When Tom and Ceci Royals celebrated their 40th anniversary last year, their eight offspring hosted a party to mark the occasion.
All the Royals children were present, including Father Drew Royals, a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Mary and Margaret Royals, devoted sisters who both have Down syndrome and live with their parents in Chevy Chase.
Ask Ceci and Tom to explain their decision to have as many children God planned for them, and their delighted reminiscence of past events and conversations leads to an unexpected answer.
“It was one at a time,” Ceci told the Register, when she recalled the couple’s “openness” to life and the conversations and events that spanned the births of Father Drew, now 40, to their youngest, John Paul, age 25.
“We had three, and then thought, ‘We would be happy to do four.’”
“Once we got into the swing of special needs and therapy, we realized we could be open to another child,” Ceci added, recalling the challenge posed by Drew’s early health problems and their two daughters’ struggle with intellectual disabilities.
Her husband, who serves as assistant headmaster at The Heights, an independent preparatory school for boys in grades three to 12 in Potomac, laughed as he described their childbearing path as “an adventure from the start.” He remembered asking a priest during confession, “How am I going to do this?”
Yet, as they looked back on the toughest moments of the past four decades, the Royalses now believe that the number of children in their busy household mattered less than the way the two of them faced their circumstances, starting with a strong Catholic faith.
Early on, they sought to create a happy, ordered family life punctuated by daily Mass and the Rosary and the joyful celebration of saints’ feast days. Their children attended Catholic schools. And as parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda and members of the personal prelature of Opus Dei, they have been active in the local Catholic community and received ongoing formational support. Ceci also served as president of the National Institute of Womanhood, a civil society organization, from 1991 until 2008, focusing on issues of concern to women and the family.
That pattern of life made it possible for the couple to weather difficult times, and their example has inspired their children to do the same.
“God wants you to know that time is precious, and it is not to be squandered,” Ceci told Drew when he was a child and had to make sense of his serious health challenges.
“Drew told me, ‘Mom, it is a blessing.’ And that has been our experience: Everything is a blessing.”
Thus far, four of the Royals children have married — Ellen, Ann, Tom and James, who have all started sizable families of their own — and the 20th grandchild is on the way.
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