“Prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” –St. Therese of Lisieux
I found out about Pray More Novenas years before getting to know Annie. When I learned the backstory of how Pray More Novenas came in existence, I remember thinking- wow! this couple really has something special!
Getting to interview Annie Deddens has been one of my favorite opportunities of my job at Women of Grace®. She and her husband, John-Paul, have truly listened to the sweet call of our Father and made themselves available to His work. It is through their very own fiat in creating Pray More Novenas that each of us has the wonderful opportunity to grow deeper in our own prayer life.
1. Tell me a little about yourself!
I’m a wife, writer and producer. My husband, John-Paul, and I have been married for five and a half years now, and together we run an online prayer ministry called Pray More Novenas. We’ve been doing that for almost seven years. My background is in broadcast journalism, and before working on Pray More Novenas full-time, most of my work experience was working as a TV news producer. I’ve worked at HLN [Headline News, a spin-off of CNN] on The Morning Express with Robin Meade, at 13WMAZ in Macon, GA on their afternoon and early evening newscasts, and at WCIA-3 in Champaign, IL as the morning news producer. Now I produce online retreats for Advent and Lent along with my work on Pray More Novenas — we call those our Pray More Lenten and Pray More Advent Retreats. I also have a blog where I try to write regularly and share the best reads that I find in the Catholic blogosphere; it’s called Catholic Wife Catholic Life. I’m also a devotional writer for Blessed is She.
2. When was Pray More Novenas founded and how did it develop?
John-Paul started Pray More Novenas around seven years ago when I asked him to pray the Immaculate Conception Novena with me. To make a long story short, before I met John-Paul, I had prayed a novena to St. Anne to, “find me a man as fast as you can.” I was hoping to meet my future husband. Shortly after I finished that novena, I met John-Paul. So as we were dating, I thought it’d be a great idea to pray a novena together since I believed that was a big part of what brought us together. When I asked him if he’d pray the Immaculate Conception Novena with me, he actually turned me down! He had prayed a few novenas prior to that and he always had a hard time remembering to pray or to finish the novena, and that ended up making him feel bad — it just wasn’t a good experience for him. So he turned me down, but after a few days, he came back to me and said he would pray the novena with me — oh, and he said, “I started a website called Pray More Novenas!” He figured he wasn’t the only one with this problem, and it turns out he was right, because we now have more than 400,000 people praying with us from around the world!
3. What impact did working together and praying novenas have on your marriage?
John-Paul and I were married in 2012, and at that point, we were both working on Pray More Novenas on the side in addition to our full-time jobs. Pray More Novenas was just less than two years old. One of my favorite things we’ve done through Pray More Novenas was praying a novena with our community leading up to our wedding date, September 8th, the feast of the Nativity of Mary. That’s a novena that we’ve nicknamed The Novena for Marriage & Family, and we’ve prayed that novena together through Pray More Novenas ever since then.
Working together has been such a unique experience — with a big learning curve too, because I don’t know many couples who do work together. What I’ve seen from it, though, is just how complementary we are to one another as man and woman, husband and wife. There are unique qualities that John-Paul has that has made Pray More Novenas as fruitful as it is, and there are unique qualities that I also bring to this ministry that (I hope) make it run well and touch more hearts. Working together on Pray More Novenas has also given us a great built-in routine of incorporating prayer into our marriage and daily life; it’s just sort of been there from the beginning, so I’m grateful for the reminder it serves for us both to keep God as our priority and as our center as we discern what to pray, what to pray about, and even how to pray. We’ve learned a lot about prayer through this ministry, and for me, the greatest lesson really has been about praying for God’s will — that I may be open to it and have the strength and will to say, “Yes” to what He’s asking of us; essentially, Jesus’ attitude in Gethsemane is the attitude we should try to emulate every time we go to pray (“not my will but yours”). And that’s a message I really try to incorporate into our e-mails and into our novena prayers: that it’s most important that we pray to be open to God’s will in relation to our personal intention. Prayer is meant to change us, after all, and not necessarily — not always, anyhow — our circumstances.
It has changed nearly everything — and in a good way! Praying a novena first brought us together, and since then it has been a huge part of our marriage and life together. It has blessed us in our prayer lives – helping us to grow in our dedication to prayer and in our faithfulness. It’s helped us grow closer to God, to one another, and to the community of people praying with us online.
4. What is your favorite novena?
I have a few! St. Anne is probably my favorite by far, though, because she’s the saint whose intercession I asked for when I was praying to meet my future husband, and she’s been a part of our relationship ever since; I’ve continually turned to her in prayer asking her to pray for me and for us. She’s a good grandmother! I’m inspired by her great faith as she waited for God’s answer to her prayer to have a child. She’s also known as an amazing intercessor for healing, and that’s something I’ve definitely sought her prayers for. I actually recently wrote a book about her after John-Paul and I visited the shrine to her in Canada.
Then I also really like the Christ the King Novena. The feast day is relatively new, and it was created by Pope Pius XI to help the faithful remember that allegiance to Christ is above any allegiance to anything else, particularly any government. The reason I like this novena so much, though, is that it reminds me each day about all the areas in my life where I have an opportunity to make Christ my king — my ruler, my #1, or something else or someone else.
Lastly, the St. Maria Goretti Novena is also near and dear to my heart because of her incredible forgiveness of her attacker, and especially because of her willingness to suffer for Jesus. She was stabbed fourteen times and before she was able to have surgery, she was in horrific pain and she was thirsty. Since she was about to go into surgery, she wasn’t able to have any water. A priest who was called to give her the Last Rites showed her a crucifix and told her that Jesus was also thirsty while he suffered his agony on the cross. Then, he asked Maria if she would offer up her thirst and her pain to Jesus for the salvation of sinners. The story goes on to say that she didn’t ask for water again and she endured her pain quietly. To this day, recounting that story inspires me and fills me with so many emotions as I think about the faith and the endurance of such a young child! Surely, I can be more like that than I am today.
5. What is your favorite answered prayer story from others based on the novenas?
My favorite answered prayer stories to share are ones where people met their future spouse after praying a novena, or where a couple conceived after years of struggling with infertility, or where people experienced healing after much suffering. Another answered prayer that I’m touched to see when it happens is when people share with us that even though their specific intention wasn’t answered, but they feel at peace or they have grown in greater faith after coming to prayer for 9+ days for their intention. That’s powerful to me — to hear from people that they feel God working in their lives or they feel His presence even when their intention went unanswered.
6. What else would you like others to know?
I’d like others to know that prayer is ultimately a relationship with the Lord and that praying novenas is one way that you can enter more deeply into that relationship, but it’s not a magical type of prayer where you’re guaranteed anything at the end of it — except a better relationship with Him *if* you’re open to His will and to being changed, yourself.
7. Do you have any future plans that you would like to share?
We’re working on new features for Pray More Novenas that will hopefully help even more people Pray More Novenas… and I’m just about to begin work on my next book! This one will be about Our Lady and one of my favorite titles for her, so I’m looking forward to sharing more about that, and our other projects, soon.
Annie and John-Paul were interviewed by Johnnette in April 2017, on the Women of Grace Program. It can be found here.
Betsey Sawyer is an attorney and adjunct professor in Mississippi, and works for Women of Grace as the Mission Advancement Coordinator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Kennard Photography)