Mrs. Lucille Dippolito is a nurse and the mother of 20 children. The youngest is 22 and the oldest is 43. One child died a few months after birth. She has about 30 grandchildren, though she said she has to update the count. Three more are currently in the womb. Her husband died in1993. She currently lives in St. Marys, Kansas.
Of her children, Mrs. Dippolito says, "They have things that money can’t buy." And of parents, she remarks, "Your children you take with you into eternity"
The following interview was conducted on February 20, 2002 by Scott Johnston, Research department, Priests for Life:
Q. Did you always want to have a large family?
"Yes I did. I wanted to have six boys. God gave me the baker’s dozen—13 boys! After the first little girl came, I wanted more girls."
"Eight children were born at home. I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do."
"I come from a family of four. I lived next door to a family of 10 children, and those children were always happy! They were happy within themselves. My mother comes from a family of twelve. [Children in large families] seem to have things that money can’t buy."
Q. What do you say to people who say they can’t afford to have more kids?
"For every little mouth that God sends, He sends the little bit that is needed. I had faith in God that if He sent me a child, He was going to feed that child. I lived better than some families with two or three kids. My kids started doing things! It’s not how many kids you have; it’s your faith in God."
Q. How were you able to manage with so many children?
"I said to people [after having a certain number], ‘I’m retired.’ I got one to do the laundry, one the baking; they rotate their duties."
"We had chickens, pigs. . . . Each child had a responsibility. We butchered our meat; we had a dairy cow. It was a mini-farm on ten acres. A priest friend used to ask us: ‘Is there anything in this house that is not homemade?’ [Some things they made included their own butter, and altar candles.] Some of the talents they have they learned from their grandparents. I sew, but now my kids make my clothes for me. I gave to them, but look what I got back!"
Q. Today’s cultural attitudes about parenting seem to suggest that good parenting means providing many material things for your children. Do kids need a lot of material things in order to be happy in their family and to grow up as well-adjusted adults?
"No. That’s the worse thing that you could do! Just providing everything their heart desires -- that’s absolutely wrong. They need to develop their talents. Doing is learning. They have to be doers.. . . This was the law of the family: by doing they were learning. By working for something they respect it. The more you give, there’s your happiness; that’s what you have to teach your children. You receive your happiness by seeing how they are developing. When I stand before the judgement seat of God, I’m going to tell Him I did everything for them."
"We were never poor, but we didn’t have lots of things. My boy had a natural talent for fixing cars. If we had been able to buy things, that talent would not have been able to come out."
"We have an engineer, a nurse. . . . These are things they did because they realized they are not going to get things handed to them. Parents are not here forever."
Q. In considering the prospect of having many children, our society seems to dwell only on the difficulties and hardships involved. What would you say in response to this consistently negative attitude about having many children?
"They are much in the dark. This is utterly false. Everybody is going to have a dark side; we’re not here to have heaven on earth. What are people afraid of today? People that don’t have kids have worse crosses than those who do! People need to start reading books on the joys of children. They are going to miss out on a lifetime of happiness. A baby is joy! Young people are very much scandalized; they are being lied to. They are being deprived of a lot of happiness. Having children makes you healthy. After each child I got stronger; couldn’t wait for the next one to get here! God gives you these things."
"You never have a dull moment…always something that you can look forward to."
"If you are always around young children, you will always be young at heart."
Q. Today there is a big emphasis on the idea that responsible parents must plan for every child they have. Did you deliberately plan each child ahead of time?
"Wrong! I’d rather take it in God’s time. I would have had a lot more kids if I could have! They don’t all have to go to college. Some of my kids are not meant for college. I took these children just as God wanted me to have them. I’m glad they’re here. I’d do it all over again. These are your greatest treasures. You can’t take a car into eternity! You will not see your boat in eternity! If you love children, every moment is a moment of happiness. This ‘I’m going to have them when I want to,’ that’s very selfish. Faith in God is the prime ingredient in having a family. God gives you talent; you have to do the work. These people are not getting joy from the right things. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world."
Q. Another idea that society seems to suggest to parents today is that if they have many children, they will not be able to love all of them with the same depth that they could if they had a small family. What would you say to this?
"When number nineteen came, the family gives him love. He got so much love from the family. If he was an only child, he would never have gotten so much love! The mother can only give so much love. When you have a large family, the children are getting all kinds of love from all their brothers and sisters. There’s nothing more joyful than a baby."
