STEVEN Bird stands out in more ways than one.
His signature fiery locks, strapping physique and broad smile are known to all in Sunnybank parish where he and wife Eloise married and now serve, together, as youth ministers.
The 30-year-old has held the role since 2006 and also is well placed in his sixth year as campus minister at St Thomas More College, Sunnybank, in Brisbane’s south.
It’s hard to believe likeable Steven was born three months premature and weighing only a kilo.
In fact, he had little to no chance of survival, with his mum Annette told to abort her child following back surgery and ongoing scans, unknowing she was pregnant with their fifth child.
“The doctors said that our baby wouldn’t survive or wouldn’t be normal at birth,” she said.
“When the suggestion to abort our baby was made, we said, ‘No way’… we told our children that we were having a baby that would be ‘special’.”
Throughout ongoing health concerns for mother and baby, where doctors at one point said neither may survive, Sunnybank parishioners continued to hold onto hope.
“The people of the parish just prayed and prayed and prayed,” Annette said.
“They prayed from the moment I found out I was pregnant, until Steven was born, and through all the hurdles … like his lungs failing.
“I remember they knitted booties for him that were the size of my fingernail.
“Truly, Steven was one of the miracles of Sunnybank parish.”
As their tiny tot grew stronger, he was a popular weekday Mass attendant, the Birds living adjacent to Our Lady of Lourdes Church grounds and across the road from the parish school.
Neither was it far to Steven’s future high school, Clairvaux MacKillop College, Upper Mount Gravatt.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Eloise Giraud has schooling ties to Stuartholme College, Toowong.
The petite 30-year-old served on National Evangelisation Teams Canada and, later, on the local youth scene in Brisbane’s western deanery.
Eloise’s family, too, gave high priority to Mass attendance and her mum is a devotee of the Rosary.
Steven and Eloise met at the popular Monday-night gathering, Faith on Tap, the first engaged couple to spring from the post-World Youth Day 2008 initiative.
The Catholic Leader last caught up with them before their 2010 marriage, the solidification of their joint youth work, the birth of their sons, Isaac, 3, and Joseph, nine months, and more.
Tomorrow, August 14, marks the younger Birds’ seventh wedding anniversary and they keenly shared show the foundations of faith in their courtship had strengthened their marriage.
“I can’t imagine not having faith in our lives,” Eloise said. “It’s so integral to our whole relationship.”
While the couple agreed their marriage “has had its ups and downs” they understood this “to be completely normal”.
“We both truly believe that it is a daily choice to love each other and not just a feeling,” Eloise said.
“The feeling of love is great but it’s the choice to love that makes a marriage really work and makes a marriage great.”
Steven said he was certain of his God-given vocation to be “first a dad and husband” as an understanding of the sacrifices involved came into sharper focus.
“To me, love is about sacrifice and thinking about the other person,” he said.
“Although it can be hard at times, it makes everything work better.”
Any challenges that have come their way, the duo have faced with continued optimism.
“Knowing that God has everything under control is so comforting,” Eloise said.
“Being able to have faith as the foundation for our family is extremely special as is passing on our love of God and our Church to our boys.”
Steven said Isaac was “in love with everything about our Catholic faith”.
“It’s awesome that Isaac’s faith has naturally happened and isn’t something we’ve forced on him,” Eloise said.
“Hopefully it will be the same for Joseph too.”
Saying she was “mostly an introvert”, Eloise also juggles a part-time sales role while Steven is furthering studies in religious education.
They agreed “scheduling” was key to the upkeep of their various roles and responsibilities.
“Our calendar fills up on the first day of the month very quickly,” Steven said.
“We schedule in study nights, date night (with each other), meetings and youth activities.”
Eloise said the importance of daily, individual prayer and prayer as a couple continued to prompt a more fluid use of time.
The couple’s shared desire “to be the best parents” spurred them forward.
“We do our best to be engaged with our children whenever possible,” Steven said.
“We would like to raise boys that love life, love making new friends and are inclusive of everyone.
“We want our boys to love their faith and make it their own.”
Isaac and Joseph will receive each of the sacraments of initiation at Our Lady of Lourdes, as their dad did.
They, too, may marry from there.
While the family moved away from Sunnybank parish itself, for a time, but continued youth work there, Steven and Eloise felt it wasn’t authentic to their call to ministry.
“In 2015, we felt God very clearly telling us to leave our lovely home, which we built, and move close to Sunnybank in order to continue our ministry and be a bigger part of the community,” Steven said.
“This was a challenge and a blessing.
“We’ve a growing desire for family ministry intertwined with youth ministry and to see parish ministry that values every stage of a person’s faith journey.”
As campus minister, Steven said he delighted in “engaging the students and challenging them to be the best version of themselves”.
“I enjoy explaining the Church to them and seeing that ‘aha’ moment when it makes sense,” he said.
“I also enjoy the random things I get to do like go on rugby tour, music tour and going into home economics to be the chief ‘taste-tester’.
“Student formation in leadership and peer skills is becoming more of a passion for me.”
About his partner in life and ministry Steven said he “loves Eloise’s positivity 99.9 per cent of the time”.
He, too, had a more than a favourable wrap from the two important women in his life.
“I love how caring Steven is and how he’s always willing to give of himself and go the extra mile,” Eloise said.
“Gary and I marvel at this gorgeous, beautiful man that we and the world got,” Annette said.
By Selina Venier