Spreading the ‘fruit of married life’

DARIEN—More than thirteen couples recently attended a dinner at St. John Church in Darien to learn more about “Missionaries to the Family,” an initiative to revitalize the domestic Church.

Missionaries to the Family is a lay formation and ministry initiative launched by Paradisus Dei and the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame in 2019. With four missionary couples already established within the Diocese of Bridgeport, it is the hope of Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, along with Father Peter Towsley, chaplain of Paradisus Dei, to grow this initiative even more.

The goal of Missionaries to the Family is to form modern marriages and families upon the model of the Holy Family at Nazareth. Couples discern this calling for their own family, receive the formation needed to live that life in their own homes, and share what they have learned with other couples and families through intentional, spiritual friendships and accompaniment. After their formation year, they begin their active mission work, which takes place right in their own homes and communities.

“The spirit of the initiative is for couples to live the spirit of Nazareth in their own home,” said Father Towsley, who emphasized Missionaries to the Family as an initiative rather than a movement. “We invite couples to see this initiative as a way of life, rather than a program,” he said. “It is a spiritual plan of life.”

The formation year includes online coursework covering the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, practical training for missionary outreach, and a spiritual vision for marriage and family life. Missionary couples will also attend three in-person weekend retreats, two of which are hosted at the University of Notre Dame. Missionaries must be able to commit two hours per week for this initiative and be married in the Church.

Father Towsley, who has been involved with Paradisus Dei for over 14 years, explained that the goal is to encourage couples to encounter Christ in their own homes. “That is where Christ wants to live in the domestic Church,” he said.

Once couples have gone through their formation period they move into their apostolate phase, during which they invite others into their home to experience what they have learned, first-hand.

Couples participating in the initiative can discern together which apostolate is best for them. They are encouraged to give back to the parish for at least two hours a week. Their work includes leading marriage preparation sessions, leading marriage enrichment efforts, hosting young adult and family small groups in their home, and even leading regional outreach to recruit other missionary couples.

“Their primary vocation is to live marriage and family life,” said Father Towsley, clarifying that the apostolate the couples choose must always fall under that umbrella.

Couples are encouraged to reach out to the peripheries to those who may need it most. “Their apostolate is a fruit of what they are trying to live in their own life,” he said.

Father Towsley explained that the hope for growing Missionaries to the Family is to establish priest chaplains, an apostle couple and mentor couples, who would work within the diocese to establish a greater presence. The plan is for the class to gather on a monthly basis after their commissioning.

“We want to make sure this sticks,” Father Towsley said.

The Missionaries to the Family initiative is currently established in 17 other dioceses, with 137 couples in formation, 111 of whom are in the field.

The first class of missionary couples completed their formation year and were commissioned in the summer of 2020. The second class will be commissioned this summer, and the third class is now being assembled and will begin formation this August. The first missionary couples have already begun their active mission work, and in spite of the pandemic-restricted environment, they are having an impact!

Adrienne and Al Keogler, parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, were one of the couples commissioned as missionaries in August 2020. “Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and using the example of the saints chosen for the Missionaries to the Family, the professors and teachers do a wonderful job presenting the material in a very knowledgeable and engaging way,” Adrienne explained of the program.

“The basic idea that is repeated over and again during the year of formation is that anything God wants to do through you, He first wants to give to you,” said Adrienne.

She explained that the year of formation was a year to settle in and receive, learn, refine and go ever deeper into the Faith.

“Through seven basic steps, we are to model our homes and family life on the home of the Holy Family at Nazareth,” she said.

“Missionary work can take on a variety of forms,” said the Keoglers, “whether filling the needs within one’s own parish, or inviting others into their homes. There are many programs available through Paradisus Dei that can be used to help facilitate things. All this is to help foster a relationship and friendship with other couples, to walk with them on the journey, and to help them to find God within themselves, each other and ultimately their homes.”

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By Elizabeth Clyons