They met while both wore paper hats at McDonald’s.
Both came from families of three children each.
But when Stephanie and Greg Hubbel of Greece were dating, Stephanie mentioned that she really loved children.
Her yearning for a full household was fostered by years of "The Brady Bunch" and "Eight is Enough." As a child, she angled invitations to the homes of big families.
"I loved how the kids got along, and I loved how everything was a big party all the time," Stephanie Hubbel said, recalling the many boxes of cereal passed around at breakfast.
Years later, Stephanie Hubbel sounds wistful as she mentions how empty the family’s van seems. There’s only six kids to drive around now, instead of the nine, with two in college and one out on his own.
The couple is one of many throughout the diocese who lives out church teaching on openness to children in marriage.
"It is the nature of love to overflow, to be life-giving," the U.S. bishops state in their 2009 pastoral letter "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan." "Thus it is no surprise that marriage is ordained not only to growing in love but to transmitting life."
The letter speaks of God as the author of a marriage who gives children to the couple to bring joy and add direction, love and meaning to the family.
"Openness to procreation in the marital act involves ‘acknowledg[ing] that one is not the master of the sources of life,’ " the letter states, quoting Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on human life.
Although they teach natural family planning methods and have successfully used them in the past, Cheryl and Alan Hitchings of Churchville say they are letting God make the plans. The Hitchings, who attend St. Columba/St. Patrick Parish in Caledonia, have nine children ranging in age from 10 months to 14 years.
"We’re pretty honest in admitting that we teach it (natural family planning) and believe in it, but we don’t often use it," said Cheryl Hitchings, who came from a family of four children.
She said one influence on the growth of her family has been Pope John Paul II, who invited couples to be open to adding another child to their families. Yet Cheryl Hitchings acknowledged there’s no right answer for how many children to have.
"I know very few people who would ever say, ‘I wish I would have a smaller family,’" she said. "But I do think having a large family isn’t for everybody."
In public, the family sometimes gets stares or negative comments from people, ranging from "Don’t you have a TV?" to "Are you trying to populate the world?" Her mood determines her response.
Alan Hitchings is in the reserves, so he is often deployed and travels a lot for work, but Cheryl Hitchings said she gets help from friends who stop by to mow the lawn, and her children, who learn from a young age to make lunch and do chores.
"There are times when the pizza guy knows us pretty well," she remarked.
Growing up in a large family of 11 children, including seven adopted children, taught Dominic Salamida II, director of Christian formation at St. Leo Parish in Hilton, to be giving, accommodating and to pitch in when work needed to be done.
He said his parents led by example in making sacrifices. One time his dad turned down a raise because it would require him to take on additional hours away from his family.
"I don’t ever remember my dad ever buying anything for himself," Salamida said. "If he’d buy us a candy bar, he’d take the first bite of it, and that was (the only thing he’d keep)."
Now with seven children of his own, Salamida said one of his parents’ most important lessons to him was the value of life.
"They were very pro-life and taught me that children are a blessing," he said.
Appreciating that blessing is one thing Greg Hubbel said he struggled with at first as he wondered how his family would afford another child. Reflexively, he turned to prayer, and he said he found that someone was listening.
"Whenever we added a baby, things just happened: I would get a promotion at work," said Hubbel, who is a systems engineer at Eastman Kodak Co.
Others generously gave them used cars, clothes or other items.
"These had to be answers to prayers," Greg Hubbel stated.
He said prayer also helped carry the family through difficult times. They have mourned nine children lost during miscarriages. A tenth child died just after birth due to anencephaly, a fatal defect that prevents proper brain development.
When the defect was diagnosed mid-pregnancy, some suggested that the Hubbels abort or prematurely deliver the baby, but they decided to give birth through a planned Caesarean section when the baby was full term. As the family gathered round, the baby was baptized Faith.
"She had her eyes wide open, and we got to spend three hours with her, and all the kids held her and fought over her," Stephanie Hubbel said. "Her life was very, very short, but she is still a huge part of our family."
She sometimes imagines the reunion with her children in the afterlife. It looks a bit like the one she gets when she comes home after grocery shopping.
"All my kids are pressed up against the window," Stephanie Hubbel said. "That’s how I picture the end of my life. They are waiting to see when Mom’s home."