Four years ago, Maria Mercedes Gaviria was living a full and busy life, with two children, a job as a global leader with a company she had been with for over 28 years, and a growing Holy Week Mercy Mission apostolate in Cincinnati. Then, all of a sudden it seemed, her life felt like it had been turned upside down.
In 2018, after attending her niece’s wedding, in a transition that felt like it occurred overnight, Maria was catapulted into the unexpected role of caring for her mother, Lucia. Although she had always helped her mom, who had up until that point been living independently, with some of the various aspects of her life, like finances, healthcare, and odd chores, she now found herself as her mother’s full-time caregiver, all while continuing to care for her own family and maintaining her professional role. During the two years that Lucia lived with Maria and her family, they experienced myriad challenges, including cancer and a dozen other healthcare issues; long hospital stays; palliative care, in-home, and near-hospice care; COVID infections, intricate decision making, and the complicated insurance and financial issues that come with complex healthcare.
During this difficult time, however, Maria felt continuously blessed and supported by her Regnum Christi family, her parish community, and her personal and professional network. Here she found valuable expertise, experience, and accompaniment from individuals – including a spiritual director, a psychologist, a mentor, a coach, a Catholic health counselor, and her entire RC family – who served as her pillars of strength, wisdom, hope, encouragement, and spiritual nourishment. But in speaking with friends experiencing similar challenges, Maria became aware that not everyone had the same access to the type of resources and network that Maria had had through own spiritual, personal, and professional life. “Becoming a caregiver to an elderly parent is a role that often hits us unexpectedly,” says Maria. “Many of us begin without even realizing that we’re assuming the caregiver role, and without really being taught how to navigate or manage.”
Meanwhile, Maria’s daughter, Natasha, was having similar thoughts, and while the two were on a walk together, Natasha, a former clinical therapist and social worker and current online business owner with expertise in the development of online communities, shared that God had been moving in her heart the desire to help other caregivers of elderly parents. After spending time researching and speaking with caregivers and experts in the field, Maria and Natasha recognized a significant lack of support for the caregivers themselves; the resources available tended to focus on the elderly receiving care, without taking into account the needs of the caregivers tasked with this often complicated and difficult role. Combining their desire to serve caregivers, Natasha’s expertise, and Maria’s experience in human development and formation, as well as leveraging her Master’s in Catholic Theology, the pair set out to create the Catholic Caregiver Community, a one-of-a-kind ministry created to serve those who find themselves in the complex and sometimes entirely unexpected role of caring for their aging parents, helping them to navigate the many emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual challenges that come along with it. As members journey through this caregiving role, the community provides weekly guidance, counsel and relatable accompaniment, as well as concrete support through actionable techniques, tactics, and tools, all aimed at helping caregivers to restore balance in their lives, regain control of their actions, and care for their loved ones with confidence. Through monthly talks and meditations led by priests, religious, or lay people including Legionary priests, Consecrated Women, or lay Regnum Christi members, caregivers are invited to encounter Christ and connect their caregiver role to a greater purpose, aligned with their Catholic faith. “With the proper support and tools, caring for an elderly parent is a beautiful and fruitful vocation that transcends beyond their relationship and even impacts generations to come,” says Maria. “Ultimately, we hope that they lean into their faith by acknowledging that they have been chosen to be a caregiver to their mom and dad and through this experience to deepen their relationship with Christ.”
One of the members of the Catholic Caregivers Community who has benefitted from the ministry is a woman who, like Maria, had an active and busy life when she found herself, in the midst of 2020, unexpectedly taking on the role of her mother’s full-time caregiver. Over the course of the next two years, the woman’s career and retirement plans, her personal life, her relationships with her immediate family and friends, and her spiritual life, became reprioritized. Waking up one day, she realized that her life was going in a completely different direction than she had planned, and that the role of caregiving had her completely overwhelmed. After stumbling across the Catholic Caregiver Community on Facebook and becoming a member, she was able to access practical and easy-to-apply tactics, powerful meditation videos, and most importantly, a community that understood exactly what she was going through. “Through the Catholic Caregiver Community, my mindset has totally changed, and I don’t view my role as a burden, but as a vocation. It’s like having a therapist, a coach, a spiritual director, and a best friend all in the course of one month,” she says. “As a result, I am kinder to myself, and a better caregiver to my mom.”
For Maria and Natasha, their vocations and charism as Regnum Christi members have been the driving force behind this ministry. The ongoing formation, accompaniment, and spiritual direction they received allowed them to hear God’s call for this mission to serve and meet the needs of a growing population of individuals (currently, there are approximately 42 million adults caring for a family member in the United States alone), as well as giving them the courage to respond to it. “One of the most beautiful charisms of RC members is radiating joy and peace in every encounter,” says Maria. “When we developed The Catholic Caregiver Community, we wanted to ensure that our members feel that same charism with every encounter with our ministry.”
And, of course, Maria’s experience caring for her own mom, gave her the experience and insight to carry out this mission with true empathy and compassion. “Over the past three years, I have had a complex, challenging, diverse, overwhelming caregiving experience with my mom, and little did I know that God was preparing me for my next apostolate!”
Recently, Maria honored her mom’s wish and helped her move back to her home country of Colombia, where Lucia now lives in a Catholic assisted living community. Besides developing The Catholic Caregiver Community, she and Natasha combined their expertise in branding, digital marketing, and technology to establish Aspen & Oliva, a personal branding and lifestyle agency anchored by faith.
To find out more information about the Catholic Caregiver Community, visit the website at catholiccaregivercommunity.com, and as a special offer, all Regnum Christi Lay members who are caregivers will receive a 25% discount off the cost of the membership (when signing up for an individual account, enter the code RC25).