Elizabeth’s Faith grew stronger with Mary’s help
Norwalk is a small town in Monroe County. There you will find modest houses and winding roads. At the end of Main Street is a church that towers over the homes surrounding it. A steeple topped with a cross draws the eye to this beautiful church. With stained-glass windows that brighten the surrounding area at night, St. Augustine of Hippo Church is a beacon in the darkness and the community housed there even more so.
A familiar face in this parish is Elizabeth Brown. She and her husband of 17 years are high school sweethearts from the eastern side of the state, but they settled in the Coulee Region when their three children were young and joined the Tri-parish Community at St. Augustine of Hippo Parish.
Elizabeth always thought she had a strong Faith. Her family went to Mass, prayed before meals and checked all the Catholic boxes, but an emergency with her daughter shed a light on how much deeper her Faith could become. One afternoon, Elizabeth took her 4-year-old daughter, Evelyn, for her annual exam at the doctor’s office, and, 48 hours later, on the 10th anniversary of her marriage, she was in a waiting room while her daughter underwent emergency open-heart surgery in Rochester, Minn. Elizabeth describes this time as a “whirlwind.” She said, “Honestly, I don’t remember much from those few days. It’s like my mind was in shock and I couldn’t process all that was happening. My husband was (and still is) my rock, and without him, I would have crumbled under the pressure.”
Elizabeth recounted her experience with misty eyes and mixed emotions. Through the stress of it all, she felt like she was losing it—and her Faith was tested more than ever before. But now Elizabeth knows her devotion to the Blessed Mother grew, as there is something universal about the heartache of motherhood.
Just as the Virgin Mary loved her Son, raised Him and cared for Him, ultimately to watch His passion and death for us, Elizabeth relates, “I had to watch my daughter in pain and danger and there was nothing I could do about it, except trust that God was going to take care of her. My husband put it best, and it was kind of an awakening for me. He said, ‘She [our daughter] may be in our care, but she is God’s child,’ and that was honestly soul-shaking. I had never thought of it that way before.”
Elizabeth now sees her own experience of watching her daughter suffer as a time to meditate on the Sorrows of Mary. “I think the most significant part for me was to feel a fraction of Mary’s pain in that moment.” And just as the Blessed Virgin Mary patiently waited outside the tomb for her Son to return, Elizabeth waited for her daughter’s healing in that hospital. Evelyn came through the surgery and was on a path to recovery, but Elizabeth’s whole perspective had shifted. Hearing her husband’s words had changed how she viewed her role as a mother and caretaker. “As mothers, we are always trying to protect our children, but in the end, we are not in control. We need to trust in Him so that no matter where He leads us we are open, like Mary, to saying ‘Yes.’”
She recalls always wanting to be a wife and mother from a young age, but, over time, her understanding of the vocation grew deeper. “My main task is to get my husband to heaven,” said Elizabeth. “My job as a mother, along with my husband as a father, is to cultivate and nourish my children’s relationship with Jesus. Following Jesus in our lives was never guaranteed to be easy or painless. Most of the experiences in our lives that can draw us closer to Him are usually hardships and challenges, but just like the strongest steel, we can be forged in fire. It’s important to look at our challenges in life as an opportunity to grow. I pray that my children and godchildren will always look to God in any struggles and one day enter into the gates of heaven.”
Over time, the Brown family became more involved in their parish on a deeper level, and it was this involvement that allowed Elizabeth time to pray and listen to what else God may be calling her to do with her talents. Elizabeth had a longing on her heart for a deeper sense of community in her parish, one that comes from faith-filled friendships, and she knew she could not be the only one. “I had this urging on my heart for something more.” She recalled, and with humble trust, she moved forward. “I was praying a lot and felt like the Holy Spirit was calling me to start a women’s spirituality group.” And much like Mary accepted what God asked of her, Elizabeth did so. “A friend of mine from a different parish put on a trivia night for hers as a fundraiser and it worked well. We decided to do this for the women’s spirituality group here.” St. Augustine Parish hosted trivia nights that grew in popularity and brought people from inside and outside the parish together for a fun night in support of the church. With the trivia night fundraisers’ help, the parish’s new women’s groups grew. With support from the church, they were able to purchase several guided studies like the ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) Study. The small groups Elizabeth led were growing larger in attendance and in community. She describes the groups by saying, “It was so wonderful to be able to talk to the people that you go to church with all the time, to hear their opinions and learn from each other. We’ve really grown as a community. It’s led to so much support for our whole lives. Whether it’s a struggle or a celebration like baptism, we can be there to support one another.”
Elizabeth’s call has changed over time. With each change, her Faith has only grown deeper, but it has not always been easy. “You know, we all take two steps forward and one step backward, but we keep on learning, praying and trying to say yes to God.” Through her ‘yes,’ Elizabeth has helped her parish to grow and has seen her own Faith deepen over time. “I should add that this path is not for everyone. This is my Faith journey, and this is what God has called me to do in my life. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to try to ask God what He needs from us and be open to that.”
As mothers, we are always trying to protect our children. We need to trust in Him so that no matter where He leads us we are open, like Mary, to saying ‘Yes.’”
Story by RACHEL PERSSON
Photo by Elizabeth Carpenter Photography
Published in April 2021 Catholic Life Issue