Catholic Herald Staff
Anna Richardson keeps a certain photo in her office at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Ashland, where she is the director of religious education.
It is a picture from her visit to LifeTeen’s summer camp in the north Georgia mountains and serves as a reminder of the place and the people instrumental in her “strong reversion to the Catholic faith.”
She attended Camp Covecrest almost 20 years ago with a group of high schoolers led by TV personality Rachel Campos-Duffy, wife of former Congressman Sean Duffy, whom she has known since she babysat for the Duffys’ children when the family lived in Ashland.
“For me personally, (Rachel and Sean) were a huge impact on my faith journey,” Richardson said.
According to her, the couple played a pivotal role in rallying parents to start a youth group at Our Lady of the Lake. She said Campos-Duffy had grown up with the LifeTeen program in Mesa, Arizona, where it was founded.
When she came to Ashland and saw the need for youth to be mentored and motivated in their faith, she did something about it. Campos-Duffy is still involved in sharing her faith, albeit with broader focus and through varied means.
One way she has found to use her newfound platform is through a Fox Nation show, “Moms,” hosted on Fox News Channel’s on-demand, subscription-based streaming service. The show features a variety of topics related to motherhood and family life through conversations with small groups of women.
Campos-Duffy invited Richardson to participate in the Dec. 13 episode on the theme of “the religious potential of kids.”
The two discussed the topic with three other women focusing on the spiritual potential of children and the role that family, society and organized religion play in its development (or demise).
Filming at the Duffy home in Wausau, the show host reminded them to be comfortable and forthright in their sharing.
Richardson said the environment was very casual and natural; the film crew was good at “tucking the cameras” away so the women didn’t feel intimidated.
One starting point for the conversation was the affirmation made in multiple scientific and psychological studies and articles that there exists a positive connection between mental health, religious practices and personal prayer.
While four of the five women on the “Moms” episode were Catholic, one was not. The Ashland DRE said, even with different faiths being represented, “We could all agree that it’s better for kids to have the support system of a church and a church community” than not.
Richardson recounted that Campos-Duffy referred to the “God-sized hole that only he can fill,” paraphrasing St. Augustine’s famous line about a heart being restless until it rests in God.
She also appreciated the secular acknowledgement – through the content discussed and wide-reaching media format – of the universal experience that spirituality and religion can be seen as a positive, even amid negative pushback against certain teachings and beliefs.
One particular topic Richardson commented on was the fear of imposing religion on your children and was in reference to parents who expose their children to a variety of religions for them to choose personally.
“I think a lot of that comes from living in a culture where there is such an emphasis on tolerance that we’re scared to say we believe in anything,” Richardson voiced.
She added that the mere identification as a Catholic can be equated with mindsets or positions that are anything buy Catholic, “but that doesn’t mean that you should be nothing.
“It means that you should learn how to be confident in your faith.”
In her interview with the Catholic Herald, Richardson admitted, “I’m super confident talking about my faith in the church, but sometimes I fear I go too far in secular settings not wanting to offend anyone.”
The women also discussed how one’s own immediate family can be where greatest resistance to faith and its practice is felt. Their consensus was to remember “God is bigger than us, and as parents we can’t take the full responsibility on ourselves” of our children’s practice of the faith as they get older.
Some of their conclusions were to pray, but also to trust God. To keep the focus on relationships, not just on who is right or wrong. To work on passing on the whys behinds the whats of the faith, acknowledging that religion “doesn’t work” when it is reduced to following rules.
Overall, the experience of participating in the filming of the Fox Nation show has helped Richardson to feel more confident in talking about her faith in secular environments.
She sees the need to learn to talk about faith and religion in relatable terms, even when learned through trial and error.
“I have a renewed confidence in that – no matter what someone’s perspective is – everyone is searching for God,” she said.
“And I should never be afraid to share my experience in a loving way and not worry what they will think of me for sharing that.”
The mother of five knows, especially in a realistic and pluralistic world, mindsets wary of and antagonistic towards religion cannot be expected to change from one conversation or televised program.
“The more we can share the truth in love – the key word being “love” – we don’t need to be defensive or disappointed if there isn’t an immediate conversion.”
Richardson also noted the importance and attractiveness of authenticity in living out faith and religious practice.
“Sometimes we try to be God – like we need to fix (others) – and we forget that God is God, that he is searching and running after them,” she added.