Family Faith Snapshots: Kendra Tierney
“Everything I’ve learned about doctrine and history, saints and the sacraments, and the liturgical year has been to answer my kids’ questions!”
Who are you?
I am a forty-one year old wife and mother of many. We've got homeschoolers and regular-schoolers and not-yet-schoolers. We moved into a big old fixer-upper about two years ago and have been working on it ever since. It's a family project, and everyone has been involved, but it's MOSTLY me living out my It's a Wonderful Life fantasy of standing on my tiptoes smoothing wallpaper onto the walls of a beautiful tumbledown house. I have a book, called A Little Book About Confession for Children, and a new book coming out soon called The Catholic All Year Compendium about living the liturgical year in the home. In my spare time I blog about Catholic living, amongst other things, at CatholicAllYear.com, and I hang out on Facebook (Catholic All Year) and Instagram (@kendra_tierney) to share a glimpse of big family life and how our Catholic faith looks in our home.
Tell me a little about your family.
My husband Jim is a Marine artillery officer turned healthcare industry business guy, and we have nine kids, ages fifteen years to seven months. The oldest three attend an amazing independent Catholic school with a classical curriculum and wonderfully faithful staff and classmates. They love it. I love it when the driving isn't about to kill me. The middle three are homeschooled. (We've made the transition from home to brick-and-mortar between sixth and eighth grade, depending on the kid.) And then we've got a baby and two preschoolers providing our daily allotment of comic relief and messes. My parents live a couple hours away, and come stay with us often, which is great.
What is your family's prayer routine like on an average day?
Everything used to be so uniform. Up until three years ago, when our oldest started regular school, I could have told you easily what "we" do for family prayer time: The husband and I took turns going to early morning Mass, we said morning prayers together at the start of our school day, grace before meals, a family Rosary after dinner, and bedtime prayers.
These days we are literally and figuratively all over the place. The husband usually takes a kid or two to 6 a.m. Mass before he's out the door for the day. My oldest daughter and I go for a morning walk before school and say the Rosary together. I say morning prayers with the school kids on the way to carpool, then again with the rest of the kids when we start our homeschool day. We say the Angelus at noon. We say family Rosaries in the evening whenever possible, sometimes in the living room, sometimes around the dirty dishes at the table, sometimes in the kitchen while doing the dishes, sometimes in the car (or in two different cars, on the way home from sporting evens or school activities). We say bedtime prayers with the littles when we're putting them to bed. I've learned a lot about being flexible, and grabbing prayer time when we can.
Do you have a specific devotion that is particularly important to you as a family?
The most important "extra" Catholic things we do are daily Masses and a family Rosary. The techniques for getting to those things that have consistently worked well for us are daily Mass on Saturday, and saying the Rosary in the car. The Saturday Mass started for us because I wanted us to have a homeschool Mass day, but the early Mass was REALLY early and the later morning Mass disrupted naptimes and schoolwork. So, we started going as a whole family on Saturday mornings, usually with kids in sports uniforms, and it's been great. It's amazing to think how getting to just ONE daily Mass a week literally doubles one's Mass attendance, and the graces that go with that. Now that some of the kids are in a Catholic school, we also attend the weekly school Mass together. So we're up to three Masses in an average week, without taking too much time away from our school days and naps.
Saying the Rosary in the car on long drives is the way we started a family Rosary. The kids were already captive and we were looking for things to keep them occupied. We pretty easily got in the habit of saying the Rosary any time we'd be in the car longer than fifteen minutes, and always before we put on music or an audiobook or a movie. Once we could handle it in the car, we were able to transition to a stationary family Rosary at home.
The other devotion that is a big part of our family culture (and is my particular charism!) is liturgical living in the home. All this means, at a basic level, is being aware -- in our homes and daily lives -- of the daily calendar and yearly cycle of the Catholic Church. All Catholics are already doing this at least a little. We know when it's Advent and Lent and Christmas and Easter, and we're probably marking those seasons and feasts in our homes as well as at church.
We have family devotions and practices specific to different liturgical seasons, and we observe (some of the) saints’ feast days in the home by having a dinner inspired by that saint. Usually it’s based on the country the saint comes from, or sometimes it’s a play on the saint’s name or on the way he or she was martyred.
So, we eat pasta with our hands for the feast of St. Joseph, who worked with his hands and is the patron of Italy. We have éclairs on the feast of St. Clare. We grill out for the feast of St. Lawrence and have a family joke competition. And we talk about the saint and how his or her life can inspire us today. It works for us, because we were going to eat dinner anyway. All it requires is me tweaking the menu a bit to fit with the liturgical calendar.
Does your family have a patron saint?
We have LOTS of favorite saints, but the one we feel is our special family saint is a pretty obscure one: St. Nuno. He was a Portuguese knight turned Carmelite priest who lived in the fourteenth century.
We were planning a pilgrimage to Rome and my spiritual director advised us to have our oldest son receive his first communion from then-Pope Benedict. I was pretty sure that was not going to be possible. But, I’ve found it’s a good idea to listen to one’s spiritual director, so we started sending faxes to Rome (this was in 2009, so well after there was email, but it’s a slow church). It turned out that after a couple months of trying to track down the pope’s public Mass schedule, our only hope was a beatification Mass during our scheduled trip dates.
We checked out the blesseds involved and found Nuno, a Carmelite. The husband went to a Carmelite high school in Chicago so he immediately got in touch with the principal. The postulator of St. Nuno’s cause had JUST left the school and was on an airplane to Rome for the beatification the next week. Once he landed, he was able to secure Jack the last VIP ticket to the pope’s communion section. We went to the ceremony, and almost-seven-year-old Jack sat by himself through three hours of sun and rain and many different languages, and Pope Benedict gave him his first holy communion.
We’ve been devoted to St. Nuno ever since, and boy does he come through for us! We figure he doesn’t have a lot of other people badgering him for stuff.
How do your children inspire you to grow in faith?
I am a cradle Catholic and grew up with all the sacraments and attending Sunday Mass, but without the apologetics or cultural whole-life aspects. Everything I’ve learned since then about doctrine and history and saints and the sacraments and the liturgical year has been to answer my kids’ questions! In fact, my first book -- and first writing project ever -- was the result of my trying to answer my son’s questions about confession as I prepared him to receive that sacrament. I complained to my spiritual director that I didn’t much like any of the books I could find on the subject, and he told me to write one myself! So I did. And now I'm a real, professional, middle-of-the-night-with-a-sleeping-newborn-on-my-lap author!
Is there a particular book or resource that has been especially helpful in your effort to raise a holy family or have a faith-filled home?
I'm a Catholic nerd, so I really do enjoy the USCCB Manual of Indulgences. Indulgences are an amazing, beautiful gift of the Church. They are a guide to devotions and practices that the Church believes will strengthen us in our faith. They are a way to perform the ultimate act of charity, by removing the temporal punishment due to a soul suffering in purgatory. And almost no Catholics know about them! It's a real goal of mine to spread awareness of indulgences.
I also like The Golden Legend, which is a thirteenth century collection of saint biographies by Bl. Fr. Jacobus de Voragine that was second in popularity only to the Bible in late medieval Europe. These stories are a part of our Catholic cultural heritage. Being familiar with them helps us understand various traditional saints' days’ celebrations. And even more important than that, even the most wildly fanciful stories -- which Fr. Jacobus makes sure to remind us aren't to be taken literally -- help us to understand the values of the Church. For instance, we often hear the narrative that the Catholic Church doesn't appreciate women. One simply cannot read The Golden Legend and come away with that understanding.
I want my kids to know that their particular bodies, temperaments, and skills are meant to serve God, whatever they are. Rich or poor, weak or powerful, educated or not, there are as many paths to heaven as there are saints!
Another favorite is Around the Year with the Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp. It's a really lovely peek into a family whose faith permeated every part of their family life. It's been very inspirational to me as we try for the same thing!
What is your family's favorite Catholic tradition or celebration?
Can I pick a favorite child instead? Hee, hee… Because it's coming up, I'll go with St. Joseph's Day. It's a solemnity, so our voluntary Lenten disciplines don't apply on that day, which makes it a BIG party in the Tierney house. The traditional practice for the day is called St. Joseph's Table, but it's very involved and some of the required dishes exceed my self-taught cooking skills. So OUR traditional family dinner for the day comes from the Italian mom of a high school classmate of mine, who used to make our youth group big piles of spaghetti noodles with butter and cheese, served on a sheet of plywood on sawhorses, which we would eat with our hands! As you can imagine, it was very memorable. So when I was looking for a family meal for St. Joseph's Day, it seemed perfect. Even though St. Joseph was from Nazareth, he's the patron saint of Italy, and as a carpenter, he worked with his hands…Italian food that we eat with our hands is perfect! The traditional pastry for the day is St. Joseph's Sfinge, a.k.a. cream puffs, which I HAVE managed to make from scratch, but usually buy frozen from the grocery store.
Other favorites are canned cinnamon roll dough rolled into an s-shape with raisins in the center to be edible St. Lucy's eyes, and our devil piñata for Michaelmas, that we can beat with swords and triumph over the devil ourselves.
What are some of your DOs and DON'Ts when it comes to technology and media?
We don't have plans to ever get our kids smartphones. There's always a grownup around with a phone kids can borrow. I only got one myself a few months ago, so I know firsthand that it is quite possible to exist in this world without one. They're welcome to get one once they can be responsible for the financial and moral implications involved.
Our big kids have Kindles they use for audiobooks, ebooks, music, and email. It still requires vigilance, of course, but the parental controls on Kindles are great. The browser can be password protected, while still allowing them to get emails and download books.
We don't have cable, but we have a digital antenna so we can get some sporting events, and we watch Netflix and DVDs. I used to use shows as a way to get some quiet time or a chance to bathe or clean the house when I had only little kids, and I really do think TV is well-used for that. But then as our kids got older and more numerous, it turned out that *I* didn't need them to watch as much TV. So these days, our TV is on maybe five hours a week during the year, and not at all during the week in Lent (but we'll usually watch a family movie on Sunday).
Our main policy is the buddy system for screen-use. I really recommend the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures for an easy to understand and implement family plan on pornography.
But technology can also be a big help to our faith life! I have an alarm set on my phone that rings church bells every day at noon so we can all say the Angelus. I get a link to the daily readings and a chunk of the catechism via email each day. I have the Bible, the Catechism, the Manual of Indulgences, and various spiritual books right in my pocket all the time. I have every prayer and hagiography and recipe I could ever need at my fingertips. I can see other families living out the fun and the challenges of Catholic life through blogs and social media.
So, it's a question of teaching our kids how to use screens for good.
Can you share a word of wisdom that has been particularly beneficial to you in your Catholic family life?
I'd say remembering that what works for other moms and other families won't necessarily be a perfect fit for me and my family. I'm just never going to be a mom who does a ton of crafts with my kids, so that's not what formation looks like in our home. Also, what worked for us one year, won't necessarily work in another. Mass together as a family is a priority for us, and we've always been able to make that happen. But sometimes health issues or work or school obligations have meant we aren't able to observe particular saints' days or attend extra daily Masses. I try not to stress about that, but I also try to reassess regularly and see what I can add back in.