“CHURCH widow” is an identity Jacinta Coman has lived.
She recalled being the “sole driving force for faith” within her immediate family, but has long dusted off the tag, as today the mother-of-three- teenager’s reality is quite the contrary.
Earlier this month, Jacinta’s husband of 22 years, Mark, and their children, Zac, 19, Abbey, 18, and Georgia, 15, together attended Summer Camp, which is run by Ignite Youth.
The Comans have found a home within Emmanuel Community in Brisbane archdiocese, from which Ignite Youth and its national youth ministry has sprung.
As a registered nurse, Jacinta was the designated first-aid officer for 220 campers at the Sunshine Coast camp venue, Mark helped with outdoor activities, Zac and Abbey were leaders, and Georgia was a Year 10 participant.
Mark and Jacinta met while at university, married and lived “between Toowoomba and Brisbane” for the first decade of their marriage but settled in the river city in 2007.
Both raised as Catholics, the family’s collective faith journey has hit some rough patches, hence Jacinta darkening the church doorstep on her own for a time.
She said it was early in their marriage when “Mark became disengaged with his faith”.
“I use to call myself the church widow but being a part of a community was really important to me,” Jacinta said.
“I remember growing up and having a church community. It wasn’t uncommon to have people over after Mass on Sunday for a spontaneous morning tea.
“It was important to me for our children to have and feel a sense of community.
“I wanted to be more than just a Sunday Catholic.”
Jacinta said they “found it hard” to find a Brisbane parish to “belong or fit into”, and the death of someone close prompted a realisation.
“I suddenly thought, ‘What if something happens to one of us, where would our funeral be?’ and realised we didn’t have a community of people around us,” she said.
The Comans attended church on the northside and met many “wonderful parishioners” but felt they “belonged to something greater” for youth especially, eventually propelling their children into the young people’s events of Ignite Youth.
Zac, Abbey and Georgia attended their first Ignite Conference in 2013 and the flow-on effect was immediate.
“Ignite Youth’s focus on connecting a generation with Jesus through real-world relationships and life-changing events inspired our children to come alive in faith,” Mark said.
From there, he and Jacinta were invited to an Emmanuel Community-led Alpha experience and God’s hand was increasingly evident.
“Something happened over those (Alpha) sessions,” Jacinta said.
“Mark’s faith was reignited and this had a profound impact on all of us.”
The Alpha sessions “explored life, faith and meaning”, Mark said, and the couple had found the “something greater”.
As a result of the impact of Alpha and a commitment to Emmanuel Community, Zac and Abbey were accepted to serve and train in the peer-to-peer youth outreach of National Evangelisation Teams (NET), soon hearing of their team’s details for 2019 following training this month.
“Ignite Youth has strongly influenced my faith,” Zac, a 2017 graduate of Marist College, Ashgrove, said.
“Being around people my age has been important for my faith development.”
Zac said he was “excited and nervous” about what the year would hold. Sharing Zac’s enthusiasm, Abbey said it was “the sisterhood” of leaders in Ignite Youth and her mum who “strongly influenced” her faith and its emerging.
“I first experienced NET when I was in Year 7 and (NET) was something I hadn’t felt a calling to until Ignite Conference in 2018,” Abbey, who completed schooling at Mt St Michael’s, Ashgrove, last year, said.
Georgia, in Year 10 at Mt Maria College, Mitchelton, has also felt the blessings of Ignite Youth and prayerful parents, saying, “My faith experience has been heavily influenced by Mum.”
“(And), like Abbey, I too have enjoyed the sisterhood that exists at Ignite Youth,” she said.
“I like catching up with my friends at their many events.”
Georgia expressed excitement for her siblings’ new horizons but was “a little sad to see them go”.
Reflecting on the strengths of their children, Mark shared Jacinta’s joy at the fruits of their faith journey.
“Zac’s blessed with kindness, love and an ability to connect with people,” he said.
“Abbey has shown tremendous bravery, persistence and courage to achieve her goals, and Georgia has a love of learning and … helping out.”
While finding a spiritual home took time, the Comans agreed effective parenting of teens had also proven challenging, Jacinta admitting times of “hating this parenting ‘gig’”.
“(There have been) times when I just don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere and nothing I do seems to make much difference,” she said.
“Sometimes, in the middle of chaos and craziness, having a little time out to think about what we expect from each other or time to think about what that argument was all about, can make a difference to the outcome.”
Jacinta was humorously purposeful in response to fostering effective communication.
“Every week I would ask who wants to come and get the groceries, knowing that the bill would be twice as much,” she said.
“(But) it was time spent together joking and chatting about what had been happening for them that week that was important.
“(This was) something so little yet it became a highlight of my week.”
Jacinta and Mark also believe in the value of “allowing each child to be treated as their own person” and not focusing on comparisons.
The Comans’ “number-one rule” is that communication is paramount “no matter how bad” a situation may be, recognising “nobody’s perfect”.
“I think being able to acknowledge that we, as parents, are also wrong at times and haven’t done this job before is important,” Jacinta said.
“We seem to fumble through this thing of parenting … (and) we’re all learning this together.”
All the while, faith is shared and Jacinta remains grateful.
“I know that Zac and Abbey wouldn’t be where they are today if Mark’s faith journey was where it was 12 months ago,” she said, adding, “He’s taught them far more than I have.”
The down-to-earth woman of faith quoted a famous inventor’s sense of persistence.
“Thomas Edison once said, ‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up … the most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time’,” Jacinta said.
“If we had have given up or didn’t try just one more time in our marriage, in raising teenagers, or within our faith, I know for sure I wouldn’t be doing this story, we wouldn’t have found Emmanuel Community or met some amazing people … (who) we now consider our family and can share this journey of life, faith and love with.
“Seeing our children come alive in their faith has had a huge influence on my own.”