On Being a Mother and an Academic - A Letter from Katie Jo

A Note from TCW

To those of you who have felt you've been called to a seemingly impossible vocation & have experienced loneliness as a result: we hope this letters serves as a reminder that you aren't alone. God is always with you. In the wise words of this week's writer, Katie Jo, "nothing is impossible for Him. Love those who don't understand you. They are grappling with this Truth too." Thank you Katie Jo for reminding us that we must always strive to seek out, empathize with & support each other, as sisters in Christ. 

To learn about The Catholic Woman's Sisterhood theme for this quarter's collection of letters, click here.

(Click on the photos to enlarge) 

Oh, Sister!

I see your ache. Your loneliness in the world. Not just as a Catholic in the world. But as a Catholic woman. It can seem that no one quite understands you from the outside. You want to be the complex and intricate woman God made you to be, but people in the world are constantly trying to box you in. They don’t know about the feminine genius. They don’t include you in politics, culture, at work, or sometimes even in the pew. And sometimes, as it is in my case, some of our own have excluded you because you don’t seem to fit.

Let me explain.

I am a woman. A wife. A mother of three under six, plus one little soul in heaven. I am also an academic. A scholar and Ph.D candidate in medieval literature. I’ve had each of my babies while in graduate school. These are two difficult vocations to try to jam together. And people in both worlds remind me nearly every day that what I’m trying to do is impossible. That I “can’t have it all.” I have literally heard that phrase from women in my department and also from women in my church pew.

Loneliness stings because God made us for community. But confidence in His will is sometimes borne of solitude. And in my solitude, with a foot in both worlds but sometimes feeling welcome in neither, I’ve had to cling to Jesus.

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In my clinging, I’ve learned that His capacity to love and to dream big dreams for each and every one of us is inexhaustible.

When the Lord moves us to do something? When He gives us the passion and the talent, and the drive toward a mission? Well, we must listen and receive it. That’s our feminine genius: our unique capacity to say, fiat! Or, in St. Gianna’s words: “Whatever God wants!”

The Lord asks us to do hard things. Sometimes lonely things. Sometimes impossible things. But nothing is impossible for Him. Love those who don’t understand you. They are grappling with this Truth too.

Say it with me: “I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for He has been good to me.” Ps. 13

He loves you. Let us love each other.

- Katie Jo

Get to know Katie Jo

Katie Jo is a 31-year old Ph.D Candidate in Medieval Literature with specializations in Theology and Philosophies of Selfhood, a wife and a mother of 3. 

Katie Jo LaRiviere Photo

What do the first two hours of your day look like?

The first two hours of my day consist of getting myself and three kiddos ready for school. I have three littles (6, 3, and 1) who need to get to school and daycare before I can start work at 8:30. Even though I don’t have a strict schedule during most school semesters, I like to get to work by 8:30 so I can have time to pray and read my devotions before I begin my research, writing, and teaching. This means I’m changing diapers, feeding bites of cinnamon toast, and pulling little uniforms on little bodies, then doing the school drop-off routine for a full two or three hours before I get to work. But—these are the moments of our lives! What many great lessons we all learn in these first few hours!

What's your favorite part of your current occupation?

The main reason I chose my research fields (medieval lit, theology, and selfhood) is that I basically have an excuse to make spiritual reading a career! So my favorite part of the research and writing I do is that I get to invest myself spiritually in my profession, and I can make the “occupation” a true vocation.

Name one fear that keeps you up at night.

Katie Jo LaRiviere

The balance between the demands of parenthood and my academic work is a constant act of reflection, assessment, and adjustment. Both of these vocations demand full-time attention; neither of them can be “left at the office” at the end of the day. As a result, Satan’s easiest “in” to my heart is to accuse me of not spending enough time with my children or to convince me that my work is suffering because I spend too much time with them. When he’s not working on one, he’s working on the other. Yet though he tempts me to quit my academic work, and though he even more darkly suggests that I should stop being open to life, my confidence remains in the Lord. It is a confidence that He is asking me to do this particular work, and to do it with motherhood at the forefront (He blessed my husband and I with all of our babies while I have been in grad school!). The Lord carries me through: He is with me when I have work deadlines, when I pack lunches, when I take comprehensive exams, when I don’t have time for a sick-day, when I have to announce yet another pregnancy to my faculty advisor. 

When was the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church?

I grew up in the Church and have been blessed to never have the desire to leave. Each stage in my life has offered an opportunity to re-assess this question and re-evaluate my answer to it. The first time I remember a really conscious sense of belonging is when I went away to boarding school when I was 16. I was the only practicing Catholic at the school for the arts where I lived for my junior year of high school. I would walk to Mass each Sunday by myself through what I realize now was a pretty dangerous part of town. The walk was very lonely and often scary, and I would just recite the Hail Mary the entire way. But when I arrived at Mass—what a relief! Though no one knew me, and few reached out to meet me during the entire year, I knew I belonged. I knew this was more home than anything else in the entire state, 3000 miles away from my family. That grace was profound.

Tell us about a woman, past or present, you look up to.

Of course, for me, this woman is my mother. She has lived a life of enduring faith through enormous hardship and trial. She truly loves Jesus, and she is not afraid to live that love fully while in the world.

Favorite literary character. Go! 

This is too difficult for me! I tend to identify more with the writers of texts than with the characters they create because the real person behind the text is infinitely more complex and intricately wrought than the character, no matter how adept they may be at creating characters. But if I must choose one of those, I’ll say right now that it’s Margery Kempe, a medieval woman who wrote an autobiography and spiritual treatise in the 15th century. She too, was a working mother who sought to know Christ and do His will.

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