Child’s blessing from pope one of a lifetime of blessings for Somerville family
Feb. 22, 2018
Moments after Pope Francis’s plane touched down at Joint Base Andrews for his September 2015 pastoral visit to Washington, he was greeted by four Catholic schoolchildren. Karlena Somerville, then a kindergarten student at St. Philip the Apostle School in Camp Springs, handed the pope a bouquet of flowers.
The smiling pope “patted her cheek first, then he blessed her on the forehead,” said her mother Karen Somerville, who had been receiving texts from people watching the live TV broadcasts who saw them standing on the tarmac.
Karlena’s father, Deacon Keith Somerville excitedly cheered as he watched his daughter’s papal encounter on television at their family’s home about a mile and one-half from the airfield. “I lost my voice!” he said.
The next day, he was among the deacons distributing Communion at Pope Francis’s Canonization Mass for St. Junípero Serra outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“I didn’t get as close (to the pope) as they did,” he said laughing.
While awaiting the pope’s arrival, Karlena also got to meet then-First Lady Michelle Obama, who introduced the little girl to her husband the president, and told her his name was Barack. Karlena started dancing and the president and first lady danced with her.
A few hours later on that whirlwind day, Karlena and her mother were interviewed live by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, and the little girl happily danced while she was on camera.
Karen Somerville later told a reporter that what made the day all the more special was that Karlena, who has Down syndrome, was singled out for media attention “because she met the pope, not because she has special needs.”
For the Somervilles, the papal blessing that day was part of a lifetime of blessings experienced by their family. Reflecting on the papal encounter, Deacon Somerville – who serves at his home parish of St. Margaret of Scotland in Seat Pleasant – said, “You’re blessing the family just by blessing our daughter.”
The Somervilles have two children – Karlena, 8, now a second grader at St. Philip the Apostle School, and Keith Jr., 10, a fourth grader there. Keith Jr. plays CYO soccer, is on the chess club at school, and likes building Lego sets and constructed a K’nex roller coaster on display at his home. Karlena takes gymnastics, dance and swimming classes, and this spring on Pentecost Sunday, she’ll receive her First Holy Communion from her dad.
“I gave it to my son two years ago…,” said Deacon Somerville. “To receive the sacrament is a grace from God. To be a disciple and to distribute the sacrament to your children is humbling, and it’s a joy in my heart.”
After her First Holy Communion, Karlena will join her brother as an altar server at their parish.
Karen and Deacon Keith Somerville both grew up near St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, and both received the sacraments of First Holy Communion, First Confession and Confirmation there.
“Both of our families went to St. Margaret’s,” said Karen Somerville. “We lived less than a mile apart. We all walked to school.” Her husband added, “I had to walk past her house to get to St. Margaret’s.”
Both graduated from St. Margaret of Scotland School – Keith in 1979, and Karen two years later. Keith went on to graduate from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville and study mathematics at Bowie State University, and Karen graduated from H.D. Woodson High School in Washington. Karen later earned a master’s in business administration from the Keller Graduate School of Management in McLean, Virginia, and works in marketing. Deacon Somerville works as a construction quality control manager and superintendent.
They met again in 2005 when both served on a committee for the 50th anniversary reunion for St. Margaret of Scotland School.
“We went out after the event in May. Boy, things went quick from there,” said Deacon Somerville, laughing. He added, “Growing up in the same faith, we had the same foundation at St. Margaret’s. It made it easier to court.”
Deacon Somerville, 52, is the son of Deacon John Walter Somerville Sr. and the late Audrey Somerville. Deacon James Somerville –his uncle and godfather – presided at the wedding ceremony for Keith and Karen Somerville in 2006 at the Church of the Incarnation in Washington, one year after the couple got reacquainted at the St. Margaret’s School reunion.
“I wanted my dad to be Dad” that day, Deacon Somerville explained.
Another uncle, Deacon Joseph Somerville, died in 1996, also served as a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Washington.
Deacon Keith Somerville was ordained in 2015, following in the footsteps of his father and two uncles. “They were my inspirations, but not my calling,” he said.
His father, he said, provided him with “a living example of being on the altar, serving God and serving his people.” He said his dad also showed him the importance of being there for your children and being present and involved with their activities.
In 2016, Deacon Keith Somerville preached the homily at the Funeral Mass for his mother, Audrey Somerville, who had been involved with many Catholic activities at her parish and on the archdiocesan level, including serving as president of the archdiocese’s Sodality Union. He was the 11th of her 16 children, and his twin brother Kevin was her 12th child.
“She dedicated her life to loving, serving and praising God for all that he’s done for her,” Deacon Somerville said, noting that his mother was a woman of prayer who through the years had committed her life to God, to her husband of more than 60 years, to her children and family, and to her faith.
At her Funeral Mass, he noted that as his mother was dying, her family members gathered around her bedside. “We prayed the rosary, which she had taught us.”
Later, Deacon Somerville said, “She had a direct connect to God… I think I had the perfect parents – they introduced us to God and Jesus Christ.”
Remembering his childhood, he said, “My parents were so much into the Catholic Church. Every time you turned around, we went to Mass. At home, we said prayers before we laid our heads down to sleep… They (my parents) always had you believe there is a God, (and that) the belief is not just in a book, it’s in living the life.”
After his ordination to the diaconate in 2015, Deacon Somerville participated in his first Mass as a deacon. “My uncle and my dad were on the altar with me,” he said. “The ultimate moment for me was when we kissed the altar at the same time” at the beginning of the Mass.”
And in another blessing, Deacon Somerville was assigned to serve at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, where he had grown up.
“To be a deacon back at St. Margaret’s, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “The congregation, the elderly group, felt they helped raise you… It’s wonderful to come back and be at St. Margaret’s.”
Reflecting on her husband’s vocation, Karen Somerville said, “For me, his vocation as a deacon is his vocation… but the wife gets to say ‘yes or no’ (before ordination). At the same time, it’s a dual blessing. He’s serving, but it means we’re serving as a family. How can you say ‘no’ to somebody answering the call?”
Deacon Somerville said one of the highlights of being a deacon “is to proclaim God’s word to all of God’s people.” He added that he especially appreciates “that I have the opportunity to try to save a soul… We’re here on Earth to lead someone to God. If I can do that with anyone, that’s the greatest blessing I have.”
His wife, he said, is an inspiration to him, in his family life and service to the Church. “Going after your dreams and your goals… nothing is impossible with your wife by your side,” he said.
Asked about God’s blessings that his family has experienced, Deacon Somerville said, “We cannot even measure it… For us to find each other in friendship and then in marriage… Having children is almost the biggest blessing of all… As time goes on, we are growing together as a family.”
Karen Somerville had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing her young daughter greet the pope, but she agreed that was one of many blessings her family has received.
“You think about God’s grace, and we get to see it every day,” she said. “Only by his grace do we have these blessings… We can feel it and see it every day.”
The latest local and global Catholic news delivered to your inbox.