“It's so refreshing to see young priests enthusiastic about the Church's teaching, and able to convey it articulately,” says Father Blonski.
He believes the program has multiple uses.
“It would be good for priests to see with or without parishioners,” he says. “It models how priests can discuss these intimate contents, if you will, in a down-to-earth and natural fashion — in a way people can relate to.”
The EWTN spotlight also sold Leonard and Barbara DiBella of Old Saybook, Conn., parents of seven children, ages 3 to 17.
“Any type of teaching on human sexuality should be done in the heart of the home,” says Barbara.
Their prayers to find the right help were answered the night Barbara watched Father Ward's presentation.
“He was elevating the family to how God wants the family to be elevated,” she says, “explaining how sacred human sex is and how sacred the family is.”
The DiBellas lost no time getting the Catholic Parents Program. Then, with her pastor's approval, they presented it to interested fellow parishioners at St. John Church. Father Kevin Reilly of the parish was on hand to answer questions in light of Church teachings during discussions after each of the videos.
“The ‘Life and Hope’ program helps parents realize,” says Wallace, “that reading a little part of the documents at a time will open up immense truths and mysteries for them in the moral life — and will bring such joy to their whole life.”
Barbara DiBella agrees. She uses “Life and Hope” every day at home. “I'm always trying to teach what the Church teaches and I want to let the children know what God's plan is about the beauty and sacredness of marriage,” she says. “I know they listen, because they ask me and their father a lot of questions.”
From her experience with other parents, DiBella also finds “Life and Hope” deepens the parents’ own understanding and appreciation of the faith.
“This is a program,” she says, “that gives back to our generation the solid Catholic teaching many didn't get.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
Catholic Parents Program