WAUCHULA | Erika Wood, an outreach coordinator at St. Michael Parish in rural Wauchula in the Diocese of Venice, confesses that her faith grew as her family got bigger and bigger.
“I knew I had to be a witness of faith for my children,” said Wood, the mother of 13 children ages 8 to 28. “I had to teach them and show them by example,” said Wood, a wonderful role model of what a mom is all about teaching her children about God and faith through deeds and action.
May is the month when people everywhere pause to reflect on and pray for mothers, including the Mother of the Lord, the greatest of all moms.
The Florida Catholic spoke to several women about their call, which no doubt, can be a challenge and a “blessing” according to those we spoke to.
“I was praying to have my baby,” said Michelle Campolong, 39, a parishioner of Holy Redeemer Parish in Palm City in the Diocese of Palm Beach. She and her husband Mark have a toddler, Gabriella Grace, 2.
“I have faith that God will bless me with a second one. Faith is the most important thing in my life, and that is what I want to teach my baby.”
Sarah Krones, a teacher and social worker heads up a mom’s ministry at St. Margaret Mary in Winter Park. She and her husband Mike are “thankful” for their three children ages 10, 12 and 14.
She doesn’t take her mom role lightly. “I raised my children up in the parish,” she said. “Role modeling is important. My husband and I want them to see us reading the Bible and active in the parish. The most important thing was to get my children involved in ministries and going to church has never been an option.”
Pope Francis has praised mothers during occasions saying, "To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism.”
Wood, 49, a native of San Antonio, Texas never thought of being a mom growing up with her three brothers on United States Army military bases around the world, where her father was stationed. Today, she is a “super mom” giving her all in the name of her 13 gifts from God.
“I wanted to get married, but I didn’t want to have children,” she said. “I grew up in the 80’s when people thought children kept you from doing things.”
Her mother was a dedicated Catholic deeply devoted to the faith. She engrained the faith on the hearts and souls of her children.
Erika attended the University of Nebraska after high school pursuing studies and following in her father’s footsteps joining the Army Reserves. At this point, being away from her family and surrounded by friends of all beliefs and no beliefs at all, her faith was lukewarm, and she was practicing her faith half-heartedly.
During summer reserve training at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Erika met Dennis finishing up training. She was 19. He was 21 and a native of Vero Beach not affiliated with a religious organization.
“He asked me to marry him a week after we met,” said Erika. “He pestered me to marry him until I gave in,” she said.
The couple dated 18 months before obtaining a marriage license and officially tying the knot during a civil ceremony. Little did they know what God had in store.
Daughter Kristina arrived. Son Christopher came a year later. Erika nearly finished with college dropped out of school to take care of the babies. Then, she left the Army Reserves, which she dearly loved.
“Motherhood was so important to me,” she said. “It is the most important job you will ever do.”
She began reflecting on her own childhood, Catholic upbrings, her mother and the new responsibilities she faced.
“God knew to send me kids back to back,” said Erika. “It was through my children that I came back to my faith. I knew I had to witness faith and live it.”
As duty called, Erika talked to a priest. She and Dennis celebrated an official Catholic wedding in church, and at that moment she took up her journey of faith again walking with her children at her side and guiding them along the way.
Dennis left the Army in 1998. The family moved to the Fort Myers area, where Erika found St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres in the Diocese of Venice.
When Erika was pregnant with child number 10, Kristina, God answered Erika’s constant prayer. Dennis was baptized into the Church at the Easter vigil in 2007. “It was by the grace of God,” said Erika.
The family moved to rural Wauchula six years ago and found St. Michael, where Erika and her family spend a great deal of time involved in parish life and various ministry programs. Erika went back to school earning a psychology degree and has taken on many different jobs and roles at St. Michael over the years giving back.
“They are all good kids,” said Erica. “Dennis is a proud papa. He is a good father.”
The Wood’s 13 gifts from God, eight boys and five girls, are all shining lights in today’s dark world carrying names in honor of Christ the Lord. “We wanted to name them all after Christ,” said Erica.
The oldest, Kristina, is 28 and lived with the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará congregation for seven years recently discerning out of the community. Christopher, 27 is in his third year of formation and discernment to the priesthood with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Italy. Christian, 25, is married and has a 10-month-old son, Ambrose, the family’s first grandchild.
Christman is 22 and Christephen is 21 followed by 19-year-old twins Christamas and Christavis. The younger children are Kristandra, 18, Christavier, 16, Kristiana, 14, Kristamarie, 12, Christaidan, 10, and baby Kristabelle, 8.
“God is so good to me,” said Erika. “My kids are my greatest blessing, and now I am a grandma. They are all practicing Catholics and for that I am very thankful.”
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