Five-fold blessings for family as quintuplets baptized at St. Matthias the Apostle Church
Apr 27, 2021
When Patricia Eze jokes, “I have a full house,” she is not talking about a poker hand. On June 25, 2020, she delivered quintuplets at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. Those five babies – Chimdi Louisa, Chimezie Lauren, Chinanu Lisa, Sopulu Basil (the only boy) and Chisom Leslie – are believed to be the first set of quintuplets born in the hospital’s 58-year history, according to Holy Cross Health.
Patricia and her husband Basil Eze – whose name is pronounced “A-Zay” – are both originally from Nigeria and are also the parents of a 5-year-old daughter, Chinna. Their family marked a special milestone on April 25, as the quintuplets were baptized at St. Matthias the Apostle Catholic Church in Lanham, Maryland, exactly 10 months from the day when they were born.
Father Canice Enyiaka, also from Nigeria, baptized the babies one-by-one, as they were held by five godmothers, most of whom wore headdresses and colorful traditional African dresses.
“Today it is my pleasure to present to you the newest members of this Catholic community, the quintuplets,” said the priest, who repeated their names, as the congregation, consisting mostly of African Catholics, clapped and cheered.
Before and after the Mass, fellow parishioners walked up to congratulate the family, and many held up their cellphones to take photos of the babies, almost treating them like rock stars. About 15 minutes before the Mass, Basil Eze pushed the babies down the church’s main aisle in a stroller for six, with big sister Chinna sitting in a back seat to join her five young siblings, and he parked the stroller beside the baptismal font, as he and Patricia sat in an adjoining pew. In accord with safety protocols for Masses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the people there wore face masks and sat at social distances in their pews.
“Today it’s a very special day. I’m overjoyed,” Patricia Eze said after the Mass. “I’m just so happy. I didn’t expect this large a number of people to celebrate with us.” And noting that the babies didn’t cry at all as they were being baptized, she added, “The kids are happy, too!”
As Father Enyiaka put a white baptismal garment on one of the quintuplets, Chisom, she smiled back at the priest.
‘I was scared!’
In telephone interviews, the parents spoke about their babies, and how their lives have changed in this eventful past year.
Basil Eze, noting that three of the babies weighed just over a pound at birth while the smallest two weighed less than a pound, proudly noted that the five babies now all weigh between 17 and 19 pounds.
“They’re doing fine! They’re crawling backwards,” he said.
Patricia Eze noted, “Every day you wake up, it’s a new thing for the babies. They change every day. They do new things.”
Basil Eze came to the United States in 1981, earning a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska. He now works for the U.S. Department of Labor. The couple married in 2012 in Nigeria, and their daughter Chinna – who is now a prekindergarten student at the Academy of St. Matthias the Apostle – was born in 2015.
When the couple learned they would be having multiple births this past year, “I was very scared at first, (wondering) how am I going to do this?” Patricia said.
Her husband agreed, noting, “The idea of having any more than two was frightening.”
Patricia Eze was having a difficult pregnancy, and doctors told them that if she would deliver after 24 weeks, the babies would have a better chance of survival.
“A month before their birth, we saw a fifth heartbeat. Baby Chisom was hiding in the back!” Basil Eze said.
The quintuplets were born at 25 weeks on June 25, more than three months before their Oct. 11 due date, and doctors and nurses cared for them in the 46-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, the largest such unit in Maryland, which cared for 938 babies in 2020. Holy Cross Hospital delivers more babies each year than any other hospital in Maryland, with one of every seven babies in the state born there last year. In 2020, 10,827 babies were born at Holy Cross Health, including 9,156 at Holy Cross Hospital and 1,671 at Holy Cross Germantown Hospital.
“They (our babies) were so little,” Basil Eze said, remembering their delivery at Holy Cross, adding, “they (the doctors and nurses there) knew what they were doing, and we trusted them.”
Patricia Eze also praised the teams of doctors and nurses at Holy Cross Hospital, saying, “The NICU is great. They’re wonderful people… They took care of my babies. They loved them so much.”
All five of the newborn babies initially needed help breathing and receiving nourishment. “They had all kinds of tubes. They were wired up everywhere,” their father remembered.
Within two months after their birth, Chisom and Sopulu, the last two born, were able to come home. Three weeks later, their sister Chinanu was able to join them there. Meanwhile Chimdi, who had been transferred to Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, came home in October, and Chimezie, who was being cared for at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., joined her family in November.
“It’s kind of good they didn’t come home at the same time. We would have been overwhelmed,” said Basil Eze.
The Academy of St. Matthias the Apostle opened its doors for in-person learning to its kindergarten and pre-K students in September, and Chinna excitedly told her classmates about how she was helping her mom and dad with her five baby siblings at home, said her teacher, Kathryn Loughner.
“She can’t wait to get home from school,” Chinna’s father said.
Pat Schratz, the school’s principal, said that after they heard through the grapevine about the Eze family’s quintuplets, “We’ve been helping with a diaper drive, and individual parents have been reaching out.”
Patricia Eze expressed gratitude for the help of her mother, Virginia Ezenwa, who lives with the family and has been helping care for her five baby grandchildren.
