A Foster Family’s Work of Mercy
Deb Schweitzer can often be found, in her home in North Dakota, rocking children to sleep. The care she gives to them is so profound and genuine that it is as if they were her own children by nature.
“Foster parenting isn’t always easy, and we aren’t always perfect,” she said. “When things become overwhelming, one of my favorite prayers to repeat is ‘Jesus, I trust you’ and to envision the foster child in the arms of our Blessed Mother, Mary. I have rocked many small children who were crying and said these words over and over to them. I pray they will remember these words later in life and know how much they are loved. I treat my foster children just like my own biological children. They are God’s gift to me.”
Throughout the years, Todd and Deb Schweitzer have remained committed to the “calling” of foster parenting.
“We began foster parenting in 1990, and since then, we have had more than 100 children in our home,” Deb recalled. “We always had a lot of patience and love, and we knew we could make a difference in their lives.”
Ultimately, they feel that by being foster parents, they are bringing the Gospel message to life in a unique way.
Each child who lives with them becomes the tangible face of Jesus Christ, wanting for love and acceptance. One could say that the Scripture passage “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) radiates from their home.
The Schweitzers have four biological children of their own and one grandchild, as well as one adopted daughter. They are currently working on adopting Ty, 6, a foster child who has been with them since he was a 1-year-old.
“As a Catholic family, we believe it is important to live out the corporal works of mercy, and being a foster family is our ministry,” Deb explained. “We may not always be a perfect family, but we do know perseverance. Children in foster care have many stumbling blocks in their lives, but if we can teach them how to take just one more step when things get tough, they may be more successful in life. I always think of St. Mother Teresa’s saying ‘Do small things with great love.’ As foster care parents, we do these ‘small things’ a lot. When we do all these little things with love, children feel like they really do matter and really are loved by God.”
Because of their work as a foster family, the pro-life positions held by the Catholic Church have become a vibrant, heartfelt reality, something for which they fight daily. Deb also volunteers regularly at a pregnancy-resource clinic.
“We are a pro-life family that believes in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” Deb said.
“To us, taking in these children means God’s life coming forth through our actions.”
Looking back, the Schweitzers can clearly see God’s providential hand at work as they tended to the individual needs of each foster child. “One time, we took in a newborn baby whose mother had chosen to give him up for adoption,” Deb recalled.
“On one of her final visits with him, she asked if she could come over and rock him that night. She did, and soon after began to come over for more visits so she could learn how to bathe him, feed him and take care of him. In the end, she decided not to give him up for adoption but to parent him herself.
“Years later, I was in a store, and a lady came up to me to thank me for helping her now daughter-in-law make this decision. This woman’s son was the father, and he was killed in a car accident. This grandma expressed sadness but thankfulness that her only grandchild was never given up for adoption. Sometimes we don’t foresee how far our simple attempts to ‘be Jesus’ to another person will go.”
When challenged with the trials of foster parenting, Todd and Deb rely on divine aid.
“It is definitely hard, but with God’s help, you can get through anything. I often hear people say to me that they could not be foster parents because it would be too hard to let go. My response is always: ‘It should be hard to let go if you’re giving of yourself and your heart’ — which is what God asks all of us to do. I often think of the verse, ‘All things work for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). God will take care of us and will reward us for our faithfulness.”
According to Ginny Hamilton, the oldest daughter of Todd and Deb, growing up with foster children was a blessing.
“I loved the fact that my parents took in foster kids,” she said. “It was always such an adventure to have different children come and stay with us. It was so much fun having ‘new brothers and sisters’ to play with. It was easy for us to understand, especially since they simply explained to us that they were going to take care of these children until their parents ‘got better,’ since a lot of them came from homes where there was domestic violence and abuse. It gave us kids a sense of responsibility to know we could help them.”
Ginny was 2 years old when Todd and Deb decided to become foster parents. Her supportive attitude about foster parenting continues today: Ginny and her husband, Andrew, who are parents of baby Mary Frances, are enthusiastic about becoming foster parents themselves.
“Even before we were married, Andrew asked me about being open to foster parenting or adoption. It had been part of his life, and it was always part of mine. We are both interested in the possibility and passionate about the idea.”
Ultimately, being a foster family has helped nurture seeds of faith, hope and love in the Schweitzers and their children.
“My parents have given me such a strong faith,” Ginny said. “I owe my Catholic identity to them. Watching them take in the foster children really built up my relationship with God, as well. We would bring the children to Mass with us and teach them the basics of Catholicism.”
And, many times, the children they took in had some of those same seeds planted in their souls, too.
“One of my favorite memories was of a 6-year-old girl that we had in our home for a year,” Deb remembered. “She had never been to church before she met us. We took her to Mass with us, and she loved it. She would sing the ‘Glory to God’ louder than anybody around us! After she moved away with her birth family, she begged them to start going to church (they were inactive Catholics). In the end, she made a difference in their lives, and they came back to the Catholic faith.”
Benedictine Father Basil Atwell, a monk and priest from North Dakota, knows the Schweitzer family and applauds their response to God’s grace.
“I have known the Schweitzers for many years, and they are an amazing family,” he said. “Even though it has been tough for Todd and Deb at times, they have loved these children selflessly and showed them that there are people in this world who really care about them as individuals. Foster care is just an incredible thing, and so is adoption. It takes a lot of love to care for children who are not your own. Foster parents are doing a real service to society.”
The monk has both personal and pastoral reasons for keeping adoption and foster parenting close to his heart. “My grandma abandoned my father in the inner-city streets of Seattle when he was only 13,” Father Basil shared. “He was taken in and cared for by different people and grew up to be a wonderful, hard-working husband and father. Knowing about this experience gave me respect for people who raise children who are not their own. Furthermore, as a priest, I have worked with many juveniles, and I have observed that their troubles usually come from how they were parented. Statistics definitely show this to be true. Fathers need to become selfless, and mothers need to be loving. The Church is growing, but it needs Christians to be real examples of people living their faith to grow even more. Foster parents can be this. They have my blessing.”
Amanda Evinger writes from Bismarck, North Dakota.