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Jill RiceMarch 31, 2023
Saint Augustine and Saint Monica depicted in stained glassSaint Augustine and Saint Monica in stained glass at St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson, Ariz. (iStock)

The St. Monica Club began with a small group of women and a large amount of faith. Once a month, Jane Misulia, a parishioner at St. Peter the Apostle in Libertytown, Md., gathered some of her friends at her house to pray for their adult children who no longer came to church. “I think if a pastor said in his church, ‘How many of you have kids who have left the faith or are not practicing anymore?,’ I’m fairly confident most hands would go up,” she said.

Indeed, Mrs. Misulia found no shortage of women willing to attend.

“I began running into numbers of moms who would pour out their hearts in anguish and pain and tears over their adult kids who had left the faith,” she said. “I myself have a child I’ve been praying for years and years.… I just thought: We need to go on the offensive.” That was when she decided to make the group an official parish ministry. [Note: St. Peter the Apostle was my home parish growing up.]

The St. Monica Ministry is composed mostly of mothers but welcomes anyone who wishes to meet regularly to pray for people who have left the Catholic Church.

The club officially started on Aug. 27, the feast of St. Monica, and since then the number of names prayed for has only grown. At the start of this year’s Lenten season, Mrs. Misulia published a notice in the parish bulletin and placed a box for names in the gathering space of the church. She was inspired to open it up to the whole parish after a friend who is a pastor ran a similar prayer group at his parish during the season of Advent.

The St. Monica ministry is composed mostly of mothers but welcomes anyone who wishes to pray regularly for each of the names. The box has been in the church for a few weeks, and Mrs. Misulia said that the group now prays for about 480 people.

Those asking for intentions are asked only to write down first names. “God knows their last names; he knows their situations,” Mrs. Misulia said of those for whom she prays. “We don’t have to know all that.” She records all the names in a notebook she calls her St. Monica book, which she takes to priests to bless after Mass about once a month, having them lay hands on it in prayer.

Mrs. Misulia said that for her and all mothers who are pained because their children have strayed, St. Monica is “the premier example of persevering, persevering prayer.” She continued praying for her son, St. Augustine, and “what a gigantic impact her prayers have had on the church in praying for her son.”

St. Augustine, who lived a wayward life in his youth (as documented in his Confessions), eventually turned back to the church of his mother, and both he and she attributed his conversion to her prayers. His works remain influential, and while not every person prayed for by Mrs. Misulia’s group will become a doctor of the church like Augustine, Mrs. Misulia is confident that mothers’ prayers today may still bring about a change of heart. “We don’t know what the Lord is going to do with our kids once he brings them over, but there may be a great ripple effect, even for our own kids,” Mrs. Misulia said.

Mothers have experienced great sorrow and even hopelessness, at times, in praying for someone who has not shown any interest in the church for years.

“God is greater than all of that, and he will make up the years the locusts have eaten,” she continued. “We need to…fight the spiritual battle that we have, and know that our prayers are being heard; we’re praying according to God’s will,” she said. “We should never, never give up.”

Still, she said, she and other mothers have experienced great sorrow and even hopelessness, at times, in praying for someone who has not shown any interest in the church for years. Women approach her grieving, mourning the spiritual loss of their children. The pain for families whose children have left the faith and estranged themselves from their families is “just so great,” she said. But there is a “spiritual trap” in “questioning…how they could have done better,” she said. “There’s always a temptation to remorse and regret.”

God is working in the lives of our kids.

Since Mrs. Misulia has been praying for one of her children to return to Mass for years, she said, “I’ve come to feel like ‘I will not let go.’ Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, when the angel says ‘Let me go,’ and he says, ‘I won’t let you go until you bless me,’ I feel that way with the Lord about my particular child. I will just not let go until he does this. I may be in heaven, still praying, but I want to encourage the other moms.”

But, Mrs. Misulia said, even if “you don’t see anything obvious…God is working in the lives of our kids, and he knows perfectly how and when to draw them back. Sometimes we moms can’t say anything, and so our best weapon is prayer.”

Mrs. Misulia emphasized that she is constantly asking God to point the ministry in the right direction. When she initially started the ministry, a woman in her 80s approached her about it; she had been praying for a few of her sons for decades. The woman said she had a St. Monica relic that she wanted the club to pray with. “So I took that as confirmation that I should continue with [the ministry],” Mrs. Misulia said. The older woman brings her relic, they pray with it at the meetings, then Mrs. Misulia returns it to her. “What a great thing to have a relic of St. Monica there with us as we pray,” she said.

Though the ministry was opened up to the whole parish community in Lent, Mrs. Misulia plans to continue it beyond Easter, and she hopes that their group could serve as a model for other parishes. She knows that a child’s turning away from the faith is common and not isolated to a particular ideology. “It’s not the kind of issue that’s partisan,” she said. “It doesn’t make any difference what side of any divide you come down on. It’s just a genuine issue that we all have.”

Ultimately, Mrs. Misulia said she finds hope in the fact that “Jesus wants our kids more than we do. He’s going to do everything he can—given their free will, it will be up to them, but he wants them in heaven more than we do,” she said. “We all want them to experience the joy of faith here and now, not just in heaven.”

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