Kathleen Enzler has 13 steps on the stairway in her Bethesda home. There is a picture of one of her children mounted above each step. A friend once asked her whether she would have had another child if the stairs had had another step.
Enzler laughs recounting that story. And, with her youngest child's college graduation this spring to mark the official end of Enzler's child-rearing responsibilities, she has no regrets.
She recently took time off from her job as director of the Family Life Bureau of the Roman Catholic archdiorese of Washington to speak at her daughter's commencement at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa. In her remarks, she coined a new term to describe the new decade.
"I told them if they were going to be mature and educated people, they had to be free and loving and good," Enzler later said. "And that if they were going to be free, they didn't have to pick up on the protest on the 60s and the 'me-ism' of the 70s, but that they should concentrate on the 'we-ism' of the 80s."
The speech concluded a long Enzler family liaison with the school, where all eight Enzler daughters studied through graduation. According to the school's records, at least one of Enzler's daughters has been in attendance there every year except one since 1956.
Attention to the "we" of the family and the Catholic church is characteristic of Enzler's life. Her position at the Family Life Bureau was filled before her by her husband, Clarence. The two worked closely together, counseling church groups of engaged and married couples around the country and writing magazine articles on family problems.
When her husband died three years ago, Enzler said, William Cardinal Baum asked her to take over the post.
"My job involves anything that pertains to families, making them better, holier," said Enzler. "It's interesting. I love it."
The family programs Enzler helps coordinate have received added attention since a conference of Roman Catholic bishops voted to designate 1980 "The Year of the Family." The vote came on the heels of the release of statistics that, according to Enzler, show the number of separated and divorced Catholics is almost as high as the number of separated and divorced persons of other religions.
"The marriage encounter is the current big movement among Catholics, Protestants and Jews," Enzler said. "It is a rather intensive weekend of communication between couples in a spirtual setting. There are also encounters for engaged people."
Enzler's office also helps local church parishes organize "pre-Cana" and "post-Cana" groups. The name is taken from the village in Galilee where Christ is said to have first turned water into wine for guests at a marriage ceremony.
Enzler believes discussion groups are important in keeping people in touch with the meaning of marriage -- whether the participants are engaged, married or widowed.
"Nothing else that anyone does is done as lightly (as marriage)," Enzler said. "You can't even got a driver's license without answering some questions. A lot of kids today haven't had very good models. They aren't used to having a good family life. Of course, sometimes that makes them work even harder."
In spite of the fact that divorce is not recognized by the Catholic Church, Enzler believes separated and divorced couples still need the support the church can give them.
"Divorce isn't anything we should ignore in the church," she said. "They need our help . . . The church is for people who are suffering and hurt, and they are."
Enzler does not approve of the trend toward living together before or instead of marrying.
"I feel sorry for (people who are living together). They really don't know what marriage is," Enzler commented. "'it's missing that word "commitment.' Marriage is work."