by Marc and Julie Anderson
OVERLAND PARK — The perfect saint for these times.
That’s what the Williams family of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park thinks about St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
St. Thérèse taught the Little Way, a means of following Jesus by seeking holiness through commitment to one’s daily tasks and to the people encountered each day.
Although St. Thérèse longed to join a Carmelite convent at age 15, one year earlier than stipulated by the Carmelite Rule, she failed to secure the necessary permissions from the convent’s spiritual director. So, she took her request higher. On Nov. 20, 1887, during an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she pled with him to allow her to enter the convent.
Perhaps the Williams’ devotion to this saint — among others — explains why their 8-year-old Felicity made her own appeal to the pope.
Like all second-graders across the archdiocese, Felicity’s first Communion was delayed due to the pandemic. Originally scheduled for April 28, the postponement resulted in a discussion among parents as to how long the children should wait.
When the parish offered families the option of private celebrations, Deacon John and Tessa Williams said they based their decision on their daughter’s personal appeal to a higher power.
“I wrote to the pope,” explained Felicity. “I really wanted to receive Communion.”
Felicity’s letter read:
“Dear Pope Francis,
I really hope I get to receive my First Communion My heart is saying I am empty.
Felicity’s letter clarified her parents’ decision.
“I sent a picture of that to the director of religious education at Holy Spirit just to let her know that even though in this time, where all the bells and whistles were absent, she was still ready to just run to Jesus,” Tessa said.
Felicity’s first Communion was celebrated on May 28 in a Mass with only one other family.
The Williamses also had a high school graduate this past year.
Originally set for May 14, 18-year-old Angelina’s graduation from St. James Academy in Lenexa was postponed until July 30. When rain forced the ceremony to be delayed another day, Angelina and her family were unable to participate due to work commitments.
“I’ve gone to Catholic schools for all of my schooling, so I think just wanting to close it out like that was really important to me,” Angelina said. “Also, I made what I believe to be some of my lifelong friends there. To share that moment with them would have been really special.”
Although Angelina missed the ceremony, she attended the baccalaureate Mass, something she said she’ll hold as a cherished memory. Later, she received her diploma in the mail, took some pictures with her family and moved onto the next phase of her life: She’ll be attending Johnson County Community College.
“At St. James, we learn to just offer everything up and that everything happens for a reason,” said Angelina. “There’s no reason to dwell on the things you cannot control. Basically, God has this in his hands . . . and you’re good.”
The ordination of John to the permanent diaconate on June 20 had a similar feeling of “offering up” the family’s prior expectations as they tried to find gratitude in the possible.
As a class, the members had signed their oaths of fidelity in late spring. They were then asked whether they wished to delay their ordination.
“We voted that we’ll stick with June 20,” said Deacon Williams, “and we’ll go with whatever it has to look like.
“We didn’t spend five years in formation to throw a party. We spent five years in formation to be ordained.”
Besides offering up their disappointments, the Williams family also strives to imitate the Little Way by finding God in the daily moments in their life as a domestic church.
“When you can’t go out to [a] regular site where you have community, just being open to life has provided us with community,” said Deacon Williams.
The couple’s domestic church includes four daughters and baby Leo, 1.
“He’s having the time of his life because he’s got his sisters and parents home, surrounding him,” said Deacon Williams. “I can only imagine what benefits that will give him, having his first year of life surrounded by his immediate family and the bonds and closeness. We feel our domestic church has been very alive during this time.”
Tessa agreed, and said the past months have provided more opportunities to teach their children the faith directly, and to model faith-filled behavior.
“It was definitely a time to show our kids the intentional need to make time for prayer,” she said. “With a house full of kids, they got to see that. They got to see Mom and Dad supporting one another.”
Later, she said that Dad has to take a break in the middle of the workday sometimes to attend to the children, but it exhibited to them the primacy of his vocation as a husband and father.
“It showed the kids they were important,” said Tessa, “and he could be accessible to them, and it didn’t take anything from what he was trying to do for the church. It actually strengthened it.”
To all archdiocesan families, especially those whose joyous celebrations have been altered, the family offers its love, support and prayers. Additionally, they’d like to encourage families to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary.
“Sometimes [the kids] just want to take a drive or do something really simple,” said Deacon Williams. “Because that big stuff’s gone now, you can really latch onto that.
“One thing that COVID offers is an opportunity for minimalizing. It gives us an excuse to go the lesser route. . . . When you take some of those perks away, you can really focus on the individual.”