By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
DUBUQUE — A letter was recently received at the Cathedral of St. Raphael in Dubuque from Michael and Diane Conneely of Aurora, Illinois. The couple wanted the church to know their three grandsons Liam, Aidan and Connor were doing well.
They included pictures of the boys with the letter. One of them dressed up in shirts and ties on their first Communion. Another in their little league uniforms.
The letter wasn’t the first the cathedral had received from the Conneelys. It was simply the latest in about half a dozen letters in recent years; the couple has periodically sent updates about the three boys, because they credit the cathedral’s prayers with having contributed to the boys’ healthy delivery eight years ago.
In late 2007, Michael Conneely said he and his wife were “frantic.” “We were in great despair,” he said. Their daughter Jennifer Schmidt and her husband, Craig, were expecting triplets, but the pregnancy had taken a serious turn for the worse.
Doctors discovered one of the triplets – referred to medically as “Baby A” — had partially separated from Jennifer’s uterus. It was feared the couple might lose not just one baby, but all three. Doctors presented the option of “selective reduction,” aborting one or even two of the babies in an effort to increase the likelihood of at least one live birth.
“Abortion wasn’t something they would ever consider,” Conneely said of his daughter and son-in-law. “They told doctors it was out of the question. They decided to let God figure it all out instead.”
In December of that year, his daughter Jennifer was hospitalized when she was 21 1/2 weeks pregnant. She had been hospitalized several times earlier during the pregnancy, but this time the situation was even more dire.
“It was not looking good for the babies,” Conneely remembered. “In fact, it looked terrible.”
During this difficult time in the pregnancy, Conneely began what might be called a prayer campaign. He called a church asking to have a Mass said for his daughter and unborn grandchildren. Then he called another church, then another.
“I had a Mass said in all 50 states,” Conneely said. Most of the parishes he selected at random through internet searches. A few had significance, though; he chose the Cathedral of St. Raphael because his daughter Jennifer had attended college in Dubuque. She is a 1994 graduate of Loras.
“I called the churches and asked to have a Mass said and then followed up and sent a check,” Conneely recalled. “It varied who I got on the phone. Sometimes it was the priest. Sometimes it was the secretary. All listened. All were very kind.”
Conneely didn’t limit his requests to the United States. He reached out to Catholic churches in five other countries too – Canada, Mexico, Italy, France and Ireland – to have Masses said on behalf of his family.
He also asked for prayers from individuals, sometimes perfect strangers. “I was stopping people in the bank line asking for prayers,” he remembered.
Jennifer Schmidt said she appreciates what her father did in requesting all those prayers when she was in the hospital and feels it was the prayers that sustained her during that difficult chapter.
“It gave me so much comfort knowing that people I didn’t know, people from all around the world, were praying to God for my babies,” she said. “I was so grateful.”
“I had peace, which makes no sense because it was such a scary time, but I had peace,” Schmidt remembered. “I am one thousand percent sure it was the prayers that helped us get through it.”
When Schmidt entered the hospital that December, doctors thought she would deliver any day. But days turned to weeks and the weeks to months, and Schmidt didn’t go into labor until she was 35 weeks along, resulting in a nearly full-term pregnancy.
When the three boys were born on March 5, 2008, all three were healthy, including Baby A – Liam – who ended up being the biggest of the trio at nearly six pounds.
Conneely said doctors and nurses were “shocked” by the outcome. “They were amazed that three healthy children were born after all those months of health problems,” he said.
“I will go to my grave believing that all those prayers contributed to the outcome we received,” the grateful grandfather said.
Jennifer’s pregnancy wasn’t the first time that Conneely had turned to others for prayers for his family’s health. When his oldest daughter, Kelly, had been pregnant, also with triplets, 14 years ago, he had Masses said for a successful outcome to that pregnancy. Three healthy baby boys were born that time as well.
Today, the Conneelys have not only two sets of triplet grandsons, but also one additional grandchild, for a total of seven healthy grandsons. “We’re just two short of a baseball team,” Conneely said with a laugh.
Liam, Aidan and Connor do, in fact, enjoy baseball, he said. Though they can’t agree on a favorite team – one is a Chicago Cubs fan, one a White Sox fan and the other cheers on the St. Louis Cardinals.
Their mother said that in addition to enjoying baseball and soccer, her three 8-year-old, freckle-faced boys do well in school and are good about saying their prayers.
“They’re just very much regular, healthy boys,” Schmidt said of her sons. They are full of life. Thanks to them we live in a loud, loving home.”
Jennifer and Craig Schmidt and their three sons recently moved from Naperville, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, to Edwardsville, Illinois, outside of St. Louis.
Schmidt said that she had belonged to a prayer group when the family had been members of Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville. She would sometimes pray in front of the local abortion clinic, bringing her three sons with her.
Remembering when abortion had been proposed as an option during her pregnancy, Schmidt said, “When I look at the three of them, I can’t imagine not having the other one or two.”
Like his daughter, Conneely said the triplets are a reminder to him of the preciousness of each individual life. “When I look into their eyes, there is so much life, so much potential. There is something beautiful in each one of them.”
Since the three boys are getting a bit older now, Conneely thinks the letter he sent this year to the cathedral will probably be the final update he provides.
Msgr. Thomas Toale, pastor at the cathedral, said he was touched by this final correspondence from the Conneelys.
“I found the letter to be not only a heartwarming story but an expression of deep faith in the power of prayer,” he said.
As the church celebrates Respect Life Month during October, Msgr. Toale reflected, “The picture of the boys is a great testimony to our commitment of respect for life.”
Conneely said he would always be grateful for the prayers the people at the cathedral offered. “It was so kind of them to offer prayers for people they didn’t even know,” he said.
“They contributed toward the miracle we received. I’m not sure why we were given this miracle. I don’t know. But we were,” he said. “We are blessed.”
Triplets Liam, Aidan and Connor Schmidt on their first Communion at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville, Ill. in May 2016. (Contributed photo)