By Savanna Duca for Family Foundations magazine.
“This will never work,” said Stacy after meeting Sean at Franciscan University and learning they had rival football teams. Yet, with grace and hard work, the Martins have been married 22 years and have six kids, even while Stacy cheers for the Browns and Sean roots for the Broncos. The couple, who have practiced NFP from their engagement on, began teaching it while living in Sioux City, Iowa and finding it an “NFP desert.”
“There were no CCL instructors anywhere,” Stacy recalled. “I looked at Sean and said, ‘We have to do this!’ and he said, ‘Do we really?’ and I said, ‘I think we do!’ Honestly, it was out of need.” Through their efforts, the number of teachers in the area grew; then, the bishop mandated NFP for engaged couples. “Stacy gave the introduction to NFP to all the diocese’s priests, which was amazing,” Sean described.
Today, Sean serves as director of Evangelization, Catechesis, and Family Life for the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, where the couple continues to teach. The Martins’ wealth of experience with ministry and raising children gives them a unique perspective on the interconnectedness of family and Church life.
For Stacy, supporting your Church is reminiscent of Christmas. “You’re pretty sure your parents are going to give you a gift, so before you visit you get them a gift,” she explained. “It’s the same thing at a parish. We can’t make the Eucharist; we need the ministry of the priesthood. The parish provides us with the gift of Christ Himself, so naturally we want to give back.”
Giving back doesn’t require special skills; every family can do it. “If you go to the priest and say, ‘Father, what can I do to help?’ he will give you a job,” she said. “It might be, ‘Can you pull the weeds from out front?’ or, ‘All our bulletins need to be stuffed.’ It could be a one-time deal, like getting rental prices for tables for the parish picnic. It could even be reaching out to an elderly person, or someone who had a baby.”
Finding your family’s way to serve should naturally flow from your relationship with the Lord, Sean added. “Building up the Church doesn’t mean you have to join a parish ministry,” he emphasized. “Sometimes it’s inviting people over to your home and evangelizing to those who may have strayed. We don’t need to feel boxed in. First and foremost, as married couples, our vocation is to our spouse and children.”
One recent way the Martins have lived that vocation out at home is via a practice their kids dubbed “Holy Thursdays.” “A lot of parishes have adopted small group methods,” Sean described. “I really believe the family is THE small group, where we not only learn our faith, but also learn to practice it.” That’s why, after hearing prompts for a parish discussion, Sean brought the questions home to his own children after Thursday dinner: “That week, when did they feel close to Jesus, and when did they feel far away?” He said, “The answers they gave were incredibly profound: simple, but authentic and beautiful. After that we read Sunday’s readings and had a little discussion.”
The Martins have also felt a calling to open their home to others through gatherings, a hospitality ministry that nurtures their family and beyond. “We invite Catholic families across the diocese so we can all feel built up — we support each other, then go spread the Gospel,” Stacy described. “Our children’s friends have even said, ‘Can we throw a party at your house?’ Providing that safe, comfortable space is definitely a springboard for conversation.”
Ultimately, the Martins point to the Holy Family as the model for strong families and a strong Church. “If the Holy Family is our example, it’s one that’s rife with sacrifice,” said Stacy. “True love is built on sacrifice. Married life is hard. It’s imperative that young couples surround themselves with support from the Church and other couples, because it takes just seconds to let it crumble.” She concluded, “We need to be a light. I don’t think we need to be in our homes alone — that’s not spreading evangelization. We have to get out there, we just have to have our support system.”