Malleable Motherhood

I had just arrived at the airport in Milan, Italy. I was joining 20 other young adults, most of whom I’d never met, for an extended World Youth Day pilgrimage. Our vans weren’t there yet, so we had to wait. Final destination: Cologne.

A teetering stack of backpacks was piled on a bench. Some jet-lagged pilgrims were flopped in various corners. Others attempted to call parents or boyfriends from the temperamental Italian pay phones. The vending machines were broken. Quiet complaints were wafting through the air.

Suddenly, a flash of joy and energy zoomed across my field of vision. A 3-year-old boy appeared, feverishly finishing a race with his mom. He won, which was no small feat given that his mother is an Olympic athlete. The dynamic duo was part of a trio traveling with our group. Laughter and love radiated from this pilgrim family, the Dussaults.

The adventurous little clan was training and traveling together in preparation for Rebecca Dussault’s journey to the Turin Olympics as a cross-country skier. During our trip, I marveled at their happy, nomadic existence and admired their sincere devotion to the Catholic faith.

In fact, I wrote about their witness for the Register in “Mom Is Racing With God” (Feb. 5-11). A letter to the editor, titled “Motherhood or the Mountains” (March 5-11), responded. It rightfully argued that the home is a liberation of femininity. Then it went on to suggest that the athlete-mom offends the vocation of marriage by unnecessarily spending extended periods of time outside the home.

To which I say: The primary calling of a wife and mother is surely to support her husband and nurture her family. She ought to avoid anything that threatens this duty and privilege. Rebecca Dussault succeeded at this. She put her family first. I believe that’s exactly what we want to encourage — applaud, even.

She wouldn’t compete unless she could do it alongside her family; she wouldn’t put her skis in front of her husband or son. One could argue that Dussault never left “the home” at all. As my best friend put it: “Her home moves.” Motherhood doesn’t have to look the same for all women.

Consider the saints. The wife-and-mother saints are as diverse as they are inspiring. St. Elizabeth of Hungary bore three children while helping to run a kingdom. St. Bridget of Sweden reigned as a princess, started a religious order and raised eight children, one of whom became a saint. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton brought her children with her to the convent. St. Gianna Beretta Molla kept her medical practice even after marrying a doctor and becoming a mom.

These holy women reveal that exemplary Catholic motherhood can coexist with other callings, secondary though they may be. If the secondary calling usurps the first, there’s a problem. But if it doesn’t, what have we to fear? God has his reasons for calling certain moms to live untraditional lives.

The Catholic vision of motherhood is too grand to fit in a simple formula. It’s a personal calling God offers uniquely to each woman whom he entrusts with the exalted task of bearing new life. There are as many ways of mothering as there are mothers.

One woman’s call involved racing her son across the laminate floors of an Italian airport at the beginning of a religious pilgrimage. That strikes me as a perfect example of the unpredictable beauty of being a Catholic mom.

Gina Giambrone writes from

Covington, Kentucky.