CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — A family from this central Kentucky city, known for their dedication to church and community, has been named the “International Family of the Year” by the Knights of Columbus.
Paul and Marcia Gilbert and their seven children accepted the award Aug. 7 in Anaheim, Calif., at the 130th annual national convention of the Knights of Columbus.
The Gilberts, members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Campbellsville, have not always had an easy road, but say that — through their faith — they have strengthened their marriage and their desire to do God’s will.
Paul and Marcia were married in 1998 and moved to Kentucky in 2002. Prior to her marriage with Paul, Marcia was married once before and had three children.
“Things were not always great. We struggled a lot in our early marriage, but God was with us through that,” Paul Gilbert said.
Despite not growing up with a Christian upbringing, Paul Gilbert said he felt like he had a gift of faith from an early age. After a long-awaited annulment, the Gilberts were able to marry in the church in 2006, and in the following spring, Paul entered the church through the RCIA program.
“We were really waiting for it to happen. There was a time when we felt like we would never be able to marry in the church. But our prayers were answered, and Paul was able to come into the church and get the sacraments,” Marcia Gilbert said.
The Gilberts said they gradually became involved in activities at their parish.
“People just started asking us to help out with things. We began to take a more active role in the parish. Before that, the children were younger, and we spent most of our time in the cry room or the vestibule. We did little by little. Over several years, the activities added up,” Paul Gilbert said.
They certainly did.
Paul Gilbert is active in his parish’s Knights of Columbus council and is the chairman of the council’s coat drive. He also has served as a catechist for the parish’s confirmation class and has assisted with teaching the children who make First Communion. He also works with the parish youth group. He and his wife assist with the annual Thanksgiving Social.
The entire family was involved in the renovation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, including painting the church and refurbishing the altar.
Marcia Gilbert serves as the director of the Central Kentucky Pregnancy Crisis Center. She speaks publicly about the center’s work and organizes numerous fundraisers for the center.
The children are also very active in the parish and community. They help with religious education, participate as altar servers, sing in the choir and assist their mother at the pregnancy center, their parents said.
In addition to volunteering, the children all have belts in Tae Kwon Do, a form of martial arts.
Paul and Marcia Gilbert said that their children have always expressed an interest in assisting them with various volunteer projects.
“Whenever we do something, they do something. We are pretty much always together. As they have gotten older, there are more things they can be naturally involved in,” Marcia said.
Paul added, “Where children feel loved, they are happy to be involved. I really feel like they are loved in this parish.”
Ed Matheny, past grand knight of the Knights of Columbus council at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, nominated the Gilberts for the award “because of all the work they do for the faith.”
“They are a force in action,” he said. “Over the years I’ve seen a lot of families, but these guys are outstanding. They are the face of the Catholic Church in my mind.”
In addition to their commitment of service to their church, Paul and Marcia Gilbert have homeschooled their seven children — Sarah (now Sister of St. Joseph Cecilia), 21; Daniel, 18; Dominic, 16; Hannah, 13; Christina, 12; Zoe, 11; and Jared, 8. An important part of the education of their children has been their efforts to foster a culture of religious vocations.
Their oldest daughter Sarah is a novice with the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Ky., and eldest son Daniel, 18, recently entered the seminary for the Archdiocese of Louisville at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.
“We never pressured any of our kids. If they do express that desire, we try to point out good examples and spend time with the parish priest,” Paul Gilbert said.
Daniel said his parents’ openness about his desire to enter the priesthood was pivotal in his discernment.
“My family has always supported me doing whatever I felt to be God’s will for my life. They were always open to the possibility of me becoming a priest or religious. It was something I could talk about with them,” he said.
Twelve-year-old Christina said that it is amazing to be a part of big family and that she is inspired by her older brother Daniel, older sister Sarah and her parents.
“I would like to be a missionary when I grow up,” she said.
Younger sister Hannah said that she “enjoys helping at the pregnancy center” and “can’t wait” to help with religious education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help this year.
The 13-year-old said she wants “to be a mom with a bunch of kids” when she grows up.
Paul and Marcia Gilbert said the international honor is “still difficult to fathom” and “surreal,” but they added that they hope they are able to inspire others to get more involved in their own parishes and communities.
“If from all this we could encourage someone to become more active in their parish, to pick one activity and help out, that would be worth it,” Paul Gilbert said.
By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer