Babies at work makes for joyous work

by Samantha Dols

Father Raymond Courtright, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fargo, and two “Ambassadors of Joy” who come to work with St. Anthony employees as part of the Baby at Work program. (Maria Gietzen)

"With today’s society, it feels almost impossible to have a career and be a mother. So often, we hear about women giving up the idea of motherhood because they don’t dare risk losing the career they have worked so hard to build. In addition, the outrageous costs of daily childcare could hinder any parent from the idea of having children. We hear and see the detrimental effects this idea has had with women embracing the use of contraceptives or even choosing abortion.

At St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fargo, we are told, “you can have your career, but also fulfill your vocation as a mother,” thanks to the Baby at Work program, which Father Courtright encourages his staff to utilize. This program was brought to life by former Director of Religious Education, Jenna Kennelly, in 2011.

“I started researching the program while I was pregnant at the end of the school/RE year because we had to decide if it would be possible to bring a baby to work or if Father would need to hire a new DRE,” Jenna said. “Thankfully, we decided to try the program because so many babies have had such a great year working at church with their moms!”

Since then, the program has successfully promoted a work environment filled with the joy of new life. Five babies/children have come through the program so far.

When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our oldest son, Jude, in 2013 we began asking ourselves, “What are we going to do about childcare?” We worried about the bonding time lost, and cringed at the cost of professional care. I also wasn’t quite ready to leave my position as Director of Music and Liturgy at the parish. It was at this time Father Courtright brought the Baby at Work program to my attention.

The program has had such a positive impact in the upbringing of my children. While most mothers who are returning to work prepare their child for daycare after 6-12 weeks, I have been blessed beyond measure to bring each of my children to work with me until they become too active to keep cooped up in the office. I get to enjoy taking in the moments of everyday discoveries, the first big moments of rolling over, crawling, and walking, extra bonding time that would otherwise be limited to a few hours a day, all while maintaining my position at the parish. And, when our new Religious Education Coordinator, Maria Gietzen, decided to start working part-time again after 16 years of being a stay-at-home mom, she was grateful for the opportunity to bring her 4-year-old daughter, Anika, to work every so often.

“If it weren’t for this program, I wouldn’t be able to work here,” Maria said.

The joyful atmosphere that comes about from the presence of children has also resonated well among the staff. Anika and my 11-month-old son, Bennett, fill the halls with their laughter and energy. Deacon Stu Longtin has even named them the “Ambassadors of Joy” for the parish. The effect these children have on our staff is immeasurable, not to mention the delight they give to those stopping by the parish.

I have especially enjoyed witnessing the peace and comfort my boys have given to those dealing with loss. During funeral planning, many people have been eager to hold my baby boys, or interact with games of “peek-a-boo,” and it is clear to see the ease and healing it brings to those in mourning. I look forward to sharing these stories with my children someday, so they may see the beautiful work God was enacting through them at such a young age.

My hope through sharing my story is that more parishes, companies, and businesses will embrace the idea of a Baby at Work program, or that more in-house daycares will become available at facilities. It’s incredible the bond that is built between parent and child when the proper amount of time is given to nurture the relationship. Admittedly, some days can be hard finding that perfect balance of “parent” and “employee,” but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I am blessed to work in an environment that promotes a culture of life.

Samantha Dols is the Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fargo.