Magazine Features

Mother: A home for all

Rosemary (center in dark jacket) stands with family members on Easter Sunday in 2018.

Rosemary St. Denis

For close to three decades, the home of Rosemary St. Denis and her husband Bruno has been known by Ontario County, N.Y. as a welcoming foster home to children from neglected households or with special needs.

“No child asks to be brought into this world, and they have no control over if they’re brought into a warm, stable family, or one that is not,” says Rosemary. Her home has taken in children for an overnight shelter stay, for years, and even for adoption.

“And, of course, no child is perfect. But when you get to know them, you learn that most of the children who walk into my home do want something better than what they were taken out of.”

Welcoming the families

Rosemary St. Denis grew up in The Salvation Army and currently attends the Canandaigua, N.Y., Corps. She learned to welcome others into her home from seeing her own parents do the same.

“They were big believers in that type of personal outreach ministry,” says Rosemary. “They didn’t just invite children into their homes who needed shelter. Their parents were also welcome to stay with us, and were offered help getting back on their feet.” 

Rosemary would set up tables in the living room for Sunday dinner so guest families could eat together, a tradition that she and Bruno continued in their own household.

God could not be everywhere so he created mothers.” — Rudyard Kipling
“I always want the parents to see that their children are in a loving place while they get the help they need. It isn’t just good for the foster child we’re welcoming into our care; it’s also good for the moms and dads themselves. They need to see a new way to do things in their own lives, so they can bring those lessons home.”

When those parents experience that kindness, says Rosemary, many times they work harder to improve their own situations, and those children return to parents in better households than when they left. “They’re never in foster care again,” says Rosemary. “It’s not enough to help a single life. You need to try to reach out to the whole structure of that family.”

She also encourages the children whom the family adopts permanently to stay in contact with their birth parents, if the parents show that they still want to be in their children’s lives.

“If those families are making the effort, my door is always open. But if I don’t see that improvement, I let them know that their instability is not helping us. If they don’t work to improve, we will all be dealing with these broken young people when they are broken adults.”

With God’s help

Today, even with 18 children as legally part of her family, 17 grandchildren, and 2 great–grandchildren, Rosemary is showing no signs of slowing down.

She’s happy to share the memories and experiences of being a foster parent, such as the road trips that the family takes from upstate New York to Disney World in a single RV, or when a boy that she had welcomed into her home came back to her doorstep years later to see if she was still a foster parent.

“I remembered Matt clearly. We had him, his mom, and his dad eat at our home many times. Matt was now an adult, with a family of his own,” says Rosemary.

There have also been difficulties throughout the years. The St. Denis family has dealt with aggressive children in their house, angry biological parents, and kids with serious medical issues, such as scoliosis and cancer requiring chemotherapy. Even with those hardships, Rosemary wishes she could do more.

“When I had to recover from shoulder surgery, even with hired aides and Bruno’s help, I had to turn the county down with regards to taking in children for a while. It hurt me to say that to them,” admits Rosemary.

“I’ve had plenty of people ask me how I do this,” says Rosemary. “I tell them there’s only one way—with the Lord right next to me. He has guided me through every child that enters my home, and has never given me more than I could handle.”

“With God’s help, I’ve welcomed over 150 children into my home, and I can give you all their names. With a little time and thinking, even the order in which they came,” says Rosemary, smiling.

by Hugo Bravo


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