May 14, 2021

Mary has been ‘at the center’ of couple’s 30-year relationship

Craig and Linda Whitaker and Linda’s—now the couple’s—son Johnathan honor Mary during their wedding Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Georgetown, Ky., on Dec. 8, 1990. (Submitted photo)

Craig and Linda Whitaker and Linda’s—now the couple’s—son Johnathan honor Mary during their wedding Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Georgetown, Ky., on Dec. 8, 1990. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Lisa and Craig Whitaker have dedicated their marriage to helping the Church and spreading the faith.

One was raised on Catholicism and novenas. The other was a non-practicing Protestant who later converted to the Catholic faith.

What follows is a story of the Whitakers, members of Holy Family Parish in New Albany. Both were seeking to live their faith more deeply when God crossed their paths through a specific medium: the Blessed Mother.

Trusting the ‘intercession of the Mother of God’

Lisa was born into a family with a generational devotion to Mary through parish novenas, starting with Lisa’s great-grandmother at what is now the Basilica of St. Anne-de-Beaupre near Quebec, Canada.

Lisa was in seventh grade when her parish established weekly prayer in the church to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The prayer time included eucharistic adoration.

It was during these sessions, along with “what my mother taught me,” that she says she “developed my love for Our Lady and a deep, abiding devotion to all things Marian,” says Whitaker.

“It is precisely during those weekly times … that I was schooled in what it means to have a real, true, living faith which includes trusting in the intercession of the Mother of God.”

More than a decade passed. Some unwise choices were made, and Lisa was a struggling single mother in 1989 when she realized she needed help.

“I asked Jesus to help me,” she recalls. “Christ pointed me in the clear direction of his Blessed Mother. [She], in turn, happily pointed me back to her Son with an echo of similar words she spoke to the wine stewards at the wedding in Cana, ‘Do whatever he tells you, Lisa.’ ”

When she exited the chapel, she noticed a small newspaper with a photo of Mary on the cover. The publication, produced by Peace Center Tours, was about Marian apparitions that were reported to have been occurring since 1981 at Medjugorje in what was then Yugoslavia.

Lisa took it home, read it—and was fascinated.

“I started living the message—turning back to God, going to confession and daily Mass,” she says.

Two weeks later, she and her sister drove an hour and a half from their home in Georgetown, Ky., to hear the author of the tract speak in Louisville.

‘It was Mary who brought me to Christ’

Craig was a non-practicing Protestant Christian whose parents divorced when he was young. He lived with his mom, who provided “a motherly figure” in his life, he says. But faith was never a primary focus in the home.

But it was for his best friend’s family.

“They strongly practiced their Catholic faith,” he recalls. “I was over at his house every day after school. They became my second family.”

This was especially true after Craig’s mother died when he was just 14. He lived with his grandparents, then with his grandfather after his grandmother died when Craig was 18.

All the while, Craig drew closer to his friend’s family.

“I started going to Mass with them,” he says. “Finally, I came into the Church in 1984.”

He took a corporate job, “climbing the ladder of success,” Craig says.

He worked in California and Chicago. But by 1987 he left the company, got a job in Louisville and moved to New Albany to care for his grandfather.

A year later, he happened across a small newspaper about Medjugorje.

“The newspaper rang true to me,” Craig recalls. “I was a practicing Catholic, but I didn’t know much about Mary. I shared the newspaper with some friends in my Bible study. They were interested in going. Then we saw there was a pilgrimage [group] leaving in May. I knew I had to go.”

The journey impacted him greatly, says Craig. When he returned, he became involved with Peace Center Tours and its mission.

“Part of my ministry was to get youth involved [in their faith], understand their faith better and come to love Jesus through Mary,” he explains.

“I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. But it was Mary who brought me to Christ, and I wanted to share that with others in my situation, how they could pray for Mary’s intercession and ask her to introduce [Jesus] to them.”

Another part of Craig’s service to the organization was helping deliver talks about Medjugorje.

Thus he found himself in Louisville co-hosting a presentation when a young woman in the crowd asked him about the Blessed Mother’s message for young people.

The woman’s name was Lisa.

‘A spiritual level first’

“I stayed after to thank him,” Lisa recalls.

“I thought she was 16 or 17,” says Craig, who was 31 at the time. He didn’t realize she was 24.

Thinking she was part of a youth group, Craig got her address to send her information. He ended the conversation by reaching into his pocket and giving her a Miraculous Medal.

“I’d had it in my pocket for two years,” Craig shares. “I said, ‘I think Mary wants you to have this.’ ”

A few weeks later, Lisa received a package in the mail from Craig with a picture of Mary, a rosary and information on how to pray it. Despite the novenas she prayed with her family, “I didn’t really pray the rosary growing up,” Lisa admits.

Now armed with beads and instructions, she began praying the rosary. She wrote Craig to thank him, and in the process “poured my heart out to him.

“I said here’s my situation, here’s how I came to it, and I’m thankful I met you, and I’m trying to live the messages” from Medjugorje (still unverified by the Vatican as supernatural, as the apparitions are reported to still be occurring).

“I gave him my phone number,” says Lisa. Then she adds with an audible smile and bubbly joy, “That man is my husband! Craig!”

The couple began corresponding in June of 1989. Lisa formed a prayer group in her parish and invited Craig to the weekly sessions. By August, they decided to date.

Their first date, however, did not occur until after they were engaged, Lisa admits.

“Our relationship started on a spiritual level first, then friendship, then we realized, ‘There’s something here,’ ” she says.

After a volleyball match at her parish’s annual picnic that fall—still dating but not having gone on a date—Craig asked Linda to pray with him in her parish’s adoration chapel.

“We prayed, then started talking, then he said, ‘Well, this isn’t what I planned—.’ Then he got down on his knee and proposed,” says Lisa.

Three months before their wedding, she and her sister joined Craig on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje.

The couple married in 1990 on the day they both knew should be their wedding date: Dec. 8, the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which happened to fall on a Saturday that year.

‘Mary, she’s been at the center’

“She really is a momma to us,” Lisa says of the Blessed Mother.

Both have been active in the New Albany Deanery and in Holy Family Parish with Bible studies and nearly two decades of helping with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

The couple even founded a charter Catholic school in Louisville, for which Lisa served as principal and teacher and Craig served in administration. The donor-funded school was able to operate for 10 years “by the grace of God,” Craig notes.

“We always said we’re meant to work in the Church and help spread the faith. And that’s what we’ve done for 30 years,” says Lisa, who served as director of religious education at the former

St. Joseph Parish in Clark County from 2001-2011, and at St. Joseph Parish in Corydon from 2011 until her retirement last December.

“We both knew when we married and through the years that our marriage was founded on our faith and love of God and Jesus through Mary—and St. Joseph, he’s active in our lives and marriage, too!” says Lisa.

Still, the Blessed Mother has played a vital role in the couple’s lives, says Craig.

“Mary, she’s been at the center of our relationship, and continues to be.” †

Related: Readers share stories of Blessed Mother’s role in their lives

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