Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is known to many Catholics as the host of EWTN’s “Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms” and “Catholic Mom’s Café” and the author of several award-winning and best-selling books. Her new book, The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross, published by Ignatius Press, reveals surprising details about her life that she has not discussed very often, including struggles with pregnancy loss, serious illness, divorce, being a single mother, and a daunting court battle for custody of her five children.
Donna-Marie recently corresponded with Catholic World Report about her book, sharing her thoughts about motherhood, her friendship with Blessed Mother Teresa, and being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
CWR: You have written several books, but none have discussed the intimate details of your harrowing personal life — until now. Why did you decide to finally reveal the personal details of your life in a book format?
Donna-Marie: For years I have written books about the Catholic faith in an effort to teach and inspire, as well as to affirm people (especially women who are so bombarded by our ungodly culture) in their God-given vocations.
I have always tried to keep myself out of my writing as much as I could so that I didn’t draw the attention to myself, but so that I could give glory to God. Over time, I learned that it is essential to share of our personal lives so that we can reach the hearts of others who will relate to the experiences.
I mention this notion in the preface of my book when I explain how I one time shared with a worn-out single mother that I had also been a single mother in the past and that even though it was extremely difficult at times, God had indeed helped me to mother my five children and raise them in the faith. The woman was flabbergasted to learn that, though I appear on EWTN and in my writings as “all put together,” I have struggled, too. In learning about my past, this woman suddenly felt very hopeful about her own plight. She said, “If you can do it, Donna-Marie, I can do it, too!”
I realized then that I absolutely needed to share much more about my own struggles in life so that, by God’s grace, I could help others to experience hope for their own situations. I didn’t know exactly when I’d be sharing my story, but I had a strong sense that I would make my life more of an open book to share the good, the bad, the ugly, the scary and the redemptive.
CWR: What have some of the initial reactions to the book? Are many people surprised that you—a sweet, joyful and soft-spoken woman—have lived a perilous life?
Donna-Marie: Thank you for asking. Yes, people are very surprised. Perhaps I should say, they have been “shocked”! Most people cannot believe that I have experienced so much pain and suffering in my life that was recounted in my book.
What really warms my heart, though, is that The Kiss of Jesus is helping many women who are struggling with deep challenges. Women have contacted me to tell me that they don’t feel alone anymore after reading my book, and that they now experience hope. My heart is truly rejoicing that God is using my story to help others. That is what I had prayed for when writing this book and continue to pray for now.
CWR: Could you please describe your 10-year relationship with your close friend, Blessed Mother Teresa, and the type of impact she had, and perhaps continues to have, on your life?
Donna-Marie: I met Mother Teresa about twenty-eight years ago at a Home for the Dying at one of her Missionaries of Charity convents. It was a very moving encounter that remains etched on my heart. I tried to describe it in great detail in The Kiss of Jesus and in my earlier book Mother Teresa and Me.
After meeting Mother Teresa I never expected that I would be blessed with continued communication with the saint of the gutters. But, for some reason, in God’s Divine Providence, I would be blessed with a dozen or so more meetings with her (some of them private) and many letters from her (almost two dozen).
Mother Teresa became not only a very special friend, but an amazing spiritual mother to me — praying for me, guiding me and affirming me in my faith. She led me through some pretty perilous times.
I took all of these blessings straight to my heart and applied Mother Teresa’s wisdom to my life. Later on, I’d feel very passionate about sharing it all with the world, using the platform that unfolded in my life as an author, speaker and TV host.
Mother Teresa continues to be a beautiful spiritual mother and guide to me. I ask her for her intercession several times a day. I strive to emulate the virtues that she practiced, and I feel passionately drawn to live my life following the same Gospel message that Mother Teresa wholeheartedly followed: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.” (Matthew 25:40).
CWR: What could you tell us about Blessed Mother Teresa that perhaps has never been told about her previously?
Donna-Marie: That would be a very challenging task! She might be one of the most spoken-about people ever. But, I will try. I’ll share something she said to me.
“I am sorry to hear of the suffering you have to undergo. Jesus loves you and though He is the Lord of all, He cannot interfere with the gift of free will He has given to man. Jesus shares His love with you and shares His suffering and pain. He is a God of love and does not want His children to suffer, but when you accept your pain, suffering, death and resurrection your pain becomes redemptive for yourself and for others … Christ calls us to be one with Him in love through unconditional surrender to His plan for us. Let us allow Jesus to use us without consulting us by taking what He gives and giving what He takes.”
CWR: Pope Francis recently announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church’s “mission to be a witness of mercy.” How does your personal story tie in to the Year of Mercy?
Donna-Marie: God’s mercy is powerful. I believe that my personal story ties in to the Year of Mercy because my life seems to be one very long mercy! It was a crazy, crooked path that God made sense out of and made straight through His mercy. I believe that my story can teach God’s mercy because there are many instances in my life when mercy came into play. Forgiving is merciful and as Christians we are called to forgive those who have harmed us. When we forgive and show mercy, we can experience a true and abiding peace.
My story also teaches mercy because it speaks about the saints who teach us to be merciful and also in the examples I mention of striving to offer Christ’s love to others who are enduring trying circumstances.
CWR: How were you able to maintain your Catholic faith during so much turmoil in your life, which included losing three babies to miscarriage, your husband’s drinking problem and raising your kids as a single mother for a period of time?
Donna-Marie: It is the only way. During trying and turbulent times, we need to dig our heels further into the faith, even more so than ever before. We need to reach our hearts up to God more passionately and earnestly — begging for His help and also expecting it. For it is when we surrender our hearts to God’s plan that we can be helped and will feel His peace in our hearts even amidst the uncertainty and pain. We have to trust that God knows what He is doing. Thank God we are blessed with the wisdom of the saints who have gone before us and the ones we might even be rubbing elbows with right now to show us the way.
CWR: What advice do you have for women who feel trapped in abusive relationships?
Donna-Marie: I truly understand the feeling of being trapped in a bad situation. Sometimes fear can wrap one in chains, and we might begin to feel that there is no way out. It’s important to never give up on hope for better days. And it’s essential to never stop praying — no matter what. Prayer is the answer. God will always listen.
I hope that women who feel trapped in an abusive relationship can try to reach out to get some necessary help through their parish or counseling services. It requires some courage to do so, but I believe that God will grant every grace necessary. I pray that these women will realize that they should not be abused and that they need to get out of an abusive situation right away.
I sincerely hope that all Christians will step up to the plate to be more attentive to the needs around them and especially to the silent cries for help. Please pray for the abused to get rescued. Do all you can to be a vessel of mercy.
CWR: You have said that “The Kiss of Jesus” comes so close to the cross, it’s like you’re receiving a kiss from Jesus. Could you please explain what that means?
Donna-Marie: Mother Teresa told me, “Suffering is the sharing in the Passion of Christ. Suffering is the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the Cross that He can kiss you. Do offer some of your sufferings for us and our people.” I quote her telling me this in The Kiss of Jesus.
No one is above his or her Master. Jesus suffered immensely for all of us. He asks us to pick up our cross and follow Him. We should expect that suffering will come into our lives in some form or another, but we can offer it to Jesus and ask Him to redeem it and use it for our own selves and for others. By offering it all to Jesus, we can grow in holiness and earn graces for ourselves and others.
In her words to me (above and in my book), Mother Teresa asked me to offer some of my sufferings for her and the poor. She knew well the power of redemptive suffering. We shouldn’t waste our suffering.