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The Easley Family and the Holy Family

The Easley Family of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski embraces the Holy Family as part of their family.
Parents Jordan R. H. and Leah Elizabeth Easley, both 33 and converts to Catholicism, teach their daughter, Magdalena, nearly 2, that Jesus, Mary and Joseph are integral members of their family.
Before they became members of the Church at Easter 2016, the Easleys learned that they were infertile. “As the months turned into years with no children, we began to ask the Lord more intentionally, ‘What does it mean to be a family?’” Mr. Easley said. “And almost without knowing it, we began to realize that our values lined up with the Roman Catholic teaching on marriage and family. It was not up to us to control how God gave us children; it was up to us to obey.”
For them, that obedience meant care for the fatherless. Thus, through a long and arduous process with Department for Children and Families, they were matched with their son, Judah, in 2013.
In the two weeks that they cared for him, two moments stand out for Mr. Easley, a catechist at four area Catholic churches.
The first was their last night in the hospital. Judah had been cleared to go home with them the following morning, so the family had a private room where Mrs. Easley held him; her husband watched in wonder. “The room was charged with holy awe, like at the Nativity. I said to Leah, ‘This is the happiest moment of my life,’” he recalled.
The second moment came a few days later, when the Department for Children and Families took Judah away. (There is a time between when a child joins a family and when the adoption is finished during which the biological parents can change their minds.)
“In so short a span of time, I also came to the saddest moment of my life,”
he said.
In prayer, Mr. Easley said the Lord said, “Jordan, my family was there with you. My mother, Mary, and my [foster] father, Joseph, were in the hospital with you and Leah and Judah. They were weeping with you as you baptized him together. My family is my gift to your family.”
Since then, the Easleys have included the Holy Family in their prayers.
Mr. Easley consecrates himself and his family to the Holy Family every day.
The rosary is the foundation of his prayer life. “Every bead and every mystery is imbued with meaning,” said Mr. Easely who was raised in a Southern Baptist home in Memphis, Tenn. “I am learning to bring Mary and Joseph into every conversation that I have with Jesus. They are the best parents and prayer partners that I could ask for.”
His wife, a native of Rockport, Maine, is a religion teacher at Mater Christi School in Burlington. Her family attended a Presbyterian church for most of her childhood.
“Mary’s first role and Joseph’s first role is to bring us to their son and their son’s father,” she said. “There have been a few times in my life when I wasn’t able to pray, but, after talking with Mary or Joseph, even for only a minute or two, I could. In those moments, they bridged a chasm I could not bridge on my own.”
She sees Mary not so much as a role model as a co-parent. “We explicitly teach our daughter that Mary is her mother too, and we tell her she can always talk to Mary,” Mrs. Easley said. “When I fail as mother, I rest assured in the reality that she has a better Mother.”

Originally published in the 2017 summer issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
  • Published in Parish

Sewing at The Francis Center

A new sewing class at The Francis Center at St. Mark Parish in Burlington is humming along with nine students, all of African heritage.
Their reasons for joining the four-Saturday-morning class include making their own clothing, making alterations for themselves and their family members, making gifts and teaching others to sew.
One woman, a Muslim, wants to make a hijab for her daughter.
“It’s simple” to make the Islamic headscarf, said volunteer sewing teacher Laurie Browne of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, owner of the Triple Loop costume shop in Essex Junction.
“I like to share what I know about sewing,” she continued. “My faith calls me to share those gifts. It’s part of who I am.”
The sewing students gather with two teachers and other helpers for two or three hours each week. They speak various languages, and Claudine Nkurinziza of Winooski, one of the sewing students, translates.
This is her first time taking a sewing class. “It’s expensive to pay someone to sew your clothes,” she said. “I like the experience of learning and this opportunity to try something new.”
Eleven-year-old Jessica Mujawimana, a sixth grader at St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, is the youngest of the sewing students. “It’s very cool,” she said of her first sewing experience. “I don’t have to ask other people to sew clothes for me.”
In some African cultures, men sew as a job, not women.
Sharon Brown of St. Francis Xavier Parish, a parish nurse, coordinates CARES Catholic Network, a cooperative health and wellness ministry of St. Francis Xavier Parish and St. Mark Parish with pastors Msgr. Richard Lavalley and Father Dallas St. Peter, respectively. She helps with the class under the CARES umbrella and said some women buy African fabric for $20 for a simple dress then must pay someone about $80 to make it: “The dresses are out of their budget.”
At the sewing class, the students work with donated fabric and on donated used sewing machines. Stephen Richer of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Burlington, a former Singer Sewing Machine Co. service manager, spent about 30 hours refurbishing the 18 portable machines that were donated in various conditions. “I had the know-how, and they needed someone to do it,” he commented. “If I can help people, I’ll help. It’s how I was brought up in my faith and in my family.”
Richer said a new machine would cost more than $100; but the sewing class participants will receive a class sewing machine at the successful completion of the program (one per household).
One of the sewing teachers, Marie Boisvert of Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington, is an experienced seamstress. “God gave me that talent,” she said. “I give of myself wherever I can.”
Jessica, the 11-year-old student, likes the sewing teachers, describing them as helpful, patient and experienced.
“It’s nice they are helping everyone no matter our race or religion or background,” Nkurinziza said. “They see us all as people wanting to learn.”
Students and volunteers, Brown said, are learning more about what they have in common, not focusing on their differences. “Muslim women are working with Catholic women, holding each other’s children and talking about their shared interest in sewing.” (Childcare is provided.)
They are all stitching together friendships and realizing, as Brown said, “We are women. We sew. This is our bond.”
For more information or to donate materials or funds, contact Brown at 802-922-2958 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Msgr. Lavalley's special devotion

