The parishioners organized a task force on the family. The membership of the pro-life committee increased 15-fold. And Rena and John Damskey made up their minds to have another baby.
In small but meaningful ways, Pope John Paul II's visit to Washington a year ago touched the lives of the members of St. Berndette's parish in Silver Spring.
The tightly knit, family-oriented parish was heavily involved in preparations for the pope's stop in Washington and church members turned out in droves for his mass on the Mall. They took heart from the pope's impassioned homily there, in which he emphasized that families must be preserved in these times of economic stress, liberal moral standards and wider opportunities for women.
"I just sometimes felt like we were alone," said Sarrah Willging, a parishioner who prays every night with her family and opposes artificial birth control and abortion.
"I mean, by having the number of children we have -- six children -- sometimes people made me feel as if we weren't being patriotic. So it was very encouraging for us to have [the pope] come and talk all about the family. I just felt the fatherliness and support he has for us as a family."
Before the pope's visit, Rita Damskey said, she and her husband debated whether to have a fourth child. Later they talked about the pope's homily and decided that they indeed wanted their family to grow.
"We became more aware of ourselves as a family rather than individuals going different ways," said Mrs. Damskey, who gave birth to a baby girl Sunday night.
After the pope left, the parish as a whole organized a task force on the family, revived the annual family picnic and tried to reemphasize the role of the parish as an extended family.
"The task force is coming up with ideas on how to bring families closer together," said Jim Willging, who serves on it. "Through task forces like this one, families can make known their needs and in the years to come church leaders will decide how to respond to them."
After listening to the pope urge that Catholics have "the courage, perseverance and inventiveness to promote and defend life," more parish members became involved with St. Bernadette's "Pro-Life Committee," swelling its ranks from 20 to 300 members. And more church members than ever participated in last January's "March for Life" in Washington, said committee member Sally Murphy.
Since it opened in 1958, St. Bernadette's, an attractive two-story tan brick church, has drawn a membership that is predominantly white and middle class. The men, for the most part, hold jobs with the county or federal governments. And while a growing number of the women are taking jobs outside the home, most devote their full time to their homes and families.
It is not unusual to see families with eight, 10 or 11 children, all at Sunday mass at the same time, and all getting up to receive Holy Communion together.
But even at St. Bernadette's, the talk of family life has neccessarily turned to talk of the single parent home.
"That's something they never used to talk about but they're taking into consideration more and more, "said Barry. "I think the Catholic Church is recognizing there are more and more single parent Catholic families, that not everyone is happily married."
If there is any other bequest of Pope John Paul's visit, it is the tremendous personal impact he made. The parishioners of St. Bernadette's still have a vivid memory of a pope who is friendly, witty, outgoing, and above all, caring.
"When we talk about the pope now our kids know who we are talking about. He's a real person, not just some obscure, abstract thing," said Murphy. She and her younger children watched the pope's visit to Washington on television last year when she was expecting her sith child.Her husband and oldest boy traveled by bus with other parishioners to the mass on the mall.
"I think his having been here has established somewhat of a link," said Bob Ocha, a teacher at High Point Senior High School in Prince George's County. "Any pronouncement coming from the Vatican takes on a fuller dimension by virtue of the fact that he's been here."
Even some of the pope's most controversial pronouncements this year -- the prohibition against priests in politics and his silencing of Catholic theologian Hans Kung -- have widespred support at St. Bernadette's.
"I can see the pope's point of view," said Judy Duvall of the pope's order barring priests from partisan politics. "These men are priests. They're supposed to be helping people with their souls, not getting into the hassle of politics."
Tocha, the teacher, says of the pope's action against theologian Kung: "I feel a certain uneasiness about it in terms of academic freedom . . . but I also think Kung was out on a limb. There may be some point where you can go too far. I might be concerned though if this becomes a pattern."
Many of the parishioners say the pope, over the past two years, has merely tried to make clear the church's teachings on divorce, birth control, abortion, the role of priests and the ordination of women. Theologians like Kung, they say just "confuse" these issues.
Few parishioners, however, seem confused by the way this pope can be both liberal -- as when he called for a sharing of the wealth and a more just social and economic order during his vists to poverty-stricken areas of Africa and Brazil -- while at the same time reacting so conservatively as in the rulings against politically active priests and Kung.
"We live in complex times," said Tocha. "You see him trying to stop excesses in one area, but trying to encourage change in other areas."