What makes a great love story? A man and woman who love each other. Choosing devotion to one another day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Committed to following God together. Overcoming difficulties. Sharing joy and success. Clinging to one another when tragedy strikes. Resolving to use their life experience to do good and share truth. Passing on a legacy of blessing to the next generation.
It’s a tall order for any couple. And it’s certainly not achieved overnight. A great love story takes a lifetime to fully write.
One such couple who has demonstrated that kind of love story is Karen and Rick Santorum.
No doubt you’ve heard of Rick Santorum. He’s had a well-known and active political career. Before politics, Rick earned a business and law degree and worked as a lawyer in Pennsylvania. He became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990, and in 1994 he was elected to the U.S. Senate for the state of Pennsylvania. He served in the Senate until 2007. In 2012 and 2016, he ran for president. Now he works as a consultant.
Karen Santorum, though not a politician like her husband, has an equally impressive background. She studied nursing and worked in a neonatal intensive care unit providing medical care to premature babies. Later she went to law school and earned her law degree. She’s the mother of their seven living children and has written two books.
Accomplished as they are individually, their great love story is really found in who they are together as a couple and, specifically, the way they have lived out their pro-life convictions in times of difficulty and personal sorrow.
Tragedy can make or break a couple. In the case of the Santorums, it has refined them, like fire refines gold.
The Santorums married in 1990. In an interview with The Washington Post, Karen recalled the first time she met Rick that even though she was a “headstrong career woman,” she “came home that night and wrote in my diary that I had met the man I was going to marry.”
Both Rick and Karen are Catholic and are deeply committed to their faith. They are both unashamedly pro-life and have lived out that ethic – personally and publicly.
Together they have eight children but lost a son who was born prematurely.
In 1996, after having three healthy children, the Santorums learned that Karen was pregnant. Karen detailed the events of her pregnancy and loss in a book she later published titled “Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum.”
At nearly 20 weeks gestation, they discovered that their son, Gabriel, had an organ abnormality that, left untreated, would result in his death. They were informed that in utero surgery could save the baby’s life but might also have other medical consequences. Their doctor successfully performed surgery on the baby, but within days Karen went into preterm labor and was diagnosed with an untreatable infection in the amniotic sac. Their son, Gabriel, was born the next day alive but could not be saved with medical intervention. He lived for two hours before he passed away.
Crushed as they were, the Santorums clung to God and one another, and they shared the story of their sweet son Gabriel. Only 20 weeks gestation, but fully human and fully loved. Together they inspired and encouraged others suffering from pregnancy loss and reminded all of us about the humanity of life at every stage of development.
In 2008, the Santorums had their eighth child, Isabella Maria. Bella, as they call her, was born with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder. Most children born with the condition perish within the first year of life. The Santorums were told Bella’s death was imminent, but instead of embracing her death, they chose to celebrate her life. Instead of focusing on her limitations, they chose to see all of the love and beauty that Bella could bring to their family.
And against all odds, Bella survived! Today she’s a beautiful and happy 13-year-old girl with special needs.
In 2015, the Santorums, along with their eldest daughter, wrote a book about Bella titled “Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation.” The book “details the peaks and valleys, the joys and sufferings, and the incredible value of life with a special needs child.”
When tempted to despair over their daughter’s terminal diagnosis, the Santorums instead chose to cling to each other and God. They decided to share Bella’s story as a reminder that all human life is valuable, and every child deserves a chance to live, to love, and to be loved.
So what makes a great love story?
The best love stories are the ones that point to something bigger. They point to something eternal. They remind us of a greater love – God’s love.
The Santorum’s love story inspires us because they know how to love well, and it’s a reflection of God’s love.
Photo from Shutterstock.