At 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, Monica Weisenfels’ alarm rings. She’ll generally snooze another 30 minutes, but when she and her husband Brandon must get eight children under the age of 10 to 8 a.m. Mass, there’s no more hitting the alarm.
Everyone needs to take their medications due to scars from a life vastly different from their current existence. The family doesn’t have time for breakfast, but donuts are the reward after Mass. However, the family decided to give up donuts for Lent.
“We don’t have any bribery for church anymore,” Brandon laughed.
“There’s a lot of chaos and running around. Sometimes we have kids going to church in their PJs or no shoes. But we make it somehow,” Monica said.
For the Weisenfels, parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Church in Jonesboro, it’s just a snippet of their beautifully imperfect life that’s been blessed with eight miracles the past seven years through fostering and adopting. “Making it somehow” could easily be the family mantra, but they are “making it” with God’s unfailing help.
On Feb. 20, the Weisenfels adopted biological siblings Isabelle, 10, Jacob, 5, and Anna María, 2. They previously adopted biological siblings Autumn, 10, Tiffany, 9, Brandon Allen, 7, Veronica, 5, and Augustine, 3.
Brandon, director of Catholic Campus Ministry at Blessed John Newman University Parish at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, married Monica, who taught pre-K on and off for 20 years, in July 1996.
“I knew I wanted a big family ... I come from a family of nine,” Monica said, with Brandon adding, “I said four and she said seven.”
For 17 years the couple tried to conceive, even going to the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska “to see why we weren’t getting pregnant,” Monica said. They then realized God was calling them to adopt.
“We went through several organizations we found it was way too expensive for us to afford,” but with fostering through the state Department of Human Services, there was little cost, Brandon said.
The couple decided they would foster two children, but on Feb. 14, 2012, they were asked to foster three siblings, ages 3, 2 and six weeks old (Autumn, Tiffany and Brandon). Monica was teaching at Blessed Sacrament School when her husband called.
“I said, ‘Well, let’s pray about it,’ but he said ‘no they’re coming today if we agree.’ I was like wow. It was quite a shock, but it was such a blessing,” Monica said. “… By the time I got home from work that day our living room and outside our house had beds, clothes, food and all kinds of stuff,” from friends, family and fellow parishioners.
The children came from an abusive home, and the youngest had medical issues from drug exposure in utero. Trips to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock became routine, Brandon said. They adopted them in December 2012.
“We didn’t know how to make a bottle, we didn’t know what they ate,” he said. “It’s like bringing home newborn triplets, but we didn’t have nine months to prepare for it. You know if you have a good marriage or not after the first two days … It also strengthened us a lot,” he said.
They then fostered their two other siblings, Veronica and Augustine, who were age 2½ and a newborn at the time.
About two and half years ago, they fostered Isabelle and Jacob. Anna Maria was not yet born.
“I prayed a lot,” on whether to foster and adopt her too, Monica said. “The last words I heard from God were ‘May she be yours as you are mine.’ I said alright God, as long as you are here with me. We can’t do it on our own.”
One child attends Blessed Sacrament School, while the other school-age children are spread out across three public schools to fit their unique medical needs: ADHD due to meth use, reactive attachment disorder from major trauma, oppositional defiant disorder and anxiety.
“If it wasn’t for our faith, we couldn’t have done it at all. At one point after the first three we said, ‘Oh, we can’t do this.’ Then the phone call came for two more brothers and sisters. … You have to take care of the orphans. That’s one of our major calls of the Church,” Brandon said.
Despite their struggles, each child brings something special to the family, Monica said: Autumn is shy, but will open up once she finds someone is listening; Isabelle loves Jesus and wants to be a religious sister one day; Tiffany has a kind heart and sensitive demeanor; Brandon Allen is a mover who enjoys caring for his sisters and mother; Jacob is a ball of energy until he’s ready to cuddle; Veronica is friendly, with a spunky energy that will have anyone laughing with her giggles and stories; Augustine is on the move, but loves observing, learning and watching the priest celebrate Mass; and the youngest Anna María sweetly says “Hi” to anyone she meets.
“Isabelle told me once that she was glad they got to come live with us because they get to learn about God and they didn’t know about a God before,” Monica said, recalling special moments.
Monica stays home, selling Usborne books online and Brandon is grateful to be leading college students, who have both prayed for and babysat his children.
The family finds free activities like going to the local nature center, park, library programs and watching movies together, as well as family prayer time.
For now, the Weisenfels family is done expanding, as the state does not allow fostering in a home with eight children under 18.
“It’s not an easy process but to me as Catholics, especially being pro-life, it is what it means to be pro-life,” he said.
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