One of my favorite parts of my job at the Catholic Herald is meeting amazingly inspiring people living out their faith, and being able to share their stories with our readers. While it’s fun to report on high profile people, I find I am generally most moved by everyday people whose lives are a testament to the depth of their faith.
Such is the case this issue with the story of the Jurgens family from Shorewood, and specifically 18-year-old Maureen “Mo” and her mother, Kate. And, the story even has a bit of celebrity appeal with the fact that an NBA standout, Steve Novak, has been a quiet presence in the family’s life, offering hope and friendship.
A seemingly typical Irish, Catholic family of six, Mom is a registered nurse; Dad, Brian, an optometrist, and the kids, ranging in age from 20 to 12 are students at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Marquette University, Dominican High School and St. Robert School. Longtime members of St. Robert Parish, Shorewood, they are involved in the parish and community.
While their life seems normal on the surface, they’ve dealt with a medical mystery since the day Mo was born, that has led to 27 surgeries for the young woman, hundreds of doctors’ visits and numerous trips to the emergency department. Finally, about eight years ago, they were given a medical diagnosis for her condition which, at that time, didn’t even have a name. While the diagnosis answered some questions, they still live with the ever-present effects and challenges of the rare connective tissue disease now referred to as Loeys Dietz Syndrome.
As with so many of the inspiring people I have been fortunate to meet, the Jurgens family doesn’t waste time on a “woe is me attitude” or wonder why God would have sent such a burden their way. Rather, they look upon their situation as one where God does not give people more than they can handle, and, according to Kate, she believes her nursing background makes her especially chosen to be Mo’s mother – and her nurse.
Since Mo was born, Kate had been keeping detailed notes and was journaling about her daughter’s condition. Late last year, she published their story in a 415-page book titled, “Mo: A Loeys Dietz Syndrome Memoir.”
It’s a story about the medical challenges of the disease, but above all, it’s a testament to a family’s faith and their reliance on God to help guide them through its challenges.
For example, two days before Mo was to undergo a serious heart surgery, the family was notified it would have to be postponed because a newborn needing surgery bumped Mo out of her scheduled spot. While the family was disappointed, worried and even angry about the postponement, in her book Kate described Mo’s reaction.
“What if something happens to me?” 10-year-old Mo asked her mom, the first time Kate had heard her question that possibility out loud.
But as they discussed the wait with Mo, the young girl asked, “Mom, if the baby had to wait for me, would that baby die?”
“Quite possibly,” Kate answered.
After a long pause, Mo said, “Okay, I’m okay with the switch then. I’m still mad, but I want the baby to be okay. I’ll pray for the baby tonight.”
During October, when the church acknowledges its respect for all life, the Jurgens’ story is particularly poignant.
As Kate noted during an interview, of her four children, Mo was the only one where an ultrasound was not done before birth. An ultrasound – not routine during pregnancies at the time – would have likely alerted the couple to some of Mo’s conditions, yet Kate emphatically said the information would not have changed anything.
“Deep down, as I reflect on the past many years, I think part of me was wary of what pictures may have appeared on an ultrasound screen had I persisted in badgering my OBGYN (into having an ultrasound),” wrote Kate in her book. “Would the grainy, gray images have illustrated an unwell heart or a gaping wound where a button nose and a pair of miniature rosebud lips should have been? It wouldn’t have changed how I would have carried the pregnancy. I wouldn’t not have had the baby.”
I hope that as you read the Jurgens’ story you’ll be as moved as I on the way they live life with the cards they’ve been dealt, but always placing full faith in God who they believe will carry them through the hard times.
Also this issue, as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee plans to celebrate Catholic education with a Nov. 2 “Walk for Soles” at Mount Mary University, we introduce you to the Singh family who, while not Catholic, have found a second family in their children’s Catholic school, St. Francis, Lake Geneva.
The children dealt with an unspeakable tragedy at their family’s Sikh temple in August 2012, but they were among the heroes of the day – and in the days that followed, their Catholic school family was there to celebrate their actions and help them move on with their lives.Read their storyand read more about the Soles for Education walk.
Grab your walking shoes! Hope you’ll join the thousands of other Catholic school supporters on Nov. 2! Maryangela Layman Román