Journeying through the ups and downs of her life so far, Emma Maloney has achieved the rare sense that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. Working for the Catholic charity Youth 2000 and supplied abundant love by her family and tight circle of friends, it’s been a road beset with the uncertainties and difficulties of life to this point.
Emma’s face made famous by LoveBoth posters during the 2018 referendum, her life is known by many only in broad strokes.
Growing up she imbibed the Faith from her grandparents through regular post-dinner rosaries in Irish. A further fondness of the Church was instilled in her by her primary school education – delivered by nuns.
“I was fascinated by the stories,” she tells The Irish Catholic, “especially hearing the story of Little Nellie. I remember hearing that story from a nun and really thinking about it afterwards…it really played on my mind. Definitely a positive experience.”
However, her secondary school experience proved anti-climatic after the warmth of primary. She recalls little to no mention or thought of God in her early years, before her mother returned to her Faith midway through her school life.
“I saw from her that it wasn’t wishy-washy make-believe. It was getting her through the difficult times,” she says.
Following her mother’s reversion, Emma experienced a brief revival; she enjoyed prayer in her later teens, before going to Medjugorje in sixth year, where she had a powerful experience of confession, which left her “feeling so free afterwards.”
“At that time, I felt there was like a huge, huge battle going on,” she says. Upon returning, she found her desire for God warring with her desire to fit in. She found herself “drinking, smoking, wearing the hoop earrings every day in school, eyeliner,” and she found she had no one to share the struggle with save her mother.
With college looming, she longed for a solution:
“I thought my relationship with God would improve if I was studying theology, but it was completely the opposite experience for me. Looking back now, it was because I didn’t have that Catholic community. There were people in the class who were practicing Catholics, who were part of prayer groups, but I wasn’t in their social circle. So again, I found myself really isolated and not knowing, not having a friend to talk about God with. And so I found college really, really, really, really difficult. I completely lost myself. I stopped praying the way that I had before. I found myself focusing on the partying and what to wear, and that sort of thing.”
The importance of community would inform her later choices, but for now, she had further challenges and surprises coming her way. Applying and being accepted for a masters, she was ready to move ahead according to her plans.
“The same week, a few days before, I found out I was expecting Rossa. So again, what happened there was, when I found out I was expecting Rossa, I just completely panicked. It was a big shock – I didn’t know what to do. I was single. I just remember getting on a bus and I don’t even know where I was going, but I ended up in St Teresa’s on Clarendon Street. I think I’d been in there once before,” she remembers.
“I went in there and I just remember praying and praying and being like, just crying, and praying the rosary, and I just felt God say, ‘Come back, come back to me with all your heart and everything will be ok, but just come back to me and follow me.’”
This she committed to do, but as with taking up your cross, it is rarely easy.
“There at that time, it was, I felt suicidal. Of course, abortion did cross my mind because I was so scared. I didn’t know what I would do. Then as well, maybe suicide – that’s the reality. I was so scared, and I didn’t know what was going to happen, how would I take care of a baby? I was on my own. How would my family react? All these things (were) going through my head.”
Prayer provided her an even keel, though; prayer, and the love and support of her family and parish community.
“When I got up from that moment, I just felt like ‘Ok God, I’m back.’ It was the same kind of feeling that I had felt after I had gone to confession in Medjugorje, just that, everything would be ok, put God first and everything else will follow. Everything else will be alright.”
Her mother met with the parish priest, and asked if he could stoke the budding love she had for pastoral, or youth, ministry. “So he invited me over to his house for tea. I was like, six months pregnant at the time. It was very, very embarrassing to go to your parish priest because I didn’t know him very well before that. He was just so, so nice,” she laughs.
He invited her to take charge of a Maynooth trip to the 2016 World Youth Day – an experience that would firmly plant God’s flag in her heart, and which has compelled her to where she is today – working for Youth 2000, a community she believes she owes a lot to.
Having experienced intense loneliness following Rossa’s birth, she took a chance on a Youth 2000 prayer meeting, a gamble from which she took her best friends and a job. “It was just like the perfect job – my dream job to work for Youth 2000. Delighted to work for them.”
With the office in her old, leafy haunt of Maynooth, and a stone’s throw from her family, Emma has come to see that God provides.