I first met Kim Heilman as the newly married Mrs. Heilman, Old Testament religion teacher at St. Mary’s High School in Bismarck. She had a BA in Art History and English literature and an MA in Catholic studies and had lived through cultural relativism, coming out on the other end embracing her Catholic faith. It was a journey, however, in which she had to break off an engagement and cling to Catholic teachings no matter the cost.
This is about Kim Heilman’s choice. I am condensing her story here, which first appeared in the book Amazing Grace for Families. You can read her first-person account at her new blog, Musings from the Home.
First Sign of Trouble
The trouble began two months before her departure when her fiancé Brian insisted on getting married in his Protestant church. “It surprised me how much it bothered me,” Kim explained. “Even though I had long ago ceased to be a true Catholic, I had harbored little-girl fantasies of getting married in my hometown parish.”
Her friend Jason noticed her long face that evening. He suggested that Kim go to confession to feel better.
“Confession? If I had not been so down, I might have laughed. I did not even remember how to go, it had been so long,” she said.
But Jason was not deterred. “Tomorrow night at seven. The Newman Center. See you there.” Kim showed up at the appointed time, confessed her sins — or at least all the ones she could remember to jot down in her notes — and a door opened that would soon lead her to a new world.
Two months later, Kim was on a plane to Athens, Greece, to study abroad for her final semester of college. The couple had cried when she boarded the plane, hating to be separated for so long. Yet Kim was excited for the adventure before her.
The first stop, Greece, was enthralling, although getting hit by a taxi in Athens during a morning jog would hinder Kim’s activity. She missed out on some of the sightseeing while resting her injured knee, then rejoined the group on a limited basis for a trip to the ruins of Mycenae.“Instead of climbing all over the ruins, I simply had to sit at the gates and wait for them to return,” she said. “I limped over to a stone wall facing the sunset and slumped down, resting my head against the rock.” Her friend Jason noticed and dropped off some prayer cards to keep her busy.
Kim put them aside and reflected. She was learning more about the Catholic Church on the trip and finding deep meaning in its teachings. She wanted to share it with Brian, but he was unenthused.
“He especially did not understand the Church’s teaching on contraception,” Kim said. “He could not accept that I was suddenly making an issue out of this. We loved one another, we were going to get married, but were not ready to have children — end of story, for him. Neither of us had a true understanding of love as sacrifice. To us, the physical union of a man and woman was nothing more than expressing one’s emotions.”
Kim began to open her eyes to the beauty of the Church’s teachings. “I wanted to say yes to God, but it was complicated. Sitting on the mountainside with my painful knee and mulling over my relationship, I felt depressed.”
It occurred to her to pray. She flipped through the prayer cards and stopped on St. Raphael the Archangel, the patron saint of healing and of marriages. She prayed the prayer on the back and felt as if St. Raphael was sitting right next to her.
After a few moments, the group began to climb down the ruins, heading back to the bus. Kim stood up to make her way back too. To her surprise, the pain in her knee had completely disappeared. “Nothing like this had ever happened to me before,” Kim said. “I could walk without pain. God must have healed me! I couldn’t wait to share this amazing event with Brian.”
Brian was not impressed, claiming that the saints were just dead humans unable to help anyone. Still, Kim continued learning and embracing the faith. The professors leading the group were a Benedictine sister and the other a Catholic convert. Kim’s friend Jason, in addition to offering extensive reading, also filled her with a new understanding of the Catholic faith in a short time.
“When I learned about Natural Family Planning as a completely natural way for couples to understand their fertility and embrace its cycle in union with God’s natural plan, I instantly quit taking birth control and began praying the rosary,” Kim said.
Guess who was not excited about that? “My two loves were opposed to one another,” Kim said. “I wanted to give myself fully to both of them but felt ripped apart. Every night, I soaked my pillow with tears.”
While in Rome, Brian emailed Kim. If she refused to use contraception, there was no way their relationship would work out. By this time, there was no way Kim was going to turn her back on Catholic teaching. It had to be over.
Following her Heart
Kim’s family did not understand what had happened to her and thought she was making a big mistake breaking off her engagement. She felt so alone. Being suddenly single and unsure of her future, Kim enrolled for a master’s degree in Catholic Studies with the University of St. Thomas.
The following summer, Kim met Shawn, a recent graduate from college who was just returning to the Catholic faith. They immediately hit it off and talked until dawn. “When Kim heard he had not gone to confession in many years, she told him he needed to go. “I expected never hear from him again,” she said.
Instead, the following week Shawn called. “I went to confession. Can I come over and see you now?”
After a few casual dates, Kim gave Shawn the book Good News About Sex & Marriage by Christopher West, which outlines the Catholic teaching, derived from Scripture, on the role of sex in marriage. She informed him that if their relationship was to go further, he would need to agree with everything in the book. Two days later he had read the book cover to cover. “Okay, when can we start dating?” he asked.
They’ve been happily married for 12 years now and are the parents to six children with another on the way. They never would have married at all and there likely would be a few less children in the world, if Kim had not chosen God over contraception. “I was willing to give up everything to follow God,” Kim said. “But instead, God has blessed me more than I could have ever imagined.”
Copyright 2018 Patti Maguire Armstrong