AIKEN—Three of Maureen Godbee’s granddaughters wore dresses she made when they received their first holy Communion this spring.
Those are visible testaments to their grandmother’s love, and are just a small part of the work Maureen and her husband Dennis Godbee do regularly to help their grandchildren grow in their faith.
The Godbees take grandchildren with them each week to Mass at St. Mary Help of Christians Church. They also pray with them, discuss what they are learning in religious education class, and talk about God and faith whenever they are together.
What the Godbees do day after day out of love for their grandchildren is more important than ever, many say. In a world where both parents frequently work and secular attitudes are rampant, it often falls to grandparents to pass on a legacy of strong faith to the next generation.
The role of grandparents in the life of the Church is a special focus each summer, as the feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne falls on July 26. As the parents of the Blessed Mother, they are the grandparents of Jesus and also the patron saints of modern grandparents.
There is even an international organization dedicated to supporting grandparents and helping them learn how to share their faith.
The Catholic Grandparents Association was founded in Ireland in 2009 by Catherine Wiley, who started organizing retreats for grandparents in England in 2002. The organization now includes chapters in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Philippines.
“Grandparents are sometimes not aware of how vital their contribution is,” Wiley said. “They may be the only practicing Catholic members of their family in these difficult and challenging times. Grandparents are key in passing on the faith because they are rooted in it. They love Jesus Christ, they treasure their faith and want to pass it on.”
Texas resident Marilyn Henry is the national coordinator of the U.S. chapter of the association. She and husband Deacon Ken Henry have 11 grandchildren, ages 3 to 20, and she promotes a wide range of activities to help strengthen grandparents, including liturgies and retreats. The association currently has ministry programs in about 30 parishes in the U.S., and Mrs. Henry recently approached the Diocese of Charleston about establishing one here.
Mrs. Henry encourages grandparents to seek each other out and learn from each other.
“Pray together and talk together, share your sorrows and your joys,” she said. “I learn so much from being around other grandparents. I get new ideas for passing on the faith.”
Mrs. Henry said she met one woman who told her children and grandchildren not to give her any more Christmas gifts because she didn’t need more material things. Instead, she asked them to give her a gift by praying the rosary together as a family.
Mrs. Godbee said she and her husband pray with their grandchildren and make faith a constant presence in regular daily life when they are all together.
“Talk about God a lot and talk about the role He plays in their lives, how He made everyday things we should be grateful for,” Mrs. Godbee said. “Kids thrive on that kind of thing. They are at an innocent age and are open to God. You don’t think they are paying attention to what you say and do, but they are.”
Recently, during a tornado warning in Aiken, Mrs. Godbee said one of her granddaughters asked, in the middle of other preparations for the possible storm, if they could start praying to God to keep them safe. She realized then that the example she was showing was having an effect.
Paul and Mary Ann Maddux, who also attend St. Mary Help of Christians, are doing what they can to strengthen the faith of their 13 grandchildren, who range in age from 8 months to 29 years. They attend Mass together, discuss the weekly readings, pray and have conversations about spiritual topics.
Mr. Maddux said teaching by example is one of the best things a grandparent can do.
Top photo, provided: Dennis and Maureen Godbee (sitting) gather with members of their family in Aiken.