Each year, the Diocese of St. Cloud presents the Humanae Vitae Award to a person who has exhibited extraordinary courage in promoting the teachings of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”
This year is especially significant as it is the 50th anniversary of the document, which was released in 1968 and explains the Catholic Church’s teaching about human life, married love, responsible parenthood and natural family planning. Pope Paul VI will be canonized in October in Rome along with martyr Oscar Romero.
Cathy Bahmer, member of St. Mary Parish in Little Falls, has been named this year’s recipient of the Humanae Vitae Award.
Bahmer has taught natural family planning — the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies — for 38 years and is the NFP office coordinator in Little Falls. She also spends one day a week training instructors and working with couples in St. Cloud.
“This method stands on its own for all people in the world, but it is really enhanced by our faith and by the church teaching on the sacredness of the intimacy that a couple shares,” Bahmer said. “It is open to both love and life, and those two components cannot be separated. It has really helped my own faith to grow immensely.”
Bahmer completed her initial NFP training and started teaching in 1980. She said she first got started because, “someone asked.”
Some of her greatest joy in teaching NFP over the years has been helping others to learn about it and use it.
“You end up having happy, successful families. I’m often taken aback by the deep faith of the couples I meet. It’s so meaningful. Your family, your children, your faith are all meaningful. And NFP is one way to live that as God intended us to live it,” she said.
One of her specialties is teaching a breastfeeding class.
“It is a time in family life where a woman’s cycle is not the same because breastfeeding can suppress the return to fertility. The class helps women understand how those signs of fertility are absent and how to watch for the signs of approaching fertility,” she explained.
A story that stands out in her memory is of a new mom who was struggling a bit with breastfeeding and Bahmer recognized that the woman needed additional help. She was able to refer her to the St. Cloud Hospital, where she received lactation consulting.
“It’s a good thing,” Bahmer said, “because the baby was not latching on and was not getting the needed nutrition. It was critical.”
Working with people by phone in Chicago and Alaska helped her to realize how her ministry was more than just in her own backyard.
She also has attended training in many places, including a national conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae” that hosted NFP instructors from six continents.
“I do feel like it is a ministry. I say I was asked to teach but I was probably, to a certain extent, called by God to do it,” she said. “It’s meaningful work, it’s rewarding work, it’s not always easy work. Sometimes you share tears with people. There can be struggles with it but the faith that they have comes through really strong.
“Sometimes when you are helping couples to achieve pregnancy because they’ve had difficulty doing so, when you get that call that says, ‘We’re pregnant!’ it is really heartwarming.”
Although Bahmer said she couldn’t guess how many couples she has worked with over the years, NFP is not her full-time job. She has been teaching piano lessons to up to 50 students per week in Little Falls. She teaches at both the grade school and middle school at Mary of Lourdes as well as in her home.
She sees a connection between teaching the two very different subjects.
“You teach both subjects individually for the most part, directly affecting that person or couple,” she said. “Especially because I work in the Catholic schools, there is an opportunity to share your faith at the same time you are doing your teaching. At times I am teaching students to be musicians in their parishes. For both, once you learn it, you have it for a lifetime.”
Bahmer plans to continue to bring awareness to NFP and the meaningful difference it can make in families.
“It’s a very important aspect of our faith and family life. If we want to keep strong families and keep our Catholic Church growing, we need to keep this ministry alive.”