National News

U.S. Catholic Leaders on What They Learned From Their Mothers

WASHINGTON — Mother’s Day, with all its cards and flowers, is also a time for people to think about their moms and what they’ve inherited from them — lessons they may have picked up from things their mothers always said or just by their example. For this Mother’s Day, The Tablet reached out to U.S. Catholic leaders around the country to find out the lessons they learned from their moms. 

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, with her mom, Cecile Vaillancourt

“Three enduring lessons I learned from my mother stand out. They were the earliest lessons she imparted and have remained relevant for every season of my life: Play as often as you can, it enlivens the soul. Pray about everything, from small decisions to big life choices, God is there in it all. And finally, God has a unique and divine purpose for each of us, be attentive to the Spirit.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio 

“My mother has an apostolic zeal. She was always involved in the Church and in ministries of evangelization and passing on of the faith. Even now, she is an optimistic person, always very happy and very positive in her attitude. She is people-oriented, and that is something I got from her. 

“She likes to connect with people and encounter people. Her life is very God-centered, and that has been consistent. She and my father are also about to observe their 68th wedding anniversary, and they are ready to celebrate.” 

Father Leo Patalinghug, founder of Plating Grace, a food and faith movement, and founder and chair of the nonprofit group The Table Foundation 

“Mom taught me the value of service as a way of showing respect and love. Besides great recipes, she also reminded us of the immeasurable value of family time around the dinner table and the Lord’s table.” 

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, and his mother, Ethel Duncan Gregory, on Mother’s Day in 1984 in Chicago

“First of all, it’s pretty well known that I grew up in a single-parent home,” he said, noting that he was raised by his mother and grandmother, who were “sources of light and life growing up.” 

He said they instilled values in him and his two sisters, sending them to a Catholic elementary school in Chicago when they weren’t Catholic at the time because they firmly believed in the “great value of education.” 

One thing he remembers about his mother, Ethel Duncan Gregory, a professional singer who died in 2013, was her “love of music and the importance of praising God in song.” 

He said his mom, who “played such a pivotal role in my life,” attended his major events, from his priesthood ordination in the Archdiocese of Chicago to his installation as the Archbishop of Atlanta in 2004. Although she died before he was named Archbishop of Washington in 2019 and elevated to cardinal a year later, he is confident that she is praying for him. 

“She’s praying I don’t forget the hard lessons she imparted,” he said. 

Deacon Bernie Nojadera, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with his mom 

“My mother, Fe deVergara Nojadera, is a woman of principle, character, and strength. She gave me life, unconditional love, and the gift of time. Still strong at 96 years of age, she shares her stories of sacrifice, hard work, and trust in God. She continues to share her faith and her love of God, family, and Church through daily prayer. 

“I have been nourished and molded to be the man I am today because she modeled healthy and holy relationships, lived out her passion for teaching and being a life-long student, and has taught me to pray unceasingly.” 

Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association 

“Along with being our mother, my mom assumed the added role of ‘father’ after my dad died. 

“Raising my two older brothers and me as a single mom in the ’60s required much of her. She taught me through her actions, demonstrating that strong love and commitment will overcome obstacles and barriers. This lesson has shaped my journey since childhood and continues to impel me with her courage and passion.” 

Gloria Purvis, host of “The Gloria Purvis Podcast,” with America Media 

“I recall the time we had an ill-mannered house guest, and my mother was the picture of grace, gentility, and hospitality. She effortlessly redirected the guest every time they ‘acted a fool’ as we say. 

“After they left, I turned to my mother and asked her why she did not lose her cool. She said that just because other people lack home training, it does not mean that we don’t have any home training. I have never forgotten that lesson nor her example.” 

Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large at America magazine 

“One thing I learned from my mom is the value of hard work. (From my dad too!) When we were growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, there was simply no question of whether we should or should not study hard or should or should not work hard (at summer jobs, for example, of which I had a seemingly endless procession). It was simply a given. 

“And she herself worked hard: keeping the house, cooking, shopping, and serving as a substitute teacher in our local school district. Honestly, it was never explicitly stated, but it was always there: Working hard is part of being an adult, part of being a contributing member of society. I’ve always been grateful for that — and her love, of course!”