COLORADO SPRINGS. Corpus Christi parishioner Heather Grady, a mother of two young children, recently found herself looking for a way to connect with other mothers. Not only was she interested in cultivating friendships, she wanted to learn from older, more experienced mothers.
Grady learned of the Confraternity of Christian Mothers — an organization founded in France more than 150 years ago — through a friend who was involved with a chapter in Birmingham, Alabama. As she read more about it and learned more of the history and purpose, she realized that it was the perfect platform.
“I liked the idea of an established group and the cohesiveness that would offer,” Grady said. “It is so powerful to think of ourselves as being united with those well-meaning mothers in 19th-century France and all who have come after them.”
Working with fellow parishioners Anita Illingworth and Meredith Hinds, Grady helped to establish a new chapter of the Confraternity of Christian Mothers (CM) in Colorado Springs. The group’s April meeting marked the solemn reception of its members into the worldwide organization.
“I was particularly struck by Father Frank Quezada’s comment during our meeting where we all officially became members of CM,” said Grady. “Father’s response was, ‘What a gift for the parish!’ That so beautifully encompassed how I feel about CM and I hope to help spread awareness of it.”
The organization has its roots in 19th-century France. According to the website of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, the organization was begun by lay women to discuss their struggles in raising their children and to pray for each other in a culture that had become increasingly opposed to Catholic values. The effort gradually became larger and, with the help of an influential public figure named Louise Josson de Bilhem, the first Conference of Christian Mothers was held on May 1, 1850, in Lille, France. They chose Mary, Mother of Sorrows, as their patroness.
As their organization grew, the women sought recognition from their bishop, and upon receiving it Christian Mothers grew rapidly throughout France and neighboring countries to an enrollment of over one million members. In 1881, the Capuchin Franciscans came to the U.S. from Germany and brought the organization with them. It was established as a confraternity and soon elevated to the rank of archconfraternity. The Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers in the U.S. is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is overseen by the Capuchin Franciscans.
The organization welcomes a diversity of women. “CM is for Catholic wives and mothers of all ages and stages,” Grady explained. Presently the group has women in their early twenties to their seventies, both mothers and those hoping to become mothers. Also present are several mother/daughter and mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law sets.
“As a grandmother of 10, I learn of the new concerns facing young moms, as each generation has unique concerns coupled with age-old concerns,” said Illingworth. “I hope young moms will realize that we experienced moms still have energy, and — having been through the same ups and downs — can offer advice and assistance, or just lend an ear.”
The group is open to any woman as long as she supports the chief aim of the confraternity, which is the Christian education of children. If a woman is unmarried or is married but is not Catholic, she can become an associate member.
Members depend on each other for spiritual support, catechesis, and social interaction.
“The power of our prayers for one another, united before our Lord is one way,” said Grady. Sacraments are included whenever possible. “Ideally our meetings will offer confession, adoration, and Holy Mass,” she continued, “At the least, we have been able to offer a Holy Hour with the assistance of a deacon.” The group offers prayers that have been prescribed by the Archconfraternity and listens to a talks by guest speakers on the vocation of motherhood and the challenges of raising Christian children.
“We are choosing topics that will support women’s concerns and provide refreshment,” Illingworth said. “Christian mothers need amusement as well as information.”
The confraternity is an ecclesial organization which has been canonically erected. Under the local bishop’s supervision, it is overseen by a priest referred to as the “Father Director.” The local chapter is supported by a president, vice president, and a secretary/treasurer.
Christian Mothers exists worldwide. Father Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, who is the national Father Director, just returned from Nigeria, where Christian Mothers is seeing robust membership and involvement. While CM is overseen and is a ministry of the Capuchin Franciscans, it is not guided solely by the religious order or its spirituality, and the individual chapters are typically directed by a parish priest.
“While Christian Mothers does offer a social network and does seek to support parish affairs from time to time,” said Grady, “it is not a traditionally social/civic group as one would think of The Junior League or something comparable. Rather, its chief aim is to promote the Christian education of children through supporting mothers in this lofty task.”
The group received 30 women as members of the Confraternity and the chapter. The chapter meets at Corpus Christi Church on the first or second Tuesday of each month after the 5:30 p.m. Mass, with the next meeting scheduled for May 7. The chapter is affiliated with Corpus Christi but welcomes women from any parish. For more information, contact Heather Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.