On October 15, 2000 - the morning after she became the 1st teacher and 1st Filipino-American to win the title of Miss America - Angela Baraquio Grey’s initial thoughts weren’t about fame or glamour. Instead, Angela told her handlers, “I need to carve out one hour to go to Mass.”
While working as a physical education teacher at a Catholic school in Honolulu, Hawaii, Angela had been involved with beauty pageants but was reluctant to be portrayed in any way that would set a bad example for her students. A priest told her that more Catholics need to be in the forefront of our culture and convinced her that she could pursue pageants without betraying her principles.
Angela’s new approach led her to think of all her pursuits in terms of God wanting to use her as an instrument. She won the title of Miss Hawaii which led to the Miss America competition.
As the eighth of ten children from a devout Catholic family, Angela was used to attending Mass every Sunday. But in the 2 weeks prior to the Miss America pageant, officials pressured her into not going because they had rehearsals all day Sunday from 6:00am to 10:00pm. Though she was upset, Angela complied with the rules.
The morning after her win though, Angela had a request – she wanted to attend Mass. With a slate full of media scheduled, her handlers at first looked “appalled.” On the radio show “Personally Speaking,” Angela recalled, “Then my manager said to me, ‘You’re Miss America. You can do whatever you want.’”
With the revelation of the importance of her Catholic faith, Angela got a surprise. Out of twelve members of her entourage, six revealed they were Catholic too. Two people who would be her traveling companions were ecstatic that they would be able to go to Mass with her every week. They did however point out that the time away from official pageant duties would cost her some money. Angela’s response – “I need to go to Mass every week for the next year – every Sunday, no matter what city I’m in, traveling 20,000 miles a month...That’s the way it’s going to be.”
Angela’s devotion to her faith was cemented by a time of doubt in her life. Prior to turning 18, an age she considered the marker of adulthood, Angela asked herself if she wanted to keep believing in something her parents told her to believe or if she should take responsibility for her faith. Instead of just saying Christianity wasn’t true, she found a number of theological books and read up on the Catholic faith. The more that she delved into it, the more she thought, “What a beautiful faith! And I totally took it for granted (because) I was a cradle Catholic.” She looked at the faith of people who’d been converted to Catholicism in their later years and found inspiration in them because they “actually do their homework. I went and I did the research, and that strengthened my faith and my connection with the Lord.”
That connection with the Lord has been a major source of support in recent years. In November 2006, Angela’s brother Albert, who suffered with bipolar disorder, committed suicide. The Baraquios never saw it coming because Albert acted happy whenever they saw him. Struggling to find a sense of healing, Angela’s brother John presented his siblings with an idea. Since they’d all grown up singing together as a choir in churches, why not record an album that would serve as a tribute to Albert - and as a source of hope to others who had lost loved ones to suicide? The Baraquios agreed and have recently released this moving album called “Lost and Found.” (More info here.)
Large families like Angela’s are a rarity in today’s culture because people often see having a lot of kids only in terms of financial inconvenience. But Angela’s parents held a very different view.
Angela recalled the story of her Mom who had just given birth to twins (her fifth and sixth children). Right after the birth, the doctor said to Angela’s mother, “I’m going to...tie your tubes okay. I just need your permission, sign here.”
In shock, Angela’s mother responded, “Are you kidding me? I just gave birth to these beautiful twins!”
The doctor said, “This is a lot of kids. It’s going to be very expensive. You have no idea how hard it is.”
Angela’s Mom and Dad looked at each other and decided that they would follow God’s plan for their lives, not the doctor’s. They used a different physician when children #7 through #10 (including Angela who was #8) were born. Years later, Angela’s brother Jerome ran into the offending doctor who told him, “Congratulations, we’re so proud of your...sister!” When Jerome relayed this message to his parents, his mother exclaimed, “She wouldn’t even be here if we’d followed this doctor’s advice!”
The blessing of that large family has paid off in unexpected ways. As Angela says, “My Mom has always taught us that whatever God wants, do His will. Everyone talks about another mouth to feed, but the blessings have been endless. I wouldn’t be here with my children and have the blessings of them, their love, my husband, and the life that we lead today if my parents didn’t trust in God the way they did. My family has come together in such a difficult time after my brother’s death…In our darkest hours, we were there for each other to pull each other together and strengthen our love for each other as a family.”