Better together: Rose and Darius Unkefer
Pope Francis wrote the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in 2016, focusing on “the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows.”
The Holy Father called for a year of the “Amoris Laetitia Family,” which concludes on June 26, during the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome.
In the document, he addresses families of persons with special needs, like Darius and Rose Unkefer, who have raised Nick with the support of family and community and in turn increased opportunities for special needs children to grow in the Catholic faith.
The pontiff wrote, “People with disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid, and unity… If the family, in the light of the faith, accepts the presence of persons with special needs, they will be able to recognize and ensure the quality and value of every human life, with its proper needs, rights, and opportunities.”
DIFFERENT ROOTS, SAME GOD:
Rose grew up attending St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth, and she attended Catholic schools for her entire education: St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School, Nolan Catholic High School, and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.
Darius, born in New York, was raised by his Jewish mother and Christian father. He quipped, “We both grew up with guilt.”
They met through mutual friends, and Rose was attracted to Darius’ “sense of humor, lightness, and positiveness.”
The couple attended marriage preparation with Father Tim Thompson and talked through many issues, including having different faith backgrounds.
Both families were great supporters of the marriage, and Darius backed raising future children in the Catholic faith because he wanted them to have a strong foundation in God.
Their two children have been raised Catholic, but through their paternal grandmother, they have participated in Jewish traditions. “Mostly food,” clarified Darius.
Darius and Rose celebrated 25 years of marriage on June 14.
FUEL THE FIRE:
The couple enjoys cooking good meals together at home and taking family walks.
Rose said, “Starting a family, the different things that came our way in our early married life, we knew we had some big challenges ahead of us. We knew that we were better together than we would be apart.”
Darius added, “We had to be a team.”
RELY ON GOD:
“I definitely recall days when we had to just give it to God because we didn’t have the answer,” said Rose.
About 17 years ago, the Unkefers joined Holy Family Parish and soon became involved in special needs religious formation for Nick.
With other parents, they helped develop a more formal religious education program for children with special needs. Darius usually helped in Nick’s class and Rose in another.
“People at Holy Family supported and gravitated to having an open and inclusive environment,” said Rose.
Rose remembered attending Mass with Nick when he was young. “It can be really hard in Mass to sit quietly, and you don’t want to disrupt other people.”
The Unkefers and other parents approached the pastor of Holy Family to begin a monthly special needs Mass. Established more than 10 years ago, that Mass is celebrated every second Saturday of the month at 6:30 p.m.
Rose emphasized that the Mass is open to the entire diocese.
She said, “For the families that come, especially with littles, it allows them to relax, to actually be in the moment of Mass and not just thinking about ‘Is this disturbing others?’
“Now the biggest challenge is how to get the word out,” she said.
Much of Nick’s youth centered around medical and therapy appointments, but Rose was also concerned: “How can we help Nick on his faith journey?”
He has received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation through special needs religious formation at Holy Family.
Rose observed, “He embraces simple prayer. He knows God is good. He can see that. He thinks about it.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE:
Looking back, Rose is grateful for the support of family, friends, teachers, and therapists. “Did we tell them enough how thankful we are? And what a difference they made?”
FINDING HIS PLACE:
A kind, observant, and loving young man, Nick combines his skills in gardening and cooking by working part time at Stone’s Throw Farm Co. He makes pickles and jams for the mobile farm stand and grocery store.
Nick lives with communication challenges, which has taught Darius “a lot of patience, love, and tolerance. You’ve got to react a little slower to interpret what he wants to get across to us. But he’s been the teacher.”
Rose added they “find joy in the little things” and have gained a sense of perspective. “Is this really a big deal?”
After 25 years of marriage, Darius shows the same qualities that initially attracted Rose. He said he’s learned to “have a sense of humor. Laugh more. Laugh at life.”
Rose said she’s grasped that, “It’s a combination of faith and support, but knowing that everything will get sorted. It always does. Sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to look or what will happen, but take a deep breath. Know that life is good — keep on going.”