Anna-Lisa Athaide, foreground, with the Moms Group of St. Leo the Great Parish in Whitby, Ont. Photo courtesy Anna-Lisa Athaide

Moms ministry inspires and empowers

  • May 12, 2019

Anna-Lisa Athaide is the definition of a supermom.

This mother of three girls (ages 8-10) leads a Catholic moms network of about 100 mothers in Whitby, Ont. She is co-chair of her daughters’ school council where she’s been promoting the Office of Catholic Youth’s Re:Generation youth program for the Durham Catholic District School Board. She works as a hospital pharmacist and she occasionally runs charity half-marathons on the weekends.

Two years ago, Athaide was struggling to find her place to “plug in” to the community at St. Leo the Great Parish in Whitby. Now, she is a part of the growing Catholic Moms Group ministry in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“For me personally, as a leader, it’s inspired me to kind of branch out beyond just my parish community,” she said. “If I wasn’t really digging into my faith and was as solid in my motherhood, I probably wouldn’t have done this stuff.”

Athaide said being a part of a tribe of Catholic mothers has been a game changer for her. The support system and fellowship in the Moms Group empowered her to become a part of her community in a way she never thought she could. She realized if she saw a need, she and her fellow mothers had the power to achieve it.

This is the thinking behind the Catholic Moms Group ministry that has been taking shape in the Toronto archdiocese. Dorothy Pilarski, founder and director of the Dynamic Women of Faith Association, spearheaded this diocesan ministry in 2014. Five years later, the ministry has expanded to 36 groups in Toronto and similar partners in Hamilton, Edmonton and even a couple of groups in the United States.

“These mothers groups have taken moms out of the pews and into the trenches of parish life,” said Pilarski. “I have heard countless stories about moms who sat next to one another for years at church but never knew each other by name…. Moms are finding their tribe to navigate the adventures of Catholic motherhood.”

Pilarski said stories like Athaide’s are common and she is excited at the rate the mothers’ ministry is spreading to the further regions of the archdiocese.

With the growing interest in starting mothers groups, Pilarski found herself running workshops in all corners of the archdiocese. She recently published a magazine-style manual called “One Mother’s Heart,” which provides resources and helpful tips about how to start a mothers’ group in a parish.

“It’s intended to inspire women and reach them where they’re at,” said Pilarski. “The amount of stress that women are under is remarkable and so they need to be ministered to, in my mind, like never before in history.”

Athaide said that through the Moms Group, she realized that she was not alone in her craving for more faith-filled friendships. Although her parish has a Catholic Women’s League, she didn’t feel like she belonged with the older women that ran the group. The Moms Group attracted mothers who “are still in the trenches of raising a family,” she said.

For Mothers’ Day, Athaide and her fellow Catholic Moms Group members are hoping to open up their community to even more women. On May 12, the St. Leo’s group will celebrate motherhood by hosting a baby shower fund-raiser for Rose of Durham and other local pregnancy centres.

The whole community is invited for a day of family games and food. The Moms Group members will be collecting donations for baby clothes, blankets, diapers and other supplies.

“These moms have these genuine gifts that they still need to share and I think that these Moms Groups are really built on some of the characteristics of these moms that come to these groups,” said Athaide.

St. Leo’s pastor Fr. Charles T. Forget said he knew right away the Moms Group would be a great addition to the parish. When Athaide first proposed the idea, he could see it was a good opportunity to draw young families further into parish life.

“It provides a spiritual gathering and opportunity for fellowship of those women who know what it is to be a Catholic mother in an age where faith, family and truth are so often challenged,” he said. “The Mother of Christ told us to do whatever Jesus tells us to do and the women in the Catholic Moms group endeavour to do the same.”

Maureen Poland was one of the first to take on the mothers ministry at Holy Family Parish in Whitby. In the four short years that the mothers group has been around, she has seen many fruits for herself and her fellow members.

“Really sharing from our hearts what these women and this group means to us all,” she said. “Sharing stories of how it has encouraged us to be stronger and more open with our faith and sharing it with others.”

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