Executive Director Teen STAR USA
When he found the Billings Method, Deacon Santi Molina called it a treasure. His discovery led him to become a trainer, supervisor. and, most recently, executive director of Teen STAR USA.
Q. Tell us about your family and your work as a deacon in the Catholic Church.
This month, my wife, Laurie, and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. We met at the University of South Florida in 1985 and married March 21, 1987. We both worked as high school teachers in Tampa for four years before moving to Tallahassee in June of 1990. Our daughter, Clare, was born in 1998. Laurie works at Florida State University both in administration and as a faculty member teaching geography education; I teach anatomy and physiology at Tallahassee Community College. Clare is a dancer and is currently a trainee at the Ballet Theatre of Maryland in Annapolis.
I became interested in the diaconate when the priest who married us, Fr. Pat Rebel, suggested it to me. After we moved to Tallahassee, Fr. Mike Tugwell sponsored me in 1996. On May 20, 2000, I was ordained a permanent deacon by Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ (Bishop Emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee). Then, I worked in various parish projects at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More but became more involved with Hispanic ministry. Currently, I serve at St. Eugene Catholic Mission and Student Center in Tallahassee and St. Margaret Catholic Church in Monticello. My duties include marriage preparation, religious education, Natural Family Planning, annulment advocacy, Bible study, prison ministry, and more. I work under the supervision of Fr. Anderson de Souza, SVD, pastor of St. Eugene. I truly love the work and feel honored and privileged to have been called to do it.
Q. Years ago, I remembered you joined us for a teacher training in Laredo, Texas, and you were switching from the Creighton Model. It's always intriguing to hear the reasons why people choose Billings over other NFP methods they have taught or used. Would you mind sharing your reason for that?
Well, I was intrigued by Natural Family Planning from the moment I took my first class (thank you, Pat & John Wermuth!). They taught Laurie and me the Creighton Model, and it worked very well for us. Since I am a biologist by training, the science and the theology behind it really interested me. So, in 1989 Pat and John sponsored me to take the Creighton training. It was intense, and I began teaching. However, I was not able to complete the certification process, as it demanded an effort that I was not able to engage in given my job as a teacher and coach at the time and also given the fact that we were moving to Tallahassee. When we moved to Tallahassee, I inquired about completing the certification process. Still, after a year of attempting to finish, I was told that I needed to do the training again (and pay again). My interest in NFP did not waiver, so I began to search for alternatives, and I had always been curious about the original method of NFP, the Billings Method. So, in 2004, I got a hold of Sue Ek of BOMA-USA. It turned out that there was a teacher training in Laredo, Texas. I was very happy and grateful to discover this treasure! While the Creighton Model is good, the Billings Method is simpler to teach, learn, and apply and is backed by solid scientific research. Since then, I have been teaching it to couples from the parishes in my area and beyond. And I have become a trainer and supervisor, particularly with the Hispanic side of BOMA.
Q. How has your work training new teachers changed your appreciation of the Billings Method?
It has been a blessing as well as enlightening. Just to go further into the research and the variations that can occur in cycles has made the Billings Method more and more fascinating to me. The simplicity of its rules and how well they apply to ANY situation in a woman's reproductive life don't cease to amaze me. Being able to communicate this to new instructors and help them understand it more and more is very rewarding as well. We owe enormous gratitude to Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, Dr. Erik Odeblad, and Dr. James Brown. Their work is inspiring, and if I had "another life," I would have liked to go into research to continue their work. Fortunately, we do have researchers and doctors like Dr. Pilar Vigil, Dr. Mary Martin, Dr. Lek-Lim Chan, and many others who are continuing their work.
Q. Your skills as a bilingual speaker, who is also a professor of anatomy and physiology, are huge for us. Going from a teacher to a trainer and then to being a board member shows a significant commitment to the Billings Method and what we do. What inspires you to keep forging ahead?