“She gave me all the support I needed… She was there for me. She encourages me to be strong,” the quintuplets’ mother said.
Priests from the parish have visited the family at home, bringing the adults there Communion, and Patricia noted how St. Matthias parishioners have brought them diapers, clothes and gifts for the babies. “St. Matthias is a wonderful family,” she said.
Friends also set up a GoFundMe page after the quintuplets’ birth to help the family with the costs for the babies’ care.
Both parents took delight in describing the babies.
“Right from birth, they all came with their different personalities. Even when they were less than a pound, they all had their personalities,” said Basil Eze.
Patricia agreed, saying, “They’re showing their personalities every day.”
Basil Eze noted how Chisom, the last baby born and the smallest of the quintuplets at birth, now is the biggest baby, tipping the scales at 19 pounds. “She used to be cranky, but now she’s the most well-behaved and very peaceful,” he said.
The father said Chimdi has had an appetite since her birth. “When it’s chow time, she does not play. She has to have food,” Basil Eze said, adding that the first-born of the quintuplets “is the leader.”
Describing his baby son Sopulu, the father said, “He’s doing his own thing. He’s in his world. He’s like the boss, kicking back and watching what’s going on.”
Patricia Eze added, “The boy knows he’s the boy. He acts like the man. He’s taller than them, and he acts maturely.”
Chimezie, the second of the quadruplets to be born, “is the rabble rouser,” her father said, noting that if all the other babies are quiet, “she checks to see if everybody’s all right,” and then makes noise to let them know she’s there.
As for Chinanu, the middle child of the quadruplets, her father said, “We call her ‘Mama.’ She acts so mature. She’s quiet, watching everybody. When everybody’s struggling to get food, she’s waiting. She’s very patient.”
Relying on faith
Caring for the five babies “is a lot of work,” Basil Eze said.
When asked how the babies are sleeping, Patricia Eze responded, “Some nights are fine. Some nights are something else!”
Both parents said their Catholic faith has helped them face that challenge.
“We’re doing it by the grace of God. God has been so faithful,” said Patricia Eze, who added, “With the help of God, we’re able to pull through.”
Her husband agreed, saying, “We couldn’t do it without our faith.” He praised his mother-in-law helping them with the babies, explaining that she is “in nonstop prayer. She’s always praying.”
Patricia Eze noted, “We prayed for a little, and God gave us so much. We are happy. They are blessings for us. They’re wonderful. They give me joy. To me, it’s still like a dream… I thank God.”
She noted that they had hoped to have the babies baptized sooner, but that was delayed, because they were premies and also because of the pandemic.
The day of the Baptism
Before the Mass at St. Matthias Church where the Eze quintuplets would be baptized, the pastor, Father John Kennealy, said, “It’s a special day.”
He noted how the parish is very diverse, with a large African immigrant community, and also parishioners from Latino, Filipino, African American and Caucasian backgrounds. To serve its wider community, St. Matthias planned to host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the church on April 30, and it holds monthly food distribution drives.
Father Canice Enyiaka, the celebrant of that Mass who presided at the Baptisms, noted that day, April 25, was also Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in the Catholic Church, and he said that day to highlight vocations to the priesthood and religious life was also a special day to lift up the vocation of marriage and family life, as could be seen with the Eze family and their quintuplets.
In his homily, he said all vocations give people the chance “to extend the kingdom of God” in the world, and he noted how Pope Francis has pointed to St. Joseph in this special year in the Church honoring that saint who “did ordinary things for God. That is the beauty of a vocation.”
The priest said Pope Francis’s image of “the saints next door” reflects how people in their vocations can honor God in the midst of their everyday experiences.
After baptizing the babies, the priest later happily presented the baptismal certificates to Patricia and Basil Eze and their daughter Chinna.
Father Enyiaka encouraged members of the parish to help the family however they can. “They need all the support they can get from us,” he said.
The priest smiled and noted that since his ordination in 2000, “This is the first time I have baptized five children from the same family and the same batch.”
God’s gift of life
After the Mass, Father Enyiaka – who is in residence at St. Matthias and works with the Global Peace Foundation as a program development specialist and interfaith/community outreach representative – said, “It’s just a great day, celebrating Vocation Sunday and having the gift of these children brought into the Church.”
He said the quintuplets reflect God’s gift of life, and how each person bears the image and stamp of God.
Father Enyiaka said what touched him the most during the Baptism was “looking at those little faces, and how they represent that gift, that love of God.”
Basil Eze echoes his wife’s feelings about the Baptism, saying, “It’s beautiful. I’ve been looking forward to this.”
Before he secured them in their special stroller and later carefully placed them in their car seats in the family’s large white Ford van, he said, “I pray to God, the way he gave them to us, I’m handing them over to God.”
Reflecting on the quintuplets, their father said, “They’re miracle babies. I’m expecting so much from them. The glory of God will guide them in whatever they choose to do in life.”
Asked what she thought about her four little sisters and her little brother, Chinna said, “I think they’re awesome!” and then she darted away, while people gathered around the parents and babies after the Mass.