A few days before Msgr. Richard G. Lavalley was ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington in 1964, his spiritual director and confessor went to his seminary room and gave him a five-by-seven-inch picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He told the Rutland native he hoped on the day of his ordination he would consecrate his priesthood to Our Lady under this title.
He did.
And his devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help continues.
Now pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, he begins each day standing in his room in front of an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; he recites a special prayer, asking for her help to do his priestly work.
The icon depicts Jesus as a child, in the arms of his mother, with one small hand in her hand. Symbolically Msgr. Lavalley places his hand between theirs.
The Byzantine icon is believed to have its origin in the 13th-15th Century.
Above the mother and child are the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hovering in the upper corners. They hold the instruments of the Passion: St. Michael holds the spear, the wine-soaked sponge and the crown of thorns. St. Gabriel holds the cross and the nails.
The Child Jesus is depicted as contemplating the vision of His future Passion: Frightened by the vision, he had run to his mother for consolation, not stopping to fasten his sandal. “She is His perpetual help,” Msgr. Lavalley said, explaining, “Whatever God has in store for us – sometimes laughter sometimes tears, sometimes Good Friday, sometimes Easter Sunday – it is God’s will. Our Lady stands with you.”
He continued, “If we give ourselves to Our Lady, she will be there” at all the events of life.
Msgr. Lavalley attended Christ the King School in Rutland where his first-grade teacher, the late Sister Bridget Moroney, a Sister of St. Joseph, had a profound influence on his life and became a lifelong friend. He sent her a dozen red roses each Christmas until she died to thank her for a wonderful first grade.
The Lavalley family moved to Burlington when he was beginning sixth grade, a decision that troubled him because he wanted to attend Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland for high school. Little did he know, that after his ordination he would spend 18 years at the school.
Instead of MSJ, he graduated from Cathedral High School in 1955 then attended seminary in Arkansas and Pennsylvania. He began his priestly ministry at St. Peter Church in Rutland and years later served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Northfield. A former vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington, he has served as a teacher at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, was a teacher and the principal at Mount St. Joseph Academy and was a chaplain at Norwich University in Northfield and chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy in Burlington.
Now 80 and the oldest pastor in the diocese, Msgr. Lavalley often preaches about Our Lady and relates his appreciation of the Annunciation. “She gives us the key to holiness. It’s one word: Yes,” he said. “Every time we say ‘yes’ to God, we are imitating Our Lady. Every time we say ‘yes’ to God, Jesus happens again in us.”
After the Annunciation, the angel left Mary, and “she let God be in charge; she had trust in Him,” he said.
People are called to be saints, he emphasized, and Our Lady can help by interceding through her prayer. “We do not worship her. We worship only God. We honor her; we honor the saints.”
As he looks to the future, Msgr. Lavalley keeps Our Lady close. “I don’t want to retire. I love what I do,” he said. “We desperately need priests…and that’s what I am, a priest.”
He loves being a priest because of the sacramental life of the Church and because of his community. “I love the people. I love this parish,” he said. “And for the most part, they love me. I know that, and I feel that.”
So, he said, “If Our Lady gives me some time, (I) will use it…for just being a parish priest.”
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