As Father Kevin Peek, prison and Army chaplain for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, remembers, supper time growing up was quite the supernatural experience.
“My parents, Joseph and Mary, took the Catholic faith very seriously and integrated it deeply into their lives,” the priest said. “The Angelus was our blessing for meals. Even when we had friends over, we would still pray it as a witness to them, whether they were Catholic or not. During dinner, my dad would read articles from the National Catholic Register or the Homilitic Pastoral Review and discuss them with us in a purposeful and engaging way.”
After supper, the Peeks — all 13 of them — would crowd around a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in their living room and pray a family Rosary. “We did not have a television, so that kept distraction away — our home was like a sanctuary away from the world,” Father Peek recalled. “This created an atmosphere of recollection (as much as there can be with 11 kids running through the house) and drove us outdoors and into nature. As Thomas Jefferson said, ‘The man that is closest to the sod is closest to God.’ As a result, I believe, we all became great soccer players; six of us played college soccer, and four won national titles.”
Daughter Rose Bernard treasures her unique childhood memories and is trying to live out what her parents taught her as she raises her own large family.
“My parents raised us with a good balance of discipline, faith and fun. My mom read us the lives of the saints each morning before school, and she really wanted us to live out their virtues. To this day, I love reading about the lives of the saints with my own kids,” she said.
“Our hands were kept busy with mountains of laundry and dishes. We held jump-rope contests, skated with strapped-on metal skates, played lots of games outside and rode bikes. Sometimes we were treated to jazz tunes my dad would play on the piano as we cleaned. We also loved traveling as a family and Christmas caroling,” she added.
The Peeks made the sacraments the heart of their family life, attending daily Mass and adoration often, especially on First Fridays and special occasions.
“On our birthdays, my parents would make us go to Mass at 6:30am,” Father Peek explained. “And some days, my mom would see who wanted to come to Mass with her and then surprise those who didn’t complain about it and came along out to a great pancake breakfast” afterward.
As Catholics on fire for their faith, visits to shrines made regular family vacations, and some of the teenage Peeks went on a pilgrimage to Fatima.
And, some years, the Peeks drove from their home in Atlanta all the way to the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
“From early on, my parents were adamant about being pro-life,” Father Peek said. “One way they lived it out was by having 11 kids and making it something blessed and enjoyable. We had our struggles, but as kids we bonded together, and it was an incredible experience. As Scott Hahn says, the greatest gift you can give your child is another child.”
They also could often be found praying outside of abortion businesses. Furthermore, authentic Catholic education was a priority for the Peeks, and they financed an education to Christendom College for some of their children.
Making life interesting was also characteristic of Joseph and Mary Peek.
“One night my dad, who was a pilot, came home from a flight with 11 people from Guatemala,” Bernard recalled. “It was a group of young children and a few adults who were part of a surgery-outreach program. My dad, who was fluent in Spanish, agreed to help connect them to their host families. We ended up taking in two of them for about two years.”
“My dad would talk to anyone, and he spread respect for the dignity of life wherever he went,” Bernard added. “One time, I watched him as he shook a young man’s hand at a gate in an airport. This man was dressed in all black and wore a ripped sleeveless shirt, a chain for a belt, several earrings and a Mohawk ... it was my dad’s way, after all.”
And, according to Mary, being courageous was also characteristic of her “Peek parenting.”
“As a parent, you have to pray for a lot of discernment and be willing to take a stand on issues for the sake of your children. You can’t just let your kids do this or that because everyone else is letting their kids do it. If you pray about everything and try to stay faithful, not caring what people may say about you, it will pay off,” is her sage advice.
These days, Mary (Joseph is recently deceased) is enjoying the fruit of their parental labors. Along with Father Peek, another son became a priest, and one daughter is a cloistered Carmelite nun. The other children are all in service-oriented vocations, busy living the joy of being Catholic and caring for 41 grandchildren.
“Even though we were out and about in the world, we knew our faith very well,” Father Peek commented. “My parents went the extra mile for us, and they taught us that the true meaning and purpose of life is to serve God and others.”
Amanda Evinger writes from Bismarck, North Dakota.