To celebrate Mother’s Day which falls on May 9 this year, CatholicNews tells the story of a mother with two daughters, an adopted son with Down’s Syndrome, and who is now going through her ‘second motherhood’ with 14 grandchildren. Joyce Gan speaks with Vivienne Wee, whose petite frame belies her big loving heart
TWELVE YEARS AGO, Vivienne and Victor Wee, then in their late 40s, were raising two teenage daughters, when Good Shepherd Sister Gabrielle approached them and asked, “Do you have any place in your hearts for a ‘Down-Syndrome’ child?”
This was one day before they left for a holiday, and when they returned, the Wees saw notices posted in parishes, appealing for adoptive parents for the boy.
“I felt terrible that someone had to advertise like this, as if they were selling meat,” Vivienne recounted, “and I asked Victor if he remembers our pledge.”
The couple who was deeply involved in Natural Family Planning, and who had been sent by Archbishop Emeritus Gregory Yong to undergo training in Melbourne, frequently gave pro-life talks and regularly distributed The Medjugorje Newsletter.
Vivienne was referring to the pledge that both of them have made many times during one of those talks, asking people not to abort their child even if they suspected a disability. They had said, “Don’t abort. Carry your baby to full term and if you don’t want it, we’ll take it.”
Victor’s response was: “If we want to adopt, we’d better do so when the baby is still young and doesn’t know about rejection.”
Vivienne remembers discussing their decision with their daughters, Valerie and Marjorie, over ice-cream at Swensen’s. The elder Valerie started to cry, and asked, “Shouldn’t we spontaneously say we will adopt him? Why do we need to discuss this?”
“Then we all cried together, because we felt so sad for this child,” Vivienne said.
The milk of human kindness
Even though the decision was clear, the road ahead was not without difficulties.
Firstly, the baby was allergic to all kinds of milk and could only drink formula milk which deprived him of much-needed nutrition. Secondly, he urgently needed open-heart surgery for two holes in his heart and two leaking valves.
He arrived in the Wees’ home when he was two months old, and they had four months to fatten him up.
But first things first, the Catholic parents had the child baptised at their parish of the Holy Spirit, and because his birthday is Sep 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, they named him after his patron.
Vincent needed milk, lots of it. Victor, had a brainwave to appeal through the Medjugorje newsletters for breastfeeding mothers to donate breast milk.
“The response was overwhelming,” Vivienne beamed. “We call it ‘the milk of human kindness’.”
It was almost as if there was a movement going on to provide milk for Vincent. Non-breastfeeding mothers approached friends and neighbours for contribution. Victor collected breast milk from women across different nationalities and accumulated two freezers full of it.
Fed with ‘the milk of human kindness’, Vincent grew bigger and successfully underwent surgery on Maundy Thursday 1989. There was still enough milk left to sustain him for two more years.
Loving despite rejection
From young, Vincent did not eat unfamiliar food. Vivienne’s motherly instincts led her to the difficult task of mincing rice and vegetables, to be frozen with the milk, and brought everywhere the family went.
She also massaged him every day, and read to him so much that Vincent grew to love books.
But when the child was about a year old, he began to reject Vivienne; he refused to let her carry him and would even kick or push her away.
“It was very, very painful,” Vivienne admitted.
After some time, the couple realised that Vincent had transferred to Vivienne the rejection he felt from his birth mother. Vivienne could feel her son’s pain.
“I felt the pain of rejection, but at the same time, I felt his pain even more... that a special child can feel [such rejection] so strongly.... But I’ve never regretted adopting him. Neither has anyone in the family,” she said resolutely.
Undeterred, she continued caring for Vincent despite being faced with his constant rejection, until he was about five or six years old. Then, one day, in a hotel room while on a family pilgrimage, Vincent suddenly turned to his mother and said, “Mama, I love you.”
Motherhood is sacred
That Vincent was a gift to the family has been made even more apparent now that the Wees’ two daughters have, between them, 14 children, all of whom have learned “how to care for their Uncle Vincent” and give way to him without being taught to.
“They just know,” said Vivienne.
What keeps Vivienne going, and what she thinks mothers should take pride in, is that mothers can “mould these young people to be wholesome, honest people with integrity and values... to be beacons and attractive personalities in their own right, not necessarily successful as the world sees it,” she said.
To Vivienne, motherhood is “sacred”.
“Having given birth to two girls, I see this as a miracle,” she said. “How can mere human beings like us create life through an act of love? We’re co-creators with God.”
When Marjorie, Vivien’s younger daughter, was pregnant, her then 11-year-old Rosemary asked her, “Mummy, is it alright if I pray for a ‘Down-Syndrome’ brother or sister?”
Marjorie responded: “Go ahead and pray. Let God give us what He wants.”
“This is because they all love Vincent so much,” said Vivienne. “There is a loving attitude and atmosphere at home that they fully accept Vincent for who he is. It is amazing that what others reject, Rosemary wanted. This encapsulates the whole God-like attitude that the child saw.”
Most importantly to Vivien, Rosemary “confirms that what we did [to adopt Vincent] is right”.
In addition, Victor and Vivienne have counselled many people and shared their good news of having Vincent. In the process, they have discouraged many from abortions, and encouraged many more to bravely accept children who come their way.
“It is one act that we did, and God did so much through us,” concluded Vivienne.
Today, four of Valerie’s sons stay with the Wees at their Upper Thomson home. Rosary is prayed at 5.30pm daily. The boys all have spiritual directors and the family hopes that they may become priests. Their eldest grandson Joseph Tan teaches catechism at the Holy Spirit parish.
Vincent joins in the family prayers whenever he feels comfortable, and is fully capable of leading the rosary. n
Faith connection between Saints and their mothers
ROME – Italian historians are taking interest in the role of mothers in transmitting faith to their sons. Referring to the examples of St. John Vianney, Popes Pius X and Paul VI, the Vatican newspaper suggested that this relationship is fundamental to religious vocations.
According to an article published in the L’Osservatore Romano, historians at a recent conference in Modena, Italy, commented on the need to study the relationship that ties the man of faith to his mother. In studying biographies, they asserted that faith is almost always transmitted to a man by his mother.
The Vatican newspaper indicates that while research into this relationship can be useful in “reconstructing biographical events of public personalities, it assumes a deeper and almost essential significance” if one looks at the emergence and maturation of a religious vocation.
St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars and patron of all priests, spoke of this relationship often, telling his parishioners “virtue passes from the heart of the mother to the heart of the children”, the Vatican newspaper noted.
In the book “Mothers of Saints”, by Albina Henrion, the prayerfulness of the Curé of Ars is attributed to the influence of St. John Vianney’s mother who created an atmosphere of prayer that “he almost breathed in his family life”.
The saint said about his gift of prayer, “After God, it is the work of my mother”, and added that children “voluntarily do what they see done”.
In the book, the story of his mother’s great charity throughout her life is told as well as her encouragement of young John’s vocation and how she convinced the boy’s father to allow him to receive religious instruction.
Although she did not live to see him ordained, he carried her example on through the “inexhaustible and charitable exercise of his ministry”, reported L’Osservatore Romano.
Another example offered by the Vatican newspaper was St. Pius X, whose mother Margherita Sanson, raised him and numerous brothers and sisters. She taught them to pray first thing in the morning, communicate with God throughout the day in Mass and Scripture reading, and to end each day with prayer, bringing the family together for an open examination of conscience.
After describing this tradition, a friend of the family said, “Is it any wonder that a holy soul came out of there?”
Following her son’s episcopal ordination and placement in Mantova, the future Pope Pius X visited his mother to thank her. After kissing his episcopal ring, she showed him her wedding ring and said, “Your ring is very beautiful, Giuseppe, but you wouldn’t have it if I didn’t have this.”
Margherita lived to see her son become the Patriarch (Archbishop) of Venice.
The final example presented by L’Osservatore Romano was that of Pope Paul VI, who talked of an “unpayable debt of gratitude to his mother”. To her, he said, “I owe my sense of concentration, of interior life, of the meditation which is prayer, the prayer that is meditation. Her entire life was a gift.”
After the deaths of his parents, he said, “To the love of my father and of my mother, to their union I owe my love of God and love of man.”
Paul VI, indicated L’Osservatore Romano, offered a further insight, saying, “We all live more or less from that which a woman has taught us in the sublime dimension. And boys feel it more than girls, because of nature… priest-sons even more strongly, because they are consecrated to solitude.” - CNA