Sunday, 22 December 2019 09:36

Nine kids. One bus.

Written by Deacon Patrick O'Toole

Central Illinois family to liveCentral Illinois family to liveout radical discipleship

By traditional measures, I was always a good Catholic. I went to Mass every Sunday and on all Holy Days. I observed the laws about fasting and abstinence. I regularly sought the sacrament of reconciliation. I paid my church support and observed the marriage laws of the church. But 25 years ago, on a quiet night, with tears of pain rolling down my face, I got down on my knees and asked God to come into my heart and to heal my brokenness. For the first time in my 35 years as a “good” Catholic, I asked God to truly become the Lord of my life.

12 22 2019 OTooles buy a busThe fruit of that decision has been incredible, but it began with the joy of meeting and ultimately marrying my wife, Daniele. Our first date was the final night of a parish mission; our first kiss was at the Sign of Peace at Mass; I was Daniele’s sponsor as we journeyed through the RCIA process together and she became Catholic. Our wedding was the first night of a weekend retreat we hosted for our family and friends, and we have welcomed 10 children into our home during our 20 years of marriage. The following quote captures my wife’s heart:

“The truth is I never imagined I would stand here having given birth to 10 children in 20 years. While it is my love of Patrick that has made this a reality, it is my faith in God that has made it possible. God has placed a level of openness to life in my heart that I never could have imagined. I literally cry sometimes when I think back on where my life was headed as I moved from one meaningless relationship to another. God rescued me when he sent me Patrick, and he blesses me every day with the joy of life that surrounds me.”

More than anything, Daniele and I understand that our primary calling in this life is found in raising the 10 souls God has entrusted to our care. It is the primary motivation for so many of the counter-cultural decisions we have made in the last 20 years when it comes to how we live. It is our firm belief that to raise our children in the practice of the faith, we must “practice the faith,” and we have discerned that our “practice of the faith” is being led beyond the walls of our diocesan church.

With that in mind, we have given away most all of our earthly possessions, and as the new year begins, we will be moving our nine youngest children into a tour bus and setting out for, as of yet, parts unknown. Daniele will provide our primary source of income as she serves three-month assignments in the emergency room of hospitals throughout the country. I will fulfill my diaconal ministry and the call to be intentional disciples that God has set before us, by preaching, teaching and reaching out to those in need in each diocese where we reside.

12 22 2019 OTooles check out bunk bedsI know what you may be thinking. Nine kids on a bus. Destinations unknown. Aren’t we crazy? It’s hard to look at what we are doing without feeling like if we aren’t crazy, we are surely well outside normal behavior. And make no mistake, we have our share of concerns about exactly how this all will go, but our life experience has taught us that when it comes to unreservedly following the will of God, we often find ourselves acting in opposition to conventional wisdom.

What we have also discovered is that when we’ve trusted the Lord completely, he has time and time again shown us he is trustworthy. While our decision is not without potential pitfalls and unforeseen difficulties, we know that God will bless us in ways we never could have imagined.

Hearing God’s call to take our family on mission has been an intense but rewarding experience; we are grateful for all who prayed with us, and for us, as we discerned God’s will for our family. So many people over the last 20 years have taken the time and interest to get to know us and walk with us on our journey. We feel truly blessed to have been a part of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, and it is with no small amount of emotion that, with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki’s blessing, we take our leave until we hear God’s call to return home.

If you would like to hear more about our journey you can subscribe and listen to our episode of Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois by going to dio.org/podcast. If you would like to follow along as we serve the Lord through our speaking and teaching apostolate around the country, you can find us at deaconpat.org. May God continue to bless each of you as you discern the unique and life-giving path to which God is calling you.

Deacon Patrick O’Toole is director of the Office for the Missions for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and is a deacon at St. Mary Parish (Farmersville), St. Maurice Parish (Morrisonville), and St. Raymond Parish (Raymond). His family’s journey begins in January.