By Ed Lis
Special to The CS&T
WEST CHESTER – The path that John and Beth McGrory took first – foster parenting and eventually adopting brothers Jonathon, 9, and Brandon, 7 – was filled with anxious and at times frustrating moments.
But their deep faith in God and support of family and friends allowed the couple, parishioners of St. Maximilian Kolbe in West Chester, Chester County, to open their hearts for this unexpected direction for their lives to become reality. They admit it was not easy.
“We never gave up because we came to believe that it was God’s will that we adopt and raise these two boys as our own,” John said. “Many wonderful people came together to make it possible. God has a plan for each of us, and we’ve learned that His plan for us was so radically different than what we had thought.”
John and Beth first considered becoming foster parents when Beth overheard a college friend speaking about her own experience. She told John about it, and they decided to contact Catholic Social Services to become certified as foster care parents. Their motivation was simply to help other families having difficulties until they could be together again, but things unfolded differently than expected.
During this time they had two miscarriages, and the day after their second loss they found out they had been certified by CSS as prospective foster care parents. Ten days later, they were contacted about Jonathan, who at the time was 2 years old and living at St. Vincent’s Home in Tacony. The day they met Jonathon was special.
“We heard the pitter-patter of his feet walking up the steps of St. Vincent’s Home and the anticipation in our hearts waiting until he turned the corner and looked at us, and to be honest we fell in love with him from that moment,” Beth said.
“We knew that the goal of foster care is reunification with the child’s family of origin, and that we were there to provide support for both Jonathon and his birth mother, yet we sensed that somehow this was going to be more than short-term.”
Several weeks after Jonathan came home with them, they found out that his mom had given birth to another little boy named Brandon, and they were asked if they would be willing to care for him as well to keep the brothers together.
A few weeks later Brandon joined his brother in the McGrory home, and five months later, Beth became pregnant with Megan, born a year and 2 days after Brandon. They learned that Beth was pregnant with Annie on Megan’s first birthday.
“Having three children and a fourth on the way within 13 months was a whirlwind to say the least,” John said. “We learned first hand that God works in mysterious ways, and has a good sense of humor.”
It gradually became clear that the boys were unlikely ever to return to their biological parents, but it took more than five years before John and Beth were able to adopt them and finally give them the stable home life they deserved.
Those years included visits twice a month with their birth mother, along with over a dozen court hearings to determine what was in the children’s best interests. John and Beth credit the ongoing advocacy of CSS staff as helping them to persevere faithfully.
Another key, according to the McGrorys, was the unfailing and even heroic support of family and friends.
“We’ve received tremendous assistance from our family and friends, whose constant prayers and support brought us to where we are today,” John said. “We feel very fortunate that God has blessed us with such a wonderful group of people to embrace and surround our family with such love and care.”
They encourage other couples to consider the vocation of foster care and adoption and stress the importance of being flexible and open to God’s plan as it unfolds.
“We have come to see this as our vocation, as God’s calling in our life as a family,” Beth said.
Edward J. Lis is the director of Catholic Mission Integration for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Secretariat for Catholic Human Services.