Dorothy Pilarski with her mother, Teresa, on her wedding day. Photo courtesy Dorothy Pilarski

Mothers can have it all, and family too

  • May 5, 2021

When Dorothy Pilarski reflects on her life since leaving the corporate world to launch a successful Catholic women’s ministry, she imagines her mother looking down on her giggling from Heaven.

As a teenager Pilarski, who was born in Poland and raised in inner city Toronto in the 1960s and ’70s, felt her staunch Catholic mother, Teresa, was unprogressive and out of touch with the modern, career-driven woman. But since achieving career success — delivering training programs and seminars in Canada and around the world — and then becoming a mother herself, Pilarski has had a change of heart. She came to realize her mother’s lessons of faith, family and being physically and emotionally present for your family are the foundations for healthy children and a healthy society, and those things will never be antiquated — all very good lessons for this Mother’s Day, May 9.

“I thought my mom was just an old-fashioned church lady that really never kind of adjusted to Canada, until I saw that actually her teachings were timeless,” chuckled Pilarski, who with her parents and three siblings came to Canada at age two in the early 1960s. “They weren’t Canadian, they weren’t Polish, they were timeless. (If she was alive today) she would giggle that some of her parenting and mothering theories are alive and well, and that her modern daughter came to see the light.”

“Do you know how much Jesus loves you?” “The world belongs to the courageous,” “There is nothing bad that happens, that good doesn’t come of it,” and “Did you say your morning prayers?” are just some of her mother’s sayings forever etched in Pilarki’s memory.

Pilarski launched her Catholic Mom’s Group in 1999 and it has grown throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto and is reaching Catholic mothers as far away as Canada’s Arctic region.

Her starter kit offers everything leaders need to run a mother’s group, including Catholic curriculum, promotional materials and other resources. The pandemic, Pilarski says, has been a hidden blessing for her ministry as programming and resources have expanded virtually and are available online to anyone.

The foundation of Pilarski’s ministry is the strong Catholic faith and motherly intuition that informed her own mother’s parenting style.

At 13 years old, Teresa was pulled from the rubble by Marian priests when her house was bombed during the Second World War. She watched her mother — Pilarski’s grandmother — hold up a crucifix in the sky and pray out loud as the Germans dropped bombs on Warsaw. It was that strength of faith and resilience that carried her through the ups and downs of parenting and life as an immigrant family in Toronto. Teresa died in 2013.

Pilarski encourages mothers to prioritize faith in their families and lean into what she calls the “deposit of grace” God gives parents for each of their children and instilling in them a strong sense of identity.

With women today juggling so much working both inside and outside the home, Pilarski says there is likely more pressure than on any other generation. With the pressure to “do it all” — hold down a career coupled with managing children’s busy extracurricular schedules and household duties — something is usually sacrificed, and often it’s the family’s commitment to faith.

Having struggled herself with workaholism, Pilarski has deep compassion for mothers and families today and the added stress of needing two household incomes. 

“What has happened is that women have become so incredibly busy that they don’t have time even to breathe, never mind passing down sacred truths,” said Pilarski, mother to two adult children. “It’s very scary because women have an innate desire to please and to serve others so now they’ve poured themselves into their work. Some women lose themselves in their giving and they don’t know how to apply the break when they have their own children.”

This is compounded with living in a materialistic society where many families believe they need more than what is necessary to raise happy and healthy children. Pilarski grew up in a family of very modest means but says she didn’t realize it because her mother always made sure the home was rich in care, attention and love.

Pilarski says the women’s movement of the 1960s caused her to believe that the things her mother prioritized, praying the rosary, family meals and keeping a home, did not have any value. Today it was those very things that helped her to develop the strong sense of faith and personal identity that has made her the woman she is today.

“I really felt the shelter of my mother’s mantle,” said Pilarski. “I always say my mother didn’t need the feminist movement — she had the Holy Spirit.”

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