If you have even a smidgeon of Latin in your background, you might assume from a recent news item concerning Anne DeSantis being named director of the St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation that it is a pro-life group, since Nonnatus translates as “not born.”
Well, the members of the foundation most certainly are pro-life but it has nothing to do with the name.
St. Raymond, who was a 13th century Mercedarian friar active in the ransoming of Christians held captive by Muslims in 13th century Spain, received his surname in an unusual way. He was like Shakespeare’s MacDuff, “untimely ripped from his mother’s womb.” In St. Raymond’s case, he was removed from his mother’s womb after her sudden death.
The St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation is a very young Mercedarian ministry headquartered in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. At this time its initial focus is spiritual counseling for the divorced. Other outreach programs are sure to follow.
According to its website, the foundation cites “the breakdown of the family as the major source of spiritual erosion in our day and time.”
The ministry that DeSantis leads is directed to “individuals, children and families wounded by divorce (to) help them sustain or reconcile their redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ and his holy church. As needed, we will walk with the family to achieve forgiveness and healing,” the site read.
DeSantis, who lives is Skippack, Montgomery County and is a member of Corpus Christi Parish, Lansdale, is married to Angelo DeSantis. They have two daughters: Alaine, a theology major at De Sales University; and Shawn, a communication major at Gwynedd Mercy University.
DeSantis herself earned her B.S. from Gwynedd, with further studies at the Church Ministry Institute at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary from which she graduated in 2012. She is now pursuing studies in theology online through St. Joseph College of Maine.
A school teacher by first profession, DeSantis quit to become a full-time mother after her children were born. She home-schooled them all the way through high school by utilizing the St. Thomas Academy Home School program supplemented by visits to JMJ Homeschoolers at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown.
After her children were in college DeSantis worked for a time in the field of cosmetics modeling and acting, while becoming more deeply absorbed in her spiritual life.
It was around 2012, after the death of a spiritual adviser when she was seeking another that she came upon the Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy where Mercedarian Father Matthew Phelan became her new spiritual director. After a time she became a member of their lay branch, The Third Order of Mercy.
Many people, even the very devout, enter periods of dryness in their spiritual lives, and DeSantis was no exception. She credits Father Phelan and the Mercedarians for helping her recover from her own spiritual slump.
The Mercedarians, whose local ministries include Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Overbrook, collectively established the St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation in 2015 as a way for the order to serve the wider community. Most active in the ministry at this time are Father Joseph Eddy and Father Phelan, who is the spiritual moderator.
“The priests and the board made the decision that the first outreach would be to the divorced,” DeSantis said.
As part of this ministry, there have been two retreats, one with Rose Sweet, a nationally known speaker who gave a session on the subject at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
“Many times when people get an annulment or get divorced they don’t feel connected to the church for whatever reason,” she said. “We will continue this through the children of the divorced and the adult children of the divorced.”
One vow of the Mercedarians, she explained, “is a willingness to give their life for those in danger of losing faith. We know the church is there for them and that’s where we come in — to educate, to support, to accompany them. To help individuals and families in many ways and a big part of who we are is education of the young.”
Other initiatives might be anything that touches on the well-being of the family, perhaps Natural Family Planning, or anti-pornography efforts, as examples.
For DeSantis, the Mercedarian charism is special and for her it is a life mission.
“They helped me find my own faith,” she said. “What they do is personal to my own heart — reaching out to people who are suffering, promoting marriage through education, supporting marriage in all ways and supporting families in all ways.”
For more information see the website www.nonnatus.org
Follow the foundation’s ministry on Facebook. On Twitter, look for St. Ray Foundation and the Twitter handle @faith4divorced.
On its YouTube channel, which will be a support group for those who are going through divorce or the annulment process within the church, the foundation will post educational videos for divorced people featuring guest speakers and question-and-answer sessions.
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