“Nothing can actually prepare you for married life, as much as I would like there to be a course. I thought I knew and was prepared, and pretty soon after realized I had no idea what it would take to be a wife or mother,” my friend Graciela Milligan told me over coffee a few months ago. Preparing for marriage is a proverbially impossible thing; and yet there are ways to be less unprepared. For Graciela, her four years at Wyoming Catholic College (WCC) were an important aspect of that “preparation”.
As Marketing and Communications co-ordinator at WCC, one of my projects is to keep in touch with alumni. I thought it would be interesting to reach out to graduates now mothers and see how they thought their time at college helped them in their current role.
Their responses were so positive, thoughtful, and encouraging that I thought their comments would be helpful to others, whether considering college or reflecting on how to live the married vocation better. Thus this article will be the story of how the liberal arts influenced the lives of a handful of women, and how it continues to influence how their vocations play out.
Searching for Virtue
“I drew on my experiences at WCC to help me problem solve, persevere, and guide me through marriage in the moment. You can’t be fully prepared. But you are trusting in God, as in the wilderness, that you will grow in virtue,” Graciela (‘18) told me. “College does not prepare you to be a mom per se, but it does strengthen the virtues you need to be a good mom, like perseverance and multi-tasking—doing things well with little time.” Graduating in 2018, she now lives in Nebraska with her husband and three children (number four is on the way).
Graciela was initially against coming to WCC because she found the outdoor program intimidating: however, when participating in PEAK, WCC’s summer highschool program, she realized that being forced out of her comfort zone “would make me a better person, no matter what I did after college.” She also loved the academics, finding them more satisfying than others she had experienced when visiting similar colleges. “I knew God was calling me to something outside my comfort zone. I went to WCC because I wanted to push my boundaries and see how I could grow, to encounter God, nature, and the great books.”
Similarly, “stay-at-home mom, wrangler of five children, and wife” Clare Ward (‘13), did not initially want to go to WCC. Describing herself as “spiritually directionless coming out of high school”, and wanting “to go to film school in California,” it was her older sister, already a student at WCC, who convinced her to give the college a try for a couple of years—the worst that could happen would be transferring with already completed core curriculum requirements! “My sister saw the fruits of the education that she was receiving and wanted the same for me,” Clare said. “I fell in love with my education. My sister knew what was best, she was sneaky! I couldn’t be more grateful that she was right.”
Some of Clare’s favorite things about the college were the things that surprised her: there was “the surprise of true Catholicity—real reverence in the Mass. When I visited the school initially, I thought that their Novus Ordo was a Latin mass, for which my sister laughed at me.” And “then there was the surprise of genuine community.” Friendship was imbued with the supernatural because students willed eachother’s good: “On coming to WCC I was enmeshed with others whose goal it was to get to heaven. Not something that you experience at a public high school.”
Kirsten Maslak (‘21) “grew up on land and with animals,” so the intellectual with his head in the clouds never appealed to her. Reason and thought “has to be married to the physical reality as well.” Thus “the idea of the outdoor program and the rootedness in the ‘real’” presented by WCC made it “feel like home,” especially since she wanted to continue studying the classics she had come to love in highschool. Another major reason to go to college at all was because she “wanted to be a mom” and she wanted to be able to teach her children better.
Pursuing the Vocation
Some of the ladies I talked to came to college knowing they wanted to be mothers: others didn’t think of it as a goal; others were considering religious life. “I never wanted to be a Mom. I was not adverse to the idea, but I never thought of Motherhood as a goal,” Caitlin Jay (‘12), told me. Nevertheless, Caitlin now views motherhood as “a glorious journey”, and a calling to heroic virtue. “I think God is calling married couples to heroic virtue, as always, but in a special way in these extraordinary times. Like any couple, our decade long journey together has been fraught with all life brings, the challenges and rewards of a life well lived. It is never easy and always worth it. I can honestly say it is the greatest adventure and blessing of my life.”
Getting married and becoming a mother “was one of those dare to dream sort of things for me,” Clare said. “I was not confident that I was called to the vocation of marriage until I met my husband and then I knew. I had visited several convents and have had the belief that to be a good mom you would also have to be a good nun.” Similarly, Graciela thought she could have been a good nun, but “thought God was calling” her to something “more challenging”. If she hadn’t met her now husband, she might have entered with the Benedictines of Mary, in Gower, Missouri.
“I didn’t see myself as particularly domestic, nor did I really care about being a mom while growing up,” Murielle Blanchard (‘15) shared. “I had no idea what I’d do after college, but I did know I wanted to discern God’s will for my life and pursue an all-around excellent formation. That’s what made me decide on a really Catholic college, instead of pursuing an MFA degree at a hometown university. I threw myself into freshman year with gusto, ready for wherever the path might lead. And then I fell in love…”
On the other hand, Valerie Cannizzaro (‘14) said that “The only thing I always knew for sure about my future was that I wanted to be a mother.” Similarly, Kirsten “always wanted to be a mom.” However, reading about the teaching of the Church on the Family at WCC helped her to think about marriage “from the eyes of the church.” These “writings solidified and enhanced it as a vocation, not just something you do if you don’t have a religious vocation.”
The Ultimate Career
“My education has been in support of the ultimate career. I, for one, needed the education that I received to be a good homemaker,” Clare said. All the mothers I spoke with agreed that the formation they received at Wyoming Catholic is crucial to their mothering. “Would you recommend someone come to WCC if they also wanted to become a homemaker?” I asked.
“I am a stay-at home of 3 going on 4 kids,” observed Graciela. “I got there because I met the man of my dreams at WCC. I did not come for a ‘Mrs’ degree; I was very determined not to date but focus on my studies. That didn’t exactly work out. I managed not to date until junior year, and I highly recommend waiting.” Graciela would recommend WCC to someone who wanted to become a homemaker, however, because even though it “does not prepare you to be a mom per se, it does strengthen the virtues you need to be a good mom.”
Caitlin noted that the vocation to “raising children is higher than reading great works of literature”, so if someone discerns that “a liberal education would further their vocation”, then they should absolutely embrace the “mutually complementary” path of education as preparation for family life.
Murielle distinguished between “hard” and “soft” skills: the former are technical, while the latter have more to do with character formation. “WCC does not specifically teach practical homemaking skills,” she said, but “soft skills are more difficult to acquire, and those taught by WCC’s overall formation are excellent for being a good homemaker.” Murielle reminded me that this “encompasses so much more than housework and childcare. To be a good homemaker, one must first be a good wife. WCC teaches a lot about the theology of marriage and provides good examples of loving marriages lived by professors and their spouses.” Similarly, Valerie noted that “as homemakers we have so many demands in so many aspects of daily life, so really helps to have all aspects of yourself strengthened” at a college like Wyoming Catholic “as opposed to a college that only focuses on the academic achievements.” Valarie said she would encourage prospective students “to research it for themselves”.
Nonetheless, one harder skill that WCC does help with is homeschooling. Clare shared that when she reads with her children, “we analyze the characters’ motivation and desires. What choices are they making? What virtue or vice are they showing? We are learning in every moment. The Liberal Arts education teaches us to be human in an inhumane world. To separate the lies from truth, and to find what is real.” She continued to describe how her homeschooling is influenced by her WCC education: “I go through my old theology journals to give my son as exact an answer I can when he asks about free will. The education that I received at WCC is prevalent in all of my life. From the relationship that I have with my husband, to raising my children, to my love for the Mass.”
Of the mothers I spoke with, all have homeschooled and find their liberal arts education a powerful support for that work. It was one of the primary reasons Kirsten went to college. Murielle and her husband Dominic (‘14) “look forward to when our kids are teens and we can engage in Socratic discussions with them like we learned to do in the classroom,” but noted that they take a “mixed” approach, sometimes homeschooling and sometimes taking advantage of good Catholic schools in their area. Murielle also thinks that the Liberal arts helps one to understand the scope and purpose of education. “It also teaches one how to learn, which is helpful for someone trying to teach a multitude of subjects across grade levels,” as well as discerning if it would be good to send a child to school outside the home.
As Clare commented, “It’s interesting how intrinsic the education I received is to the one I want my children to have. My children confidently ask questions to get to the truth of a thing and confidently ask their hairdresser if they would go to war for God.”
The Outdoor Leadership Program also significantly contributed to their daily lives as mothers. “Raising little humans is often the same dynamic as I encountered during wilderness high-intensity, high-stakes situations,” Caitlin said. Murielle finds it helpful in discover “who really needs me the most right now”. “Triage” was a common theme: the leadership skills help in “trying to figure out what fire to put out first,” Graciela agreed.
The Restoration and the War
“There is a war on Motherhood and the arguments against it are insidiously prevalent,” Caitlin tells me. “Since becoming a mother, I have realized just how many good people are being sold a lie and the intrinsically hidden vocation of Motherhood is rarely truly understood. It is a mystery that will bring you to your knees unceasingly, for such a variety of reasons. If you are given the privilege of being a mother, allow it to break you open so that God can do His work in you.” She continued, “Marriage is also under attack and we have lost the cultural bolster and generational wisdom which used to enrich married couples. Our society is of course actively corrosive to all that marriage pursues and seeks to obfuscate any true marriage.”
Clare reflects, “I find that we are soldiers in our small way restoring Christian culture. Slowly putting plaster on the decayed walls of the basilicas of western civilization by having children and teaching them the trade of order.” Augustine’s phrase tranquillitas ordinis—the tranquility of order—comes to mind. This indicates the pursuit of peace, the tranquility that comes from something being in proper relation to the rest of the world, creation, and most importantly, its creator. Surely, such a goal is central to the family. “Once when my son had to get his blood drawn, he said; ‘I cannot cry for I will suffer more for Christ.’ My little man is convinced that he will go on a Holy Crusade, and I believe he will, just not in the way that he imagines,” Clare recalls. She continued, “As Ratzinger says ‘The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!’ It takes courage to pursue greatness. Greatness for me is not in leading an army, but in rocking my child to sleep,” concluding that “Greatness is being present to my family when there is distraction. Greatness is not in the storm but in the whisper.”
Family is essential to the creation of any culture, Kirsten remarked. “What is culture? It is the common life of a community and that is impossible without a family first of all, and the children to pass it onto. You need a husband and wife to create culture.” Caitlin told me that “as the ‘Heart of the Home’, it is a privilege to dramatically impact culture by forming the next generation.”
Beauty for Today
“We are living life the ‘hard’ way by modern standards,” Clare declared. “We are a one income household on a teacher’s salary with five children. Many people look at us like we are insane, but we are not made for this world and by our example we show that we are not of this world.”
“It’s hard, it’s beautiful. It’s life,” Kirsten stated. “It’s a wonderful vocation that is really difficult” but has “crowning moments of foretaste of what it means to sacrifice for someone else”. For Kirsten, part of this “hard way” is the growth in virtue marriage demands: “I don’t think you realize how lacking in virtue you are until you are married. Yes, faults in your spouse as well, but you both have to overcome them.” This “forces you to examine yourself and then create the sort of environment you want to raise your children in, and that you and your spouse want to grow old in.”
One of the special surprises of Wyoming Catholic, Clare recalled, was “the surprise of finding beauty in everyday things again. The world offers cynicism and Wyoming Catholic shows its beauty. It does not say ‘look, this is beautiful’ but more ‘I will teach you to find the beauty’.” At the end of the day, one thing is clear: regardless of whether or not the great books prepare you to change diapers, these women prove it is certainly an excellent preparation for loving beauty in the midst of adversity. If you ever wonder, then, if hiking, reading Plato, or speaking Latin has anything to do with homemaking, just remember that WCC’s is an education unlike any other. It is an education which continues to foster the quest for beauty, every day. If you plant the seeds of wonder and wisdom, is it surprising to find them being reaped among alumni families?