Laura Machado Browne, an English and religion teacher at Mission Basilica School in San Juan Capistrano, was newly married and looking to start a family.
LAURA MACHADO BROWNE IS AN ENGLISH AND RELIGION TEACHER AT MISSION BASILICA SCHOOL IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO. PHOTOS BY DREW KELLEY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
For her, the Diocese of Orange’s parental leave policy became very crucial. It would need to support her and her family in that journey, especially with her husband in law school and her teacher salary being their only source of income.
Unfortunately, the policy lacked adequate paid time off compensation for the time when parents bond with their new children. This concerned Machado Browne.
So the schoolteacher went straight to the top, reaching out separately to the Diocese’s three bishops, the superintendent and director of human resources, Kathleen Khoury. She hoped for a response.
Thankfully, she got much more than that.
Bishop Kevin Vann, Bishop Timothy Freyer and Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen not only listened, but were inspired to significantly improve the Diocese’s parental leave policy. They collaborated with Khoury to craft a policy that reflected a dedication to Catholic values, with family at its core.
Starting in October, which coincided with Respect Life Month, the Diocese expanded its parental leave policy by providing 100% pay for eight weeks and 50% pay for an additional four weeks.
The policy applies to mothers and fathers of newborns, newly adopted children and new foster children.
The previous policy did not provide paid leave beyond what was covered under California law, which gives workers 60% of their weekly wages for up to eight weeks.
The Diocese of Orange’s revised parental leave policy is believed to be among the most generous of any diocese in the country. It grants employees like Machado Browne the freedom and flexibility to more comfortably start a family on their terms and face fewer financial hurdles.
“What Laura presented to us was an option for the Diocese to kind of walk the walk, in terms of not just being anti-abortion, but being pro-mother, pro-father and pro-life,” said Khoury. “On top of that, what struck me about Laura was how much she loved being a Catholic schoolteacher. As such, an improved paid parental leave benefit could also help the Diocese better recruit and retain teachers like Laura.”
When the policy changed, Machado Browne felt relieved and grateful for the impact the boosted policy would have in supporting families.
“I was happy,” Machado Browne said when she learned of the generous expansion. “I felt like this was the hope I was looking for. It healed something in me. I felt like I was being cared for. The Diocese has made a crucial step toward making a truly pro-family and pro-life Church.”
Timing a birth to coincide with summer vacation to have three months with their child is fairly common for faculty and staff at Catholic schools, according to Machado Browne.
Before contacting the bishops, Machado Browne did her research. She cited the results of an exhaustive study of parental leave policies in dioceses around the country that was conducted by FemCatholic, a Catholic women’s organization and online magazine.
FemCatholic contacted 176 dioceses across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Of the dioceses that responded, the study found that 31 offer fully paid parental leave, 32 provide some percentage of employee salaries through either short-term disability or state paid leave laws, and 44 do not offer any paid leave.
Of the 31 dioceses providing fully paid parental leave, only four offered 12 weeks of fully paid leave, according to FemCatholic.
After being contacted by Machado Browne, the bishops asked Khoury to look into the possibility of updating the policy to one that would better honor families with newborns, adopted children and foster children. With due diligence, Khoury learned that such a generous change was entirely possible for the Diocese of Orange.
“Laura was extremely informative, helpful and patient in our research of how we could we make this happen,” Khoury said. “I also credit the bishops and our vicar general, Fr. Angelos Sebastian.”
Khoury emphasized that the Diocese values its staff.
“Laura is one of our employees and we want to hear how we can support her and everyone else,” she said. “For me, this project was really a joyful way of being in HR, because I could do something that really supports our employees and really supports the Diocese.”
Several Diocese employees who have started or grown their families are already being covered by the upgraded policy.
Machado Browne is planning to do the same.
“I know that once I have my own children, I would love to have as many systems as possible in place that encourage me as mother while also allowing me to continue to teach children,” she said.