Q. Tell us about your family.
Well, I have 3 sons and 9 grandchildren. I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters. We had very strong parents, and our family is very close. When my husband left, my parents and my siblings did everything they could to help me raise my boys, and I am eternally grateful to them. My sons are all married with children. They are all still in the Church, and I'm very proud of them.
Q. You’re one of the old-timers in the Billings arena. How long ago did you first get involved, and how did things evolve into you being the first NFP director for the Diocese of Memphis?
I love being an old-timer too. I learned the Billings Method in 1976. I didn't actually learn it very well, but I was so grateful for the knowledge that there really was a way to know about our fertility. I just knew I had to tell people about it. I thought, "Everyone needs to know about mucus!" I never intended to be a teacher, but God had other plans for my life. My idea of birth control was self-control while trying to use the Rhythm Method. I always knew God would give me the children He wanted me to have, and of course He did.
I sort of got hooked into becoming a teacher because back then, if you learned the Method, you could be a teacher. I can't say I did a great job in the beginning either! Once I saw that we really needed some kind of structure, three of us tried to put together a program offering Billings classes 4 times a year. I wrote up an outline so we would have something to follow, and we did that for several years. In 1982 St. Joseph Hospital here in Memphis wanted to open a Center for Life and include and NFP Center in it. I was asked if I wanted to be in charge there. I said no. God said yes, and so I did for 6 years. When the hospital closed and the property was sold to St. Jude Hospital, St. Francis Hospital gave me a room and we had classes there. Later in 1988, the Diocese of Memphis took on me and the NFP Center, and that's how I became the director.
Q. Your program became well-known as being strongly Billings. In fact, didn’t you have the Drs. Billings speak in Memphis? Tell us about that experience.
We were so blessed to have John and Lyn Billings come to Memphis in 1985. There were some wonderful benefactors here, Paul and Joan Mahoney, who wanted to bring them to Memphis to speak to all the doctors in the city along with all the priests. Paul always told me I was doing the most important work in the Church. J. Francis Stafford was our bishop then, and he was so happy to have the Drs. Billings come here. I made sure they were booked the entire time they were here, from TV and radio interviews, talks at the Catholic high schools, a doctors' dinner, a priests' luncheon, and talks at a parish and nursing school. I wore them completely out, but I wanted everyone in the city to hear about their wonderful work. When I picked them up at the airport, I told them I had done all I knew to promote their visit, but I had no idea how many people would come. In his great humility, John Billings said to me, "Mary Pat, if only one person comes, that person is the reason we came to Memphis." That really put me at ease, and we had wonderful crowds at every event.
Dr. Hanna Klaus also had them here in Memphis during a BOMA conference in 1994. I have so many wonderful memories of being with them during that time too.
Q. What was it like being a founding member of the board for what used to be known as the Diocesan Development Program for NFP (of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). Was there any particular initiative that the board took on that had lasting effects to this day?
The DDP was established earlier, but in 1986, I was asked to be on a committee to look at ways to help the dioceses improve their programs for teaching NFP. That committee became the National NFP Advisory Board, and we ended up writing the National Standards for Diocesan NFP Programs for the USCCB.
Q. As a trainer and supervisor of Billings teachers over many years, if you could sit down with each teacher both new and old, what advice would you give them?
Wow, I wish I really could do that! I guess the main thing I would say is always teach with love and make sure you are teaching the authentic Billings Ovulation Method without variations or alterations. Use the BOMA materials, the BOMA slides Parts 1 and 2 and the BOMA Review booklet. Make sure you do the proper follow-up with your clients every 2 weeks when they are learning. Know that you are doing a wonderful ministry to teach people about the marvelous way their bodies are designed by God and that their fertility is a great gift that can be understood and managed without harmful chemicals.
And of course, as Lyn Billings always taught us, KEEP IT SIMPLE! You don't have to teach everything you know. Give your clients the information that they need to learn to pay attention to their sensation at the vulva and the appearance of any discharge they might happen to see each day. Teach them how to chart their observations accurately each evening and teach them the 4 Rules. Teach the 3 requirements for Peak and the definition of Peak clearly and repeat those important things over and over. This is all new to most people, so be patient with your clients and help them gain confidence in themselves and their ability to know and love their fertility. And remember, you are doing the most important work in the Church!!
Q. Your work with our Education Committee has been tremendous! The newly designed PowerPoints and matching Review booklets have been a great help to our teachers. What inspired the creation of them?
It is my understanding that the last set of BOMA slides was needing an update so the new slides resulted from that update project. All BOMA teachers should be using the new slides Parts 1 and 2 when teaching the Billings Method now so we can know that the Billings Method™ is being taught accurately and consistently in the U.S. without variation.
Q. We also know you as the founder of the Mother/Daughter, Father/Son Program that started in Memphis but has been used in other dioceses. How did that come about, what does it entail, and is it still available for Billings teachers who might be interested in presenting it?
In 1986, our little group of NFP teachers wanted to find a way to share the knowledge we had learned, and we thought we could help mothers talk to their daughters about growing up and the changes of early adolescence with regards to their emerging fertility. We just sort of made up the program and hoped people would come. We thought if 20 people came, we would call it a success. Well, we filled up the auditorium at St. Joseph Hospital and had to schedule another one that first year. Mothers have been grateful ever since. They wanted another program for older girls and they wanted one for their sons, so I put together a very rough manual at the request of Fr. Paul Marx of Human Life International. The word spread, and NFP teachers around the country were presenting our Mother/Daughter and Father/Son Fertility Appreciation and Chastity Programs. They were such a great gift from God.
It is very important that only NFP teachers and users present the programs because they believe the truth and live it. The manual was put on the Diocese of Memphis website, but it's not there anymore. If anyone wants to look at it, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to send the file to you. It's nothing fancy and it's really old, but the information is there to help anyone who wants to present the programs.
Q. You’re a relatively new retiree. When did you retire from the Memphis diocese, and what are you doing with all of your time?
I wish I could tell you I have a lot of free time, but I really don't. I retired almost 2 years ago, but I am still very involved with BOMA as a trainer and supervisor and member of the Education Committee. I totally love to train new teachers, and I am a stickler for teaching it right. But once they learn, they will have it forever, and that makes me very happy. I also love to go on a cruise any time I can afford it, and I love spending time with my family and my grandchildren. I am also a huge Elvis fan, so I have to have some Elvis fun at least twice a year doing Elvis Week and the Tupelo Elvis Festival.
I try to go to noon Mass every day, and that is always my strength.
BOMA-USA provides education and training for The Billings Ovulation Method® which is a natural method of fertility management that teaches you to recognize the body's natural signs of fertility.