As I mentioned above, God led me to this treasure, and I have become passionate about it. I don't know that I can explain it other than that the Holy Spirit continues to push me to stay the course and continue to support and help in preaching this gospel!
Q. Last year, you added another significant responsibility to your list when you became the executive director of Teen STAR USA. Congratulations! Filling that role from the years of work that Dr. Hanna Klaus devoted to building Teen STAR International must seem daunting! What does the future look like for Teen STAR in the United States and abroad?
When working with engaged couples, I discovered that most of them come to the marriage prep and NFP classes without having any understanding of their bodies and even less about NFP methods. Most of them are either already contracepting and living together, or planning on using contraceptives—mostly because their doctors or someone else have convinced them that they are the only things that work. It occurred to me that we needed to begin to teach younger people about this earlier. When I brought this up to Sue, she directed me to Sr. Hanna Klaus and Teen STAR. It took me a while before I could find the time to investigate what Teen STAR was all about. I finally became involved in 2015, when I went to a seminar in Brazil, given by Dr. Pilar Vigil. So, as I got more and more involved with Teen STAR, we began conversations with Sr. Hanna, who was already looking for a successor.
We eventually worked together in a teacher training, and then I began to implement Teen STAR in our parish with small group meetings. We ended up working on a new edition of the manual, along with a whole team of Teen STAR teachers.
By the end of 2018, the Teen STAR board appointed me interim executive director, and after a year, I was named executive director of Teen STAR USA.
Sr. Dr. Hanna has done such an amazing job that I know that I will never be able to fill her shoes. So, yes, it is daunting! She has been incredibly supportive and kind to me. Her vision of Teen STAR is truly another gift from God to the world.
The future of Teen STAR is very bright, as we continue to grow and promote the curriculum at three levels: middle school, high school, and young adults. In March of 2019, we received a grant from Our Sunday Visitor Institute that has been helping us bring Teen STAR to Hispanic communities in the US. We have plans for teacher trainings for Denver (now postponed, but soon to be rescheduled) and San Francisco/San Jose, California (June 4-6). I feel I must clarify that Teen STAR is not "NFP for young people." It is a curriculum that uses basic fertility awareness as the background for young people to understand themselves as human beings, sons and daughters of God. It includes topics such as anatomy and physiology, fertility awareness, Theology of the Body, communication, parent/child interactions, the adolescent brain, responsibility, commitments, assertiveness training, and much more.
The girls learn to chart their fertility but not as a method. We do address the methodology of Billings, such as the rules, but toward the very end of the curriculum, after they have a good understanding of responsibility, commitment, and assertiveness training (saying NO to proposals that lead them to disintegrate their humanity). Its pedagogy includes self-discovery, use of the Socratic method, etc.
Q. If a Billings teacher is interested in adding Teen STAR to what he/she offers, what is the first step?
He/she should check our list of upcoming trainings on our website: www.teenstar.org. If people have questions not answered on our website, they are welcome to email me at email@example.com or call my office at 850-212-7106. We are also happy to go to other locations if at least ten people are committed to attending.
The trainings are similar in format to the Billings teacher trainings. They usually last three full days (8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day). The cost is $400 per person, which includes manuals and resources to get started with the program.
Q. We've announced our combined conference with Teen STAR that is scheduled to happen in August. Even though BOMA and Teen STAR have shared exhibit tables at other conferences over the years, the August conference will be the first-ever collaboration. While final details are still being decided, is there anything in particular that you hope to accomplish by sharing the conference with us, besides expenses!
I hope and pray that we will be able to continue this partnership. Many BOMA instructors have expressed interest in Teen STAR, and this will be a great opportunity for them to get more information and education about Teen STAR. As mentioned above, Teen STAR does not teach a method but has used the Billings Method as its basis to teach fertility awareness to young people around the world. Many Billings instructors might be interested in becoming Teen STAR instructors... or at least promoters of Teen STAR.
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.