The Kranking children pose on the back porch of their Burtonsville home with the family dogs