I recently interviewed John and Claire Grabowski about their new book Raising Catholic Kids for Their Vocations (TAN Books, 2019). This was an intensely edifying interview, and I could tell that I was speaking with two sages as far as imparting the faith is concerned. I hope that you enjoy, and are inspired by, what the Grabowskis shared during their interview here.
1.) Tell us a little about your vocation as a family.
Claire: John and I met while visiting colleges at the Franciscan University of Steubenville – we met at one of their “Come and See” weekends. I am from Long Island, and John is from Milwaukee. We started dating our freshman year at Franciscan, and gained a strong foundation in our spiritual lives by developing a regular prayer life. We eventually discerned that we were called to be married and have a family. We actually got married two weeks before our graduation, so we got to graduate as “John and Claire Grabowski.” By then, we had discerned that John was going to go to graduate school. We moved to Milwaukee, so that John could study for six years at Marquette, and we had three children there.
John: As Claire said, we began dating as freshmen, but I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind that maybe God was calling me to the priesthood. When I was a sophomore, we stopped dating for roughly a semester. However, during that time, the Lord clarified for me that he was calling me to marriage. So, we resumed dating and moved forward in our relationship. After we got married and moved to Milwaukee, as the saying goes, three kids later, we had a Ph.D. together. When I started my graduate studies, we thought that we might wait until I graduated to have kids, because things were tight, but God had better plans for us. We were so transfixed by the gift of our first child that we went on to have a second one right away, even though Claire had a horrible first pregnancy! You are never really “ready” to have a child, but when you follow God’s plan, he helps you.
2.) Why is it so important to raise children who are open to who God is calling them to be?
John: In talking to people all around the country, we have realized that some people have been taught that they don’t have a vocation unless it’s to the priesthood or religious life! So, we have realized that many people need to understand that they have a universal call to holiness, no matter what God is calling us to do. There are calls within our vocation that help to confirm what it means to be a husband/father, wife/mother, religious, priest or single. We need to discern the Lord’s voice, and that is the foundation to helping parents know how to form their children to respond to those vocations.
Claire: Ultimately, as husband and wife, our goal is to help each other get to heaven, and to guide our children heavenward. That is why we were created: to get to heaven, and to help each other get to heaven.
3.) Why should parents read your new book Raising Catholic Kids for Their Vocations?
John: That’s a fair question. What we try to do is reflect some of the wisdom from Scripture and the teaching of the Church in light of our own experience as parents. It’s not just catechesis, it’s lived experience. We have been married for 34 years, and have been parents for 33 of them. There are challenges that you face as parents, and we share some of our successes, but also some of our failures. We talk about how God’s grace has been present in our lives and sometimes we see that most clearly in our struggles and trials.
Claire: If you notice, in one of the chapters, we have our children share what we did as a family to help them in their journey of faith as they were growing up. There are different ways to grow in holiness, the most important of which is to participate in the Mass and the other sacraments. There are other things that help this growth of faith, such as the Rosary, Adoration, prayer meetings, and many other ways to help children as they grow in holiness.
John: Also, one of the things that surprised us when we asked our children what helped them in their faith growing up was that, although they were all raised in the same family with the same practices, they each had different things which captivated them and helped the faith take root in them.
Claire: It is important for parents to know that they have to plant seeds. Because our children are different, different seeds sprout and they grow into different kinds of flowers, but we have to do our part.
4.) What is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?
Claire: Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” No one has the perfect life, and we all have suffering in life. Growing up, getting married and raising our family, we have had many crosses. However, I have come to see those crosses as a gift – not that I want to experience them again, but it is the crosses in our lives that help us to experience God’s love, and to realize that they bring us closer to God, and help us minister to other people. Our crosses are sometimes the source of our biggest blessings.
John: It’s really hard for me to pick one, but toward the very top of my list is the end of Matthew 6, verses 25-34. Just the description of God’s faithfulness, and how he provides for us. When Claire and I had just gotten married, I was in graduate school full-time, and working odd jobs, and we agreed that Claire would stay home to raise children. All of the blessings that came our way, including the generosity of others and miraculous gifts, showed us that God takes care of us when we try to do His will.
5.) What are some hopes that you have seen in the Church as it relates to marriage and family life?
John: I would like to mention a few things. Like you, I am a teacher. I teach seminarians, undergrads, and grad students. I see in them a hunger for a deeper formation, and the wisdom that the Church can provide in living out our universal call to holiness lived out in marriage and family life. There is so much grace available to us in the sacraments. The hunger among students for the wisdom of the Church is a very strong sign of hope. Also, since Claire and I have done marriage ministry for a number of years, we have worked with couples preparing for marriage. Even though, as some commentators have said, we live in a “post-marriage” culture, many people want marriage and holiness. Interestingly, although the marriage rate is going down, the divorce rate is, too – especially among younger people. In other words, people who are getting married now are taking the sacrament of marriage more seriously.
Claire: Many young people realize that you need support in marriage. Many of them come from broken families. People preparing for marriage want the help of the Church. Most of the couples we have worked with have approached us and asked if we can help them with marriage preparation, because they are going into marriage wanting it to last. That is a source of hope for the future of family life!