Gifts from Heaven: Providence in Our Family
by Tom and Mary Hartmann
from the Introduction
“Providence thinks of me much more (indeed very much more) than I think of it. I keep it present for a few moments in my day. It keeps me present all the day long.” Igino Giordani (Diary of Fire, London: New City, 1981, p. 19)
When we got married some forty-five years ago, in our hearts we felt a strong desire, a calling, to have a large family. We thought of thirteen as our lucky number, so why not aim for thirteen children? We were young and rash and very generous. We both believed that God would take care of us and our children, no matter how many he would send us.
We also believed that a human person is the most precious treasure in creation and that every child is a unique and divine gift. We understood the great privilege of cooperating with God in bringing such gifts into the world.
Right from the start Providence gave us a push. When we figured out our budget for the wedding, we found that we had enough money to pay only for Mary’s ring, which was elegant but not expensive. We had nothing left to buy one for Tom. Even though we had hoped for a double-ring ceremony, we were willing to settle for one rather than postpone the wedding. So we picked up Mary’s ring at Macy’s department store a few days before the wedding. When we came outside we were waiting at the traffic light when Tom looked down and saw something shiny at the curb. He picked it up and said, “Hey, Mary, look what I found! A gold ring!” She said, “Try it on! See if it fits!” Sure enough, Tom was able to slip it onto his ring finger with no trouble. “It must have slipped off the finger of some man so old his body was shrinking,” Tom said. But Mary was more cautious: “Look inside to see if there is a name in it.” Tom took it off, looked inside, and read: “ ‘14K Craftsmith.’ Do you think that’s someone’s name? Or the brand name?” Mary thought it must be a brand and said, “It must have fallen from heaven! I think God wants us both to have rings at our wedding.” The strange sensation that ran down our spines told us that our marriage plans were not ours alone.
We keep this aim at the center of our spiritual life: to do what we perceive to be the will of God. We chose the kinds of work we did because we felt called to them as a woman or man might be called to religious life in a convent or monastery. Deep inside, we felt that each of us was made to serve others in a specific way: Mary as a nurse and Tom as a teacher. Tom had finished his studies and had already been teaching for several years when we had our first child, and Mary had only one semester to go to finish her nursing degree.
After our son arrived, Tom was able to get a sabbatical leave with full pay for the spring term, so he could be free to stay at home and take care of the baby while Mary finished her studies to become a registered nurse. When she graduated in June she was pregnant with our second child.
The years went by and the children kept coming. After almost twenty years of marriage, we had ten — five boys and five girls. Tom’s siblings set a precedent. Before we got married, his older sister already had eight — four boys and four girls — and his younger brother had six — three boys and three girls. We all felt happy, blessed to have large families.
Even though we never got the thirteen children we hoped for, the number thirteen was always special in our family. Mary was born on the thirteenth day of the month, as were four of our children. Some thought this was unlucky, but we didn’t. Not that we didn’t feel unlucky sometimes, for we had our moments of feeling inadequate as parents. At times the continuous demands on our time and energy felt overwhelming.
Almost every term Tom had to teach an extra course at night and two more during summer session as well. Most months we had to struggle to pay all our bills. When things got really tight, Mary would work part time at the local hospital.
People frequently asked, “How can you take care of so many kids?” We would respond, “God gives each person the grace that he or she needs: when we had one child, we got the grace to be parents of one, and when we had ten, we got the grace to handle ten. Thank God, the kids came one at a time!” We often wondered how parents could manage with twins or triplets. What helped us the most was this: we were regularly lifted up and encouraged by the concrete help we received from God’s generosity, what we called Providence. We really believed what Jesus said applied to us: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). This faith brought us much peace and much joy.
About the Authors
Mary is a registered nurse and a holistic health educator. She has worked with families for over twenty years in schools for children with special needs. Tom is Professor Emeritus of English and Religion at Brooklyn College, CUNY, where he worked for over forty years. They have been married for over forty years and have ten children and twenty grandchildren.