What do a 7-year-old’s poem, a YouTube video, Instagram resource and ministry of a nun have in common? They offer pro-life stories of hope and joy.
In 2018, 7-year-old Calvin Nguyen, a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Seattle, won first prize on the state level for his poem “My Tiny Hero’s Original Story” in the annual PTA “Reflections” contest and placed second in the national part of the competition.
The poem is now being featured in a national tour of winning submissions, demonstrating not only Calvin’s artistic gift, but also the reality of life and relationships before and after birth. In his poem, Calvin paid tribute to his baby sister, Caitlinh, who was diagnosed on the day of her birth with congenital heart disease that required open-heart surgery:
My tiny hero’s heart will heal.
I love my tiny hero.
It’s my baby sister!
In preparation for the critical procedure, over the course of the next six months, Caitlinh was monitored at weekly medical appointments, was baptized and received the Anointing of the Sick. She also received thousands of prayers from family and friends from all over the world, including from bishops and a community of religious sisters in Denmark.
Then, the day before the surgery, her parents, Trinh Pham and Chau Nguyen, were informed that pre-op scans revealed that three holes in Caitlinh’s heart had suddenly closed 50% and that the positive trend was expected to continue. The surgery was canceled.
During an interview, Trinh described the spiritual fruits born from Caitlinh’s life. “One of our neighbors has two boys that didn’t believe in God,” she said. “When I asked them to pray for Caitlinh, they did. Now they often ask how she’s doing.”
Calvin’s faith has also blossomed, and he recited the prayer that he now prays with his Tiny Hero downstairs every morning, and said, “Dear God, thank you for today. Please bless us and keep us safe. We love you very much.”
In St. Louis, Stephanie and Mark Hampton are also witnessing to life through the story of their daughter, Holly Therese, born prematurely at 29 weeks and weighing just 2 pounds, 6 ounces. The couple, who have a 2-year-old daughter, Julia, and are parishioners at St. Monica Church in Creve Coeur, say that Holly’s story has bolstered their pro-life convictions. As Stephanie explained, “Mark and I have always been pro-life. But when we saw Holly’s fight to live, it was eye-opening about how miraculous life truly is from the moment of conception.”
Stephanie’s pregnancy was high-risk from the start and included days of complete bed rest, during which she counted Holly’s kicks to confirm she was still alive. Then, on April 24, 2019, stricken with severe preeclampsia, Stephanie was rushed to the hospital, where Holly was delivered by cesarean section. Supported by medics, a ventilator, a feeding tube and countless prayers, Holly survived many more critical moments until her healthy return home after 58 days.
Stephanie said that prayer was the greatest source of strength throughout the scary time. “I would hold Holly,” she recalled to the Register, “and repeat the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: ‘It is so easy to lose heart, that I know that if I do not try to take that first step again and again, I will never leave the ground.’”
Continuing the inspiration, Stephanie took another “step” and entered a DVD of Holly’s story in a pro-life video challenge issued by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “Dear Holly” was chosen as a finalist and viewed at the Respect Life Conference in October. It is now posted online via YouTube.
Stephanie is grateful for all of the blessings received through Holly’s life, including a closer relationship with her husband. “Our marriage has become so much stronger,” she said. “Through prayer, we turned to God and bonded in a way we never had before.”
Sarah and Nathan Bartel of Sumner, Washington, are also grateful to have realized a closer marital bond through a transformational retreat at their parish in 2013. After several years of marriage, the two felt distant from one another and alone in their responsibilities. The retreat revealed practical, everyday ways to live out their vocation and inspired them to become retreat presenters for the archdiocese.
After much prayer, the Bartels created an online marriage retreat program called “Cana Feast.” Available through Instagram, the new site launched on July 12, 2019, the feast of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Sts. Zélie and Louis Martin. “We especially wanted to attract younger couples,” Sarah explained, realizing the popularity of social media was key. “So we bravely rolled up our sleeves to learn more about Instagram to meet them where they’re hanging out.”
Currently, Cana Feast has a membership of 38 couples making use of materials drawn from sources such as St. John Paul II’s theology of the body catechesis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Scripture. A live, online meeting is available once a month, and everyone is sent daily text challenges based on themes. “For instance, prayer,” Sarah said. “We teach them how to take little steps of prayer that unlock more grace and joy.”
The Bartels, who were blessed with the birth of their fifth child in July, are excited to continue promoting the sanctity of life through supporting stronger marriages.
As Sarah said, “The heart of our ministry is to rekindle couples’ connection to each other and God, the basis of everything.”
Sister Madeleine Agnes of the Sisters of Life knows that her upbringing in a Catholic family provided the basis of her future vocation. A recently professed member of the apostolic congregation dedicated to the protection and enhancement of every human life, she recalled how attending Mass as a family on Sundays, praying the Rosary and reading a book on contemporary saints sparked a childhood desire in her heart: “I want a relationship with God like that, too.”
In her teens, one afternoon while doing her homework and listening to a CD of sacred choral music, she paused. “I was struck by the words of Scripture and the beauty of the melody and harmony,” she said. Standing up, she walked to the window, suddenly filled with a sense of God’s love and presence, as though he was speaking directly to her through the music. She recalled, “It made my heart yearn for him.”
Her longing continued throughout college and finally led her to discern a vocation at a “Come & See” retreat with the Sisters of Life. “One sister described the charism of the order,” she said, “and quoted the words of Cardinal O’Connor, the founder of the community: ‘It is love for the unborn, for the disabled, for the homeless. Christ is Life. Christ is Love.’” Hearing this, she knew that all of her desires from childhood until the present would be fulfilled as a Sister of Life.
Sister Madeleine’s current mission is administrative at the order’s generalate in Suffern, New York, supporting the community’s mission at crisis-pregnancy centers, homes for unwed mothers and in youth ministry around the country.
“As Sisters of Life, we are called to love one person at a time; to look upon each person with that gaze of love that Jesus has for them.”
Jennifer Sokol writes
from Shoreline, Washington.
Calvin Nguyen’s Poem
My Tiny Hero’s Original Story
My tiny Hero does not fly.
My tiny hero does not wear a cape.
My tiny hero does not have a disguised name.
My tiny hero does not fight crimes.
My tiny hero does not have enemies.
My tiny hero does not have super powers.
Almost six months ago,
I met this tiny hero of mine through her kicks and punches.
She was in my mom’s belly.
Every night I read to her and kissed her goodnight.
A month ago, I finally met this tiny hero of mine.
She came into this world and became my sunshine.
Her smiles make me smile.
Her coos make me happy.
My tiny hero brings joy.
My tiny hero wears mittens.
My tiny hero has a real name.
My tiny hero battles germs.
My tiny hero has lots of doctors.
My tiny hero has a different heartbeat,
Swoosh-oosh-oosh, not like yours and mine.
My tiny hero will be strong in her surgery.
My tiny hero’s heart will heal.
I love my tiny hero.
It’s my baby sister!
-- Calvin Nguyen, age 7