There was always enough love in the Crow House. Even during the leanest years when the struggles of providing food and clothing for 14 children and up to six foster children at a time would challenge them most, Mary and Raymond Crow always managed to compensate for a lack of material goods with an abundance of love.
That love was returned in droves this week when all 14 of the Crow children, and dozens of the more than 300 foster children whom the Crows took in over the years, returned to the family home in Lawrence to celebrate a very special day - Mom's graduation from Boston College.
Mary Crow and some of her family on Commencement Day. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
In fulfillment of a long-standing desire to attend BC and obtain a degree in religious education, Crow, 54, had waited until all but three of her own children had graduated before beginning her master's degree program at the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.
"I had always wanted to go to BC because it had the best program in religious education," said Crow, whose soft-spoken demeanor seems at odds with her high-energy level. "When I first went back, I questioned whether I could do it. After two weeks, I got over my uncertainties and took four courses per semester. Now that I have graduated, I can say that it was a marvelous experience. They really practice what they preach."
In addition to the academic challenge, Crow came to view her classes as a "night out," a luxury her supportive husband had encouraged her to pursue. "I told her we were getting up there in years," said Raymond Crow, her husband of 32 years and a local mailman whose route includes the family's home. "She said she had always wanted to go to BC, so I said, 'Why don't you do it?' I am very proud of her for what she has accomplished. She astounds me at times."
In addition to astounding her husband, Mary Crow also has astounded her professors at IREPM who praise her academic abilities as well as the earthly wisdom she has brought to their classes.
"From the time that she enrolled, I recognized that Mary was a profoundly and authentically human and Christian person," said Asst. Prof. Bruce Morrill, SJ (Theology). "From the care in her writing to the care in her presentation, I also realized that this was an exceptional student. As a teacher, this is the dream you have - to once in your career have a student like Mary Crow."
Added Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology), "Mary came to IREPM with a rich background and great practical wisdom that comes only from raising a family of that size. She is leaving as a competent, confident minister, not because of what we gave her, but because of what she brought to us. We gave her language and resources to continue doing professionally what she has been doing her whole life."
It is a life that has surely never been boring.
Born and raised in Portsmouth, NH, Crow attended Catholic schools where she was inspired to pursue a vocation as a nun. After two months in the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, she left, choosing to seek the Church in a different way. A few years later she married, then spent three years at Keene State College pursuing a degree in elementary education before quitting, as she says, "to start her own school."
The Crows had 10 children before Mary decided to finish her degree, opting for nearby Merrimack College. "Conveniently, my babies were all born during breaks, so I never missed a single class," says Crow. "Even though I often studied while ironing clothes or wrote my term papers between feedings at 2 a.m., I found college to be a wonderfully-enriching experience."
With her long-coveted degree in hand, Mary went back to her full-time vocation as a mother, eventually delivering the last of her 14 children. It was then that Mary got involved her next lifetime pursuit - taking in foster children.
"My second oldest daughter brought home a baby of a 14-year-old girl who had been kicked out of her house," said Crow. "We took the baby overnight and encouraged the girl to get help. With the assistance of the Department of Social Services, we took the girl and her daughter in for six months. After the mother walked away, we kept the baby for another two years."
From that day on, the Crows would take in more than 300 foster children. Some stayed for a week, some stayed for six years, yet all received Mary and Raymond Crow's unique gift of love. Their specialty became teenagers, clearly the most difficult to place of the more than 6,000 individuals in the Massachusetts foster care system.
"Over the course of several years we would have dozens of teenagers and often several babies living with us," said Crow. "It was at times difficult and hard on my own kids. There were fights and runaways, thefts and vandalism. The good outweighed the bad, though, and we always felt that if we could give them a loving place for a while, it could make a difference in their lives."
With her master's degree and three more of her own children starting college in the fall, Mary Crow hopes to embark on the newest phase of her life - taking what she has learned from her books and her maternal experiences and applying them in the classroom as a teacher. It is a plan her husband endorses wholeheartedly.
"I may retire next year and become a 'mister mom' while Mary becomes a teacher," says Raymond. "She deserves to fulfill her dream."
"I think he is just happy to see me get a job," quipped Mary. "It's the least I can do after all of the sacrifices he has made for me."
Looking back on her two years at the Heights, Crow says she is deeply grateful for her time at IREPM and the opportunities for personal and spiritual enrichment that it afforded her.
"BC enabled me to see ministry in a much broader sense," says Crow. "It also gave me the confidence to be a writer. When I was at Keene State I wanted to become a writer but I would ask myself, 'What would I ever write about?' Now, after 14 kids, 20 grandchildren and more than 300 foster kids, I ask myself, 'where would I ever begin?'"
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