Q. What for you are the greatest blessings of having a large family?
"Watching them grow, seeing their talents, the things that they give back. The love that they have for their father. They go to the gravesite and have masses said for him. Seeing them become good citizens. They are helping their country. These are great joys! My daughter who is a nurse and has helped bring people back to life. Look at the great joys! You watch them take their first step, say their first word—these are things that money can’t buy! The blessings far outweigh the hardships. The world dwells on the hardships. Everything has pain and joy with it. You have to take the bitter with the sweet. We aren’t in heaven yet!"
End of interview
* * *
Mrs. Dippolito is a very inspiring woman! She does not sound her age at all, but much younger and full of life. If you were talking for the first time with her, you would be amazed to learn she is a mother of 20 and grandmother of more than that.
She is a Catholic of very deep faith and tremendous trust in God. She is full of gratitude for all of the children God has given her. She has total trust in God for all things, and understands that in this life crosses always occur along with happiness. This is integral to her attitude toward family life. She has the realistic and hope-filled approach that since everyone will have crosses, why not multiply the joy as much as possible? To her, the more children, the more joy!
Mrs. Dippolito is also very disturbed by the lies that society tells young people today, especially the idea that fulfillment can be found in self-absorption.
Talking with Mrs. Dippolito reveals several key themes.
The large family is a great source of happiness. Mrs. Dippolito’s initial reason for wanting many kids was her experience that the most joy-filled homes were the homes with many kids. She wanted a home with much joy, and that to her meant a home with many children. She learned this in her own family. Each child is another unique face of love that is brought into the family and multiplies the joy by adding a new love. The blessings far outweigh the pains. Parents receive back many times over what they give.
A large family does not mean that the parents have twenty times more work if they have twenty kids. It is a community of mutual love and sacrifice—a learning place of care for one’s neighbor. The kids all pitch in and so as the family grows, many of the daily burdens are taken care of by the children themselves, as they are able, including much of the care for the youngest. They learn to do this work joyfully, especially by helping to care for their sibling babies. Mrs. Dippolito said her youngest child never cried because he was always being held by one of his brothers and sisters; they all eagerly give love to the younger ones. This youngest one can’t wait to have his first baby so he can have someone to toss in the air since he didn’t get to do this as his siblings did with him. This is a tremendous blessing both for the younger children who receive this abundance of love, and for the older ones who give it.
The large family is a natural school wherein the talents of each child can flower. Because of the sacrifices and cooperation required in a large family, the children by a kind of necessity have opportunities to discover and nurture talents and abilities that would not be discovered or practiced in a small family. Because the family could not afford to buy everything, the kids know how to garden, care for farm animals, cook, sew, can vegetables, do basic home repair work, etc. They develop from this a strong "can-do" attitude. They are versatile and flexible, because they learned it by doing things in the daily care of their family. Also, they learn to love with more effectiveness in serving others. This is because the more children there are, the more likely each child is to have counterpart siblings whose strengths complement their particular weaknesses. The sibling better at schoolwork helps the one who is less so. The mechanically gifted one fixes another’s bike (and the family car, and tractor, etc.). They learn to help and give personally to each other according to their individual weaknesses and gifts. In a large family, there is abundant opportunity for practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and for the discovery and growth of natural gifts which can all work together harmoniously.
A lack of material riches is not to be feared in raising a family. Everyone must work hard and sacrifice for each other—parents and children. But, if this is done, and most of all, if the family has complete trust in God as the ultimate provider and asks Him for all they need, they will be able to live a very happy life together. Many of the material luxuries so common today cannot bring anything approaching the joy that can be experienced in a close, large, family.
Faith. Great faith in God is absolutely vital to a full family life. A family simply cannot live the life meant by God without loving Him, trusting Him, and praying to Him. If these things are done, there is nothing to be afraid of.
Expect the cross. It is folly to try always to run from it. No one can avoid it, and society is harmed terribly by the increasing number of people who pattern their life after attempts to maximize their own comfort and self-interest. They are turning from the very thing that will help them to have the deepest joy in this life. Shunning the possibility of a large family because of potential crosses is a tragic delusion. Hardship is always a part of this life. A large family helps each member to bear each other’s burdens in mutual love—a school of embracing the cross together with others.
Family life ought to be lived with eternity always in mind. This means, among other things, knowing that children are gifts from God, that He wants them all to come to heaven, and He intends for parents to help them embrace the gifts He has for them to get there. God’s grace is available every step of the way. It is essential for parents to have the perspective that they are called to be with their children not just here in this world, but forever in the eternal life of heaven.
-- Scott Johnston