In the first nine years of their marriage, Mary and Mark Hughes welcomed seven children into the world. They were happy and felt their family was complete. They started using a natural, sympto-thermal method to avoid pregnancy, and it worked for them.
Little did Mary know then that it would lead to a nearly 20-year career helping other couples to plan their own families using natural family planning.
Because of her dedication to NFP, Mary was selected at this year’s recipient of the Humanae Vitae Award, which will be presented July 28 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.
Each year, the Diocese of St. Cloud presents the award to a person who has exhibited extraordinary courage in promoting the teachings of “Humanae Vitae,” an encyclical written by St. Paul VI in 1968 that explains God’s plan for married love and the transmission of life.
“I know the people who have received this award before, and I know they were worthy, very worthy,” Mary said. “So I’m very honored and humbled to receive it, too.”
Mary, a member of the Together As One Area Catholic Community in St. Cloud, was involved in the very beginnings of natural family planning in the diocese. The method is a modern, scientific and natural means of either achieving or postponing pregnancy requiring no drugs, devices or surgical procedures. This form of family planning aligns with the teachings of “Humanae Vitae.”
In the early 1950s, pro-life advocate Benedictine Father Paul Marx met with a group of St. John’s University and College of St. Benedict student couples who were preparing for marriage and encouraged them to try natural methods to plan their families. Mary and Mark, who married in 1954, were part of that group.
“I’ve always been thankful that he pointed us in that direction,” Mary said. “The abstinence was not always easy, God knows, but we were committed to it,” she said. “And Mark, being a chemist, a scientist, seeing the visible sign of the temperature going up gave him confidence that we were onto something that was going to work for us throughout our remaining years of fertility.”
In 1972, Mary and Mark were invited to attend a talk by the Billings Ovulation Method founder, Dr. John Billings, at St. John’s University. Bishop George Speltz also was there and was so impressed with the program that he wanted someone from the diocese to be trained in the method.
That same year, Mary traveled to New Orleans to attend the first-ever Billings Ovulation Method teacher training held in the United States with her friend Kay Ek. After the training they helped establish the diocese’s Natural Family Planning office.
Kay became the first director of the NFP office in the St. Cloud Diocese. Mary left her job as a music teacher at St. Paul School in St. Cloud so she could devote her time to teaching NFP.
“[The conference] made us more confident in the scientific basis of natural family planning,” Mary said. “And it just felt right in my conscience and in my body and for Mark, too. It was important for us to be in tune with what the Church was teaching. It fit a lot of different bills along the way because it was important for us to maintain our Catholic faith with its guidelines and also to honor our physical selves and our consciences.”
Mary was a certified Billings Ovulation Method instructor and member of the NFP office staff from 1973 until she retired in 1992.
Margie Benusa, a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in Bowlus and a former NFP instructor, was trained by Mary and nominated her for the Humanae Vitae Award.
“I will never forget her gentle and thorough manner of teaching,” Margie said. “Mary traveled all over the United States to attend teacher trainings. She never, to my knowledge, missed an opportunity to attend any activity, whether it be hearing a speaker on NFP or attending an event promoting NFP whenever possible.”
- All are invited: The annual diocesan Humanae Vitae Mass and award presentation will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.
- Natural Family Planning Week begins July 24. More resources are available by visiting www.stcdio.org/natural-family-planning.