Strong Family, Strong Church

By Savanna Duca for Family Foundations magazine.

In San Francisco, Sean and Christina Sullivan are welcoming their fourth child, affectionately deemed “Baby Schmuffin” by their three girls, this fall.  “While slightly unexpected, this pregnancy has brought such joy and excitement to our family,” Sean shared. “Big Sisters (10, 7, and 5) are so excited and kiss Mama’s belly multiple times a day.”

The couple described how, too often, babies are mistakenly seen as taking away from a family (How could you love another one? Won’t this hurt your finances?) rather than building it up. “In our case, this baby is a much-welcomed addition because NFP and our Catholic practice remind us children are a gift,” they said.

That gift perspective plays out daily in the Sullivan home, where the richness of Catholic tradition is woven into family life — through mealtime and bedtime prayers, a weekly candlelit rosary, praying the Angelus, and resting on Sundays. “We invite friends to celebrate feast days with us,” Christina shared, “and our daughters proudly wear their saint costumes that Grandma made on their feast days as well as All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day.”

To build a strong family culture, they especially recommend taking advantage of Sundays. “Recognize God’s wisdom in giving us this planned day of rest,” they said. “Working hard on Saturdays to get backpacks and briefcases prepped for Monday is worth the effort when it permits you to truly rest. We view Sunday as a gift — it begins with Mass, and often includes time playing games, picnicking at the park, or having friends over.”

While living off one income entails sacrifice, it also allows Christina’s schedule to be flexible, opening up opportunities to serve both the children and the Church, which Sean fully supports her in. Especially since a big city can be a lonely place for young families, the couple sees it as vital that those with the time and talent build up the Church as a true, loving community. Currently, Christina co-leads the Marriage & Family Apostolate at Star of the Sea Church, which she described as “a beacon of hope in our desolate city.”

“Our parish attracted a large number of families during the COVID lockdowns when nearly all churches chose to keep their doors shut, and ministered to those families and retained them, which has only served to make the community more robust and inviting,” she explained.

The parish has rebooted its primary school as a classical academy and will soon open a classical high school. “We joke about the ‘Star Effect’ where larger families are drawn to the beautiful liturgies, and the witness of these families seem to encourage others to have more children,” said Sean and Christina. “It’s beautiful! The Church in San Francisco is growing in truth, beauty, and goodness.”

Besides liturgies, the Sullivans point to myriad ways parishes can bolster family life. “Pastors need to state unequivocally that children are welcome no matter how much noise they’re making,” they said. “Churches need to support apostolates that offer babysitting swaps, marriage enrichment, postpartum meals… With society as anti-family as it is, there are endless opportunities to meet needs.”

For other families ready to serve more actively in their Church, the Sullivans shared this encouragement: “Find needs unmet at your parish, discern which fit one’s charisms, and go for it! Don’t be discouraged if there isn’t immediate success. Think creatively and love generously. The Church isn’t just a building; BE the Church in your community.”

At the end of the day, in choosing commitments outside the home, Christina and Sean suggest this question as a guide: “Will this help or hurt my family?” Noble as any job may be, participation shouldn’t take away from responsibilities to one’s spouse and children. A strong family comes first!