Paul and Jennifer Propson live in Rochester Hills with their seven children. They are parishioners of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights. They both graduated from Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights. Jennifer home schools the younger children and Paul is CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.
How do you approach evangelization in your everyday life?
Paul: Jen started a Bible study which meets at the coffee shop which has really nurtured the faith for her and the other women who “bear each other’s burdens” in a meaningful way over coffee or tea. There is something about these women just being together with their desire to be closer to God which has clearly enriched all of their lives. I think it is because they are comfortable sharing their faith and their fears and there aren’t so many places where it’s safe to do that. For me, I love to share Gospel stories at work when I can find the way that Jesus’ wisdom and mercy apply in our daily lives. I have always worked with a lot of Christians but I find that Jesus’ words nevertheless pose a tremendous challenge to his followers (no surprise!) and that our daily lives are the best material for discovering the truth’s of his command to love others as he has loved us.
What practices or habits have you incorporated into your marriage that has made it stronger?
Jen: Going for walks together, just the two of us, has given us an almost daily opportunity to get out of the house and talk about the big and small things in life. It’s on those walks when we are able to offer each other support and work through the logistics of family life. Often our biggest decisions have to wait until we can find the time to get out and walk together.
Paul: Jen is always finding ways to make our marriage stronger. Two things she did stand out: she researched natural family planning and worked to bring me along early in our marriage to becoming a Catholic who accepts and benefits from the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. I remember when she gave me a cassette tape of professor Janet Smith teaching on the matter and also Christopher West’s talks on Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body. That was the single most impactful decision in our marriage. Without Jen’s courage in taking that on, we would probably only have three children instead of the seven amazing kids God has blessed us with. The other thing Jen did was sign us up to be a “mentor couple” for engaged couples in our parish. Becoming a mentor couple helped us to see how we’ve grown as a couple on the journey with each other and with God.
What spiritual books or practices have had the biggest influence on your spiritual life?
Jen: Father Jacques Phillipe has had a great influence on me. His book “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” and the gentleness of his wisdom has given me great comfort and hope in the many challenges I face every day as a homeschooling mother. As far as a spiritual practice, we really took to the invitation of a “family rosary” on Sunday evenings. Families at St. Andrew’s Parish in Rochester were gathering at the Mary statue on Sunday evenings and joining them to pray helped to make the rosary a fixture in our lives as a spiritual practice. It helped our kids become prayer leaders with other families. Even though joining other families at St. Andrew’s only happened for a season in our lives, we have continued to pray the rosary together as a family on Sunday evenings.
Paul: The Sunday family rosary came to life in a new way during this Covid pandemic as it became the most meaningful way to connect with my extended family over Zoom. When we initially gathered over Zoom as several families, it was just chaos. But when my sister-in-law Sharon, who was being treated for cancer, suggested we pray the rosary over Zoom altogether weekly on Sunday nights, all of our families and children found a way to be together for a little visiting and prayer time. As it happened, through the year and a half of this pandemic, we have continued to gather for an extended family rosary over Zoom even while we have endured the deaths of three close family members, Sharon among them, who have gone from praying with us via Zoom to seeing God face to face. Together, our large family has been shepherded through a pandemic of death by Our Lady and as we pray the Salve Regina at the end of each Sunday together we “send up our sighs…” mourning and weeping in this valley of tears together with enduring hope in God who raises up our loved ones to eternal life.
The spiritual book that I am most grateful for is St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Story of a Soul.” My mother bought all of her children a copy of the book when our grandmother died. Grandma had grown up in the early part of the 20th century when the story of St. Therese was spreading through Europe. I carelessly put the book on my shelf for almost a decade before reaching for it for the first time one day when Pope John Paul II was dying and I was feeling drawn to God. I found the book, written by a young woman who I had thought would have nothing useful to say to me, was filled with the greatest wisdom from the purest heart of love for God. The Little Flower’s love and devotion are contagious and opened my eyes. We like to think that we live in a world that is so complicated, but St. Therese has a way of simplifying life and celebrating our smallness and simplicity.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your marriage?
Jen: It’s important to let the other person be given the space to speak and flesh out their thoughts and ideas before you crush them like a bug! Jesus wants us to be listeners and encouragers. Everyone approaches things differently because we are all individuals and your spouse needs the space to be heard before responding — your spouse needs you to really be listening and not just preparing a response for when they finish speaking.
Paul: When we got married, every task around the house seemed to be a “chore” to me. What little I did was done grudgingly. What a child I was! I’ve learned to enjoy doing many “chores” I used to dread. I enjoy learning new things to do around the house for our family and particularly when they are important to Jen. The trick for me was to enjoy the happiness it gives to Jen when I am contributing to making our home a better place.
What advice would you give young families about incorporating faith in their family life?
Paul: Faith isn’t something that you “add” to your family. God is at the center of your family waiting for you to come and join him.
Jen: Take the kids to Mass when they are little. Find like-minded families who can share the fun of faith with your family. Celebrate the liturgical calendar. Keep it simple and not overwhelming, reading Scripture and Bible stories with your family at the table in the morning.