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Valerie Biden Owens: How Faith Shaped the Values of the First Family

Valerie Biden Owens

In Growing Up BidenValerie Biden Owens, Joe Biden’s younger sister and trusted confidante, writes of the role of family, faith, and fate in shaping her life, and the power of empathy and kindness in the face of turmoil and division. This memoir, full of candor and warmth, brings readers into the Biden home and shares stories from growing up in Delaware as the only daughter of the close-knit Irish Catholic family. We spoke with Valerie about her faith, how it shaped her family, and how it continues to play a role in her life today.

How did being Irish Catholic shape your family growing up?  

My brothers and I were raised in an Irish, Catholic, middle-class family where faith wasn’t just something we thought about at Mass on Sunday, or even every day with the nuns at school. Faith was part of who we were raised to be, and it was expected to be manifested in everything we did. Hebrews 11:1 speaks to this: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

My family’s values dovetail with those of being an Irish Catholic: family, faith, and responsibility — to one another and our community at large. We are our brothers’ keepers.

Several times in your life you’ve received what seem to be signs from above. Can you tell us about one of these signs and what you believe it meant?

Saint Theresa, the Little Flower, always sends a rose to those who pray to her, to assure them that she has heard their petition — not necessarily that she will intervene to grant the prayer, but that they have been heard. During times of personal struggle — for instance, my pregnancies — and during my more public professional challenges, Saint Theresa has never missed a beat. She has never let me down. She showed up every time. I pray for strength, not outcome.

 In the book, you recount the time you met the Pope. What was going on in your life at the time and what was behind your urgency for his blessing?

I was pregnant and on bed rest. The news reported that the Pope was visiting the White House.  Only Catholic Senators and their spouses were invited to attend, but knowing how important it was to me, Jill offered her spot to me. Worried for me and my baby, my doctors refused to let me travel the two hours to Washington. In my new memoir, Growing Up Biden, I tell the full story of how my brother made our visit with the Pope come to pass.

Joe, as Vice President, led the US delegation to Rome to attend the inauguration of His Holiness Pope Francis on March 19, 2013. He invited me to join them.(AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

I was not naive, but I knew that if I saw the Holy Father that I would be okay. I believed that if he blessed me and my baby in the womb, I would have the grace and strength to handle whatever was to come. A few weeks after I met the Pope, I delivered our healthy baby boy.

How does your faith play a role in your life today?

Faith is my stability, my hope, my anchor — all physically manifested in the strength and commitment that I receive in the unconditional love from my family.

I’m aware that not everyone has been lucky enough to have such a solid foundation, which is why my parents taught us to live and breathe the teaching of Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Every single human being deserves to be treated with dignity, the poor and the powerless, the marginalized and vulnerable. And that’s what my brother and I have tried to do.

What gets you through the dark times?

As my mother always reminded us: “Behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining — if you look hard enough.” I know firsthand that as much as havoc, bitterness, and rage can come out of loss, so too can strength, wisdom, and empathy — it just might take a little longer. And in difficult times, to maintain sanity, I let go of the things I cannot control and take the plunge into faith’s deep waters. “Thy will be done.”

Growing Up Biden by Valerie Biden Owens is available everywhere books are sold.

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