God gives each family unique gifts in order to share their talents

CHARLESTON—Kathleen and Steve Conner look at the path their family life has taken and can only smile at where God has led them.

When they were first married 26 years ago, Steve said he thought, “maybe two children”, but then, “everything flows; God leads and we follow.”

Now they are the parents of nine — two of whom are adopted special-needs children — and part of a parish stewardship ministry that serves vulnerable orphans in Ethiopia.

It is only one of many ways their family helps in their community.

“Stewardship is a gift for families,” Kathleen said. “You will be leading your families right into the heart of Jesus.”

An attorney who represents children in abuse and neglect cases in Georgia, Kathleen was one of the speakers at a conference sponsored by the office of Stewardship and Mission Advancement at the Pastoral Center in Charleston on Nov. 8.

She notes that each family has their own unique gifts to give in service. Maybe it’s visiting the elderly, serving the homeless, or simply making it to Mass.

Her own family’s journey of service began in earnest when Steve was stationed as an Army physician in Augusta, Ga. They started attending St. Mary on the Hill Church and sending their oldest child, and then the next and the next…, to the parish school.

St. Mary is a stewardship parish, and Kathleen said they started getting involved in small ways — Steve served as lector, the kids as altar servers, and she formed a Moms group.

“They were just little things but they were making a big difference in our life,” she said.

At the heart, God was the center of it all. Date night always starts in the chapel of perpetual adoration, the school commute starts with prayers, and each night they pray a decade of the rosary.

“Stewardship doesn’t ask for perfection, just to keep doing baby steps,” she said.

Then, when their oldest went to college, their youngest pointed out they now had an empty chair to share. Kathleen felt very strongly that God was calling them to adopt, specifically a child with Down syndrome. They ended up adopting Gabriel, “God’s messenger”, from an orphanage in Bulgaria.

Kathleen said the need there was so palpable she cried every night and thought, “If my parish family knew about this they would want to do something.”

She was right, and the ministry of Saints Overseas was born. The whole parish is involved, including Gabriel, the messenger of need who is now serving other children.

Then, another Conner kid went to college and a chair was again available to share. This time, she said God called them to Michael, a non-verbal child with autism who had been in foster care for six years.

Kathleen said she was so frustrated by his case and asked God, “Why can’t we find this child a family?” The answer: You’re a family.

She laughed and said they have no idea how to meet the needs of a child with autism, but God keeps showing up to guide the way.

That’s all any of us can do, is just keep showing up, she said. That’s what stewardship is all about.

“We have kids that struggle with their faith and we say, ‘You struggle, but you have your butt in the pew on Sunday morning while you struggle. It’s OK. You keep showing up.’”