Talk about generativity! Pat and Patty Crowley were Chicago Catholics who raised four children, adopted a fifth, and took close to fifty foster children and foreign students into their home, all the while organizing the activities the Christian Family Movement, which they founded in 1949. They served on the Birth Control Commission convened by Pope Paul VI and ran the Illinois presidential campaign of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy. In Simple Gifts I tell their story through the eyes of the people who were affected by them.
"Perhaps only those who run a household can recognize the heroism in their lifelong commitment of hospitality toward everyone who came to their door."
-- Mary Kenny, Reviewer for The Chicago Catholic
1. A New Kind of Laity
2. O.J. Caron and Marietta Higman
3. Jerome Crowley and Henrietta O'Brien
4. Pat and Patty
5. Joseph Cardijn: From Belgium to Wilmette
6. The Moment
7. CFM is Born
8. The Two World of Al Augustine
9. The Birth Control Commission
10. McCarthy for President
11. They Came From Many Lands
12. The Summer and Winter of CFM
13. Illness--and Familia '74
14. A Time to Die
From Chapter 6
Yet little might have come of the energies that emerged from their union were it not for the last week of March, 1947. On March 24, a week after she had organized registration at the important meeting of family-life directors, Patty gave birth to their fourth child and third daughter, Catherine Ann (CA for Catholic Action, Pat had to quip). Mother and child were fine at first, but then Patty started to hemorrhage. One night she became very ill, received the last sacraments, and was sent to surgery. For many hours it was touch and go, but in the morning it seemed as though she would live. Gradually, over the ensuing months, she regained her health.
It was the turning point of the Crowley's life and the moment that sealed their commitment. Some of those Pat called to ask for prayers say they had never heard him so dejected or worried. But others remember a remarkable serenity, an implicit faith in Patty's eventual recovery.
The impact on Patty was awesome. "It was a traumatic thing for Pat. Everything was happening so fast. Everyone was around my bed doing something, but all I had to do was think. I thought I was going to die. When you are there, and conscious, and you think you're almost gone, you really do think about the life you have led and, you know, I hadn't done very much. You think that, well, you haven't got much time, there are so many things to be done. If I lived, I had better start. I think after that it was our gratitude that I didn't die. I always say people should almost die once."
Patty had done so twice, once as a child (and it made a deep impression on her mother) and once as a mother herself. Not only was she affected this time by a sudden review of her life, she--and Pat--were profoundly moved by the support of friends in their Catholic Action cells. "Pat called a couple of people and asked them to pray. Evidently everybody prayed. There was one couple--Pat and I have never forgotten it--who stayed up all night long. The Stones. A simple working-class family. They really stayed up all night on their knees. You don't believe things like that. Even though I haven't seen them in years and years, I still feel close to them." That sense of connection, that feeling of being with others who are for you, not matter where in the city or where on the planet they lived, was to characterize the rest of the Crowleys' life.
Pat and Patty came back from death grateful for life and aware of its short duration. The ideas to which they had been exposed in the previous four years were no longer a source of excitement; they were a basis for commitment, the seriousness of which Pat's light touch might lead one to overlook. One of the beliefs became paramount. "Somebody gave us the idea that, when something comes to you, you should accept it because it has come for a reason. And then you do the best you can. And sometimes you make a fool of yourself. You really do. Because you know you aren't the one; you know other people who are much more capable than you are."