SAN DIEGO — How can the Catholic Church better respond to the needs of single parents?
That is a question that Jo Holt, the director of marriage and family life at St. Thomas More Parish in the Archdiocese of Denver, intends to answer in an upcoming presentation titled “Single and Raising Saints.”
The talk, which takes its title from Holt’s book, will be offered via Zoom at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 21, for the Diocese of San Diego. (A link will be provided after registration.) It is the latest installment in the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality’s “Healing Pathways for Families” workshop series, which provides parish leaders and interested parishioners with the information and tools to better minister to today’s families.
“Our office appreciates that single parents are already offering so much to our parishes and faith communities,” said Janelle Peregoy of the Office for Family Life and Spirituality, where she serves as associate director focusing on separated and divorced ministry.
“Our hope for this talk is to help parish leaders discern ways to more fully acknowledge the contributions of single parents,” she continued. “Especially now when the challenges of parenting during the pandemic and virtual learning are especially challenging, we want to provide a supportive environment where single parents can affirm and connect with each other.”
The talk was originally scheduled to take place on April 22 as an in-person event, with both morning and evening options available. But the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated postponing it.
In early March, prior to that postponement, Holt spoke with The Southern Cross about her plans for her presentation. She said she would share statistics about single parents in the Catholic Church, as well as resources from her book and her own personal experiences of parish-level ministry to this demographic, and then “layer on some teachings from Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life.
Holt said that, for many single parents — and this includes the divorced, separated and widowed, as well as those who have never been married — their experience of the Catholic Church has been one of feeling excluded “because they do not fit into the two-parent family model that is preached about at Mass.”
But, in Holt’s experience, these “courageous” parents strive to rise above life’s challenges and to raise their children to be saints.
Peregoy has a similar perspective, as a child of divorced parents who was raised by a single mother.
“In becoming a parent myself in the last few years, I have a much fuller understanding of how Herculean a responsibility that must have been for her some days,” she said, describing single parents as “heroes among us.”
Holt noted that single parents are “in our pews” and in our communities, and the Church must engage and accompany them. She recommends that the Church do so by offering both acknowledgement of their situation as well as practical support.
As an example of the former, Holt suggested that homilies and prayers of the faithful be written with a thought to how single parents will “receive the message that’s being delivered.” Also, parishes might need to change the way that their ministries are run, perhaps holding meetings at times that would be more convenient for single parents and providing childcare at those meetings.
In terms of support, Holt said parishes might consider forming a single parent ministry and also identifying existing ministries that could be mobilized to support single parents. She noted that her own parish has a new protocol whereby, once single parents are identified as having some need, members of the Knights of Columbus will come to their home and help them with it, whether that need is moving boxes or changing light bulbs.
Holt said she was gratified to learn that the Diocese of San Diego has something like the “Healing Pathways for Families” workshop series.
“I was so pleased when I found out that the office was offering workshops to heal a variety of families within your diocese,” she said.
“Providing workshops like this,” she added, “will make the diocese — and, I believe, the community — better and a more loving place to live.”
Rita Boland, a member of Holy Family Parish in Linda Vista who became a single parent after her divorce seven years ago, said it is “absolutely phenomenal” that the diocese is offering a presentation like this.
Describing the event as “a tangible way the diocese is reaching out … with support and mercy,” Boland said she hopes those who attend the event will leave with “a renewed spirit to look around their churches for people to approach, talk to, include and support.”