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 | By Mary McCoy

Local Catholics Share their Adoption Story

Dr. Stephen Okey and his wife, Paige Cargioli, utilized Saint Leo University’s adoption benefit to assist in growing their family through Catholic Charities Adoption Services.

“I’m flying!” Dorothy Okey yells as she jumps from her family’s couch to her dad’s back, gripping him tightly around his neck. And her dad is loving every minute of it. 

Even before marriage, Dr. Stephen Okey and Paige Cargioli talked of adopting a child. Both have family members who were adopted, and this way of growing their family appealed to them. 

The adoption journey of Okey and Cargioli led them to their daughter, Dorothy Marie, who will be four in January of 2024.  Okey is an Associate Professor of Theology and Religion and Director of Saint Leo’s new Doctor of Theology in Applied Theology Program while Cargioli is a holistic therapist practicing in South Tampa.

The couple chose to use Catholic Charities Adoption Services.

"Catholic Charities Adoption Services believes, when requested by the birth mother, that open and semi-open adoptions result in successful adoption plans that leave all parties satisfied and with peace of mind," said Susie Schlindwein, MSW, Adoptions Counselor with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

This aligned perfectly with the couple’s faith. Also, it helped that employees of Saint Leo can apply to use a benefit which pays up to $5,000 in adoption expenses for up to two adoptions. 

“This made a big difference in our being able to afford adoption,” Okey said. “It is one example of the way that Saint Leo is supportive of families.” 

The Adoption Process

Once they selected Catholic Charities Adoption Services through the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, the process took about two years. 

“We had to do a home study and create a photo book,” Okey said. “If the social worker at Catholic Charities thought that we might be a possible match for an adoption, they showed the mom a few of the photo books. We were picked by Dorothy’s birth mom that way.”

The selection of the family is entirely up to the birth mothers, Cargioli added. Dorothy Marie’s adoption was completed in June 2020. 

Catholic Charities encourages “open adoptions” in which birth mothers can have contact with the child and the adoptive parents. Cargioli regularly emails and sends photos of Dorothy to her biological mother. “She is happy that Dorothy is in a safe, stable family, and that she is in a great place,” Cargioli said. 

Life with Dorothy is fulfilling, happy, and of course, chaotic at times — just like raising any child.

“We’ve always been praying for the growth and safety of any children that come into our family,” Okey said. 

The couple decided to again adopt, creating a new photo book, complete with photos of Dorothy. Then they learned that Cargioli was pregnant, and Catholic Charities requires any birth child to be at least a year old before beginning the adoption process of another child. 

Francis Paul, AKA “Frank,” was born at home in October 2022. 

“One of the best parts is watching them love each other,” Okey said of the interaction between Dorothy and Frank. “We try to model for the children good communication, and what it means to be a family.” 

Advice For Prospective Adoptive Parents

The couple received support through Catholic Charities Adoption Services as well as through friends, family, and Saint Leo University. 

“I don’t think that adoption is for everyone,” Okey said. “It can be a roller coaster. I would say that if you want to adopt, don’t let fear or finances get in the way, but know that it can be more work.”

Employers, such as Saint Leo University, can help. “I think it’s important for Saint Leo, as a Catholic institution, to support that mission in ways large and small,” the faculty member said. 

The couple advises those interested in adoption have patience. “And just like with the birth of any child, you don’t know what you will get,” Okey said. “That’s part of the excitement, joy, and blessing. It’s a wonderful way to be a parent to a child who really needs a home.”

“There are so many ways to adopt,” Cargioli said. “Just do it.”

To learn more about Catholic Charities Adoption Services, click here.

Frank Okey plays in his living room. Photo by Mary McCoy
Dr. Stephen Okey, his wife Paige Cargioli, and their daughter Dorothy decorate cookies in their kitchen. Photo by Mary McCoy
Paige Cargioli and Dorothy decorate cookies. Photo by Mary McCoy

Mary McCoy is Senior Editor & Media Relations Manager at Saint Leo University.