Ave Maria Singles Couple admitted to the Papal Order of St. Sylvester

Veteran Ave Maria Singles couple Austin and Catherine Mardon were married in 2003, and over the last two decades they’ve been advocates for those struggling with problems related to fetal alcohol syndrome. This has included fostering dozens of children and young adults with various developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, autism, and so on.

As a result of their impressive fortitude and the many fruits of their charitable efforts, they were nominated and admitted to the Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester in 2017, and in late 2019, they received an audience with Pope Francis in Rome.

To learn more about their personal story, you can read the Mardons’ testimony below.

For more about their public ministry, check out this story from the Catholic News Agency.

We are grateful to have the Mardon family in the Ave Maria Singles community, and we thank them for their impressive witness!


Testimony of the Mardon family

by Catherine Mardon

Austin and I both do a lot of adult education in the fields of apologetics and marriage. One topic I repeatedly hit on is how you can see God’s grace in human endeavors by appreciating the fruits that are produced. We led good lives before we married, but the fruits that have flowed from our union have been unbelievable.

We’re both disabled, and many people were adamantly opposed to our getting married. In many ways we only had each other. We were willing to be open to life. Unfortunately, for some people that means primarily being pro-birth. We couldn’t have children of our own, but God kept dropping kids into our laps who needed parents, and children don’t quit needing parents when they turn eighteen.

We eventually became foster parents to over a dozen young adults, all with fetal alcohol syndrome, developmental disabilities, mental illnesses and/or autism. At times it has been so difficult. We have dealt with overdoses, incarcerations, and varying degrees of chaos. We learned to take each crisis one issue at a time. I learned to explain, “We love you unconditionally, but we don’t like how you’re acting.”

We have become experts in the virtue of patience. It certainly helps that I’m a baseball fanatic. You can fail 75% of the time at the plate and still be an all-star. Several years ago, our former pastor nominated us for the Order of St. Sylvester. It went to the Archbishop who nominated us for the level of Knight/Dame. It then went to the Papal Nuncio of Canada who sent it up to the Secretary of State at the Vatican.  It finally ended up on the Pope’s desk, the one who makes all the final decisions for knighthoods. He subsequently bumped our designation up to Knight/Dame Commander.

When the Archbishop called us, I was stunned speechless. That’s very rare for me. He knew that I tended to be quite shy and reserved, while my husband loves the limelight. His Excellency scheduled a very low key presentation which I delivered in the chapel at our Pastoral Centre. The Papal Nuncio then went to work getting us an audience with the Pope. We were given two dates: November 2019 or April 2020. As I am disabled and have arthritis in my spine, it goes without saying that I don’t do well on planes.

Consequently, I started physical therapy to be able to make the trip, but I didn’t really think I’d be ready by November. Austin pushed, and if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to go (due to Covid lockdowns). As you can imagine, it was a great trip. We stayed right across from St. Peter’s Square, where we watched the Angelus from the balcony of our hotel (which used to be an Augustinian monastery). The day of the audience was incredible. We had these special tickets that looked like something right out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Swiss Guard ushered us past all the lines of people waiting to go through the metal detectors.

When the Pope arrived and put out his hand, I thought I was going to pass out. He had a great handshake. I’m from Oklahoma, so that’s important to me. We gave him a copy of the children’s book I wrote about him. We then talked about the kids that we take into our home. He told us about a disabled adult he took in while he was a bishop, and then blessed a bunch of medals and rosaries that we brought. It was the longest conversation I’ve ever had without Austin interrupting. Part of it is that Austin doesn’t speak Spanish, but I was raised in a poor part of town surrounded by Mexicans, including my own beloved godparents.

After we arrived home, Covid hit Italy only a short month later. The crisis has hit our “kids” really hard. Their schools and day programs have all been canceled, and those who live in group homes nearby weren’t allowed to spend time with us. Of course, they can’t get hugs over Zoom. Regardless, we have two people living with us now, another two that we help out regularly who live nearby, and about half a dozen who call at our residence every now and then (mostly when they’re hungry or in trouble).

Of course, we've learned that we have to be careful to take care of ourselves first, and our marital relationship needs to come before dealing with any of the external chaos.






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