Adopted children can bring families so much joy that adoption becomes a good habit. So say several Catholic families who found out the easy way — by doing it.
“It’s like eating potato chips,” says Mary Ann Kuharski, founder and director of Prolife Across America. “You can’t stop after one.” She wrote a book for joyful adoptive families, Outnumbered! Raising 13 Kids With Humor and Prayer (Servant, 2006).
Mary Ann and her husband, John, adopted six of those 13. All adults now, the Kuharski kids arrived from the U.S., Philippines, Calcutta and Vietnam.
“We laughed that we were pioneers adopting from foreign countries and with mixed races,” she says. “We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
What did happen was great fulfillment for the Kuharskis as they watched hurt, mistrusting kids who had been bumped around foster-care systems and orphanages begin to bloom in a stable, loving family.
Looking back, Mary Ann says that few experiences in life can compare with seeing your first adopted child develop from a tentative bud into a fully blossoming flower.
“When you get a new rose, it’s very tight,” Mary Ann begins. “Tina was very tight, mistrusting. As roses are nourished, they begin to unfold. We see petals open up into one of the most beautiful flowers there is. That happened once Tina learned she could trust and embrace us.”
Today Tina is a wife and mother herself — she’s also a nurse — who maintains very close ties to the nuclear family she grew up in and will always be a part of.
Even minor childhood calamities sometimes take a fortuitous turn when adoption is involved. Mary Ann recalls how their son Charlie came to the family from Vietnam. He didn’t understand English. He’d never seen running water.
“We live in city limits and I heard the neighbor scream,” Mary Ann says. “Charlie turned on our power spray hose with a jet nozzle and sprayed a neighbor.”
Mary Ann told him No, communicating her seriousness with a little swat on the behind. He cried a little, perhaps more embarrassed than hurt, and his accepting demeanor told his mom all she needed to know: He realized that she cared for him and that he was here to stay as a true member of the family.
And then there were the times watching Charlie experience his first Christmas and first snowfall.
“He walked to school with his hand on the ground to feel that snow,” says Mary Ann with a smile. “Within the first year he was a Minnesotan.”
The Kuharskis also re-discovered how to cope with the predictable yet pressing problems that multiplied as the family expanded.
“We went back to saying the Rosary,” says Mary Ann. “It was the best defense, the best ammunition, the best protection, and the best weapon the family could ever have. We fell the Blessed Mother has put a dome over our home and protected us from any spiritual warfare that could have destroyed the family because our kids did have problems.”
Today, she says, all the Kuharski kids are active Catholics doing their part for the pro-life movement.
“I refer to Felicity as our 23-hour pregnancy,” says Carl Olson about his and wife Heather’s whirlwind adoption of a baby girl. Olson, an author and apologist who works as editor of IgnatiusInsight.com and is a Register columnist, looks back on the pain and frustration the couple went through when they found themselves unable to conceive children of their own.
They had only just begun seriously discussing the adoption option — between themselves and with close and trusted friends — when their phone rang unexpectedly on a Saturday evening. The caller asked if they were open to adopting a 10-day-old baby.
“Yes, we are!” they exclaimed in unison. They met with the birth mother and grandmother the following afternoon at 3. “At 5 o’clock,” says Olson, “they informed us they wanted us to be Felicity’s parents.”
Both daughter Felicity, now 6, and her 2-year-old brother, Gavin, came to the Olsons via private adoption.
“It was very providential and very clear in both cases that God was working. The connections were amazing,” says Olson.
Both times priests were integral in making the connections — priests the Olsons did not know.
In Felicity’s case, the young Catholic birth mother wanted her baby adopted by a Catholic family. But she’d only made this known near the end of her pregnancy. The girl’s Catholic lawyer told the priest-director of a crisis-pregnancy center; he, in turn, told his staff. One staff member was a friend of the Olsons. Voilà!
Olson says the process was the work of God — and dittos that for their second adoption. “When we first met our son, Gavin, there was something more at work” than meets the eye, Olson reflects. “I wear a medal of St. Benedict. As I was holding him he grabbed it and put in into his mouth.” The Olsons took that as something of a sign.
Maybe part of the multiple-adoption phenomenon owes to the fact that the parents get as much out of the equation as the children. For example, says Olson, being an adoptive parent helps you to always keep in mind what it means that, through baptism, each Christian is an adopted child of God.
Orphans No More
Ray Guarendi and his wife, Randi, also caught the adoption bug.
“This is pretty cool. Let’s do this one more time,” is the way Guarendi, a clinical psychologist, author and host of “The Doctor Is In” radio show, puts it. “My wife says that, once you get past three, you might as well have 10.”
And 10 adopted children it is for the Guarendis. The kids range widely not only in age but also race and ethnicity. The unforced diversity leads to lots of opportunities for witnessing the catholicity of the Catholic faith.
Explains Guarendi: “People will oftentimes say, ‘Aren’t you afraid of the problems you might have?’ My wife’s response is, ‘If our children are going to have problems, they’re going to have them with or without us. I’d rather have them be with us.’”
To those who tell him they’re not sure whether God’s calling them to adopt, Guarendi responds that God calls everyone to adopt. The answer, he points out, is “pretty clear” in Scripture: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (That’s James 1:27.)
“If every Catholic is able to adopt one kid,” adds Guarendi, “no kids would be needing homes.”
Many times over, he has seen the difference adoptive parental love makes. Asked for an example, he recalls the time his 5-year-old son asked, “Why did the lady who had me give me up?”
“I said, ‘Petey, she knew you needed a daddy, and she didn’t have a daddy for you. God knew I needed a Petey. And he put us together.’”
It is in such moments that good habits take hold.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
Editor’s note: This story is expanded from a short feature that ran in the Register’s sister publication, Faith & Family magazine (faithandfamilymag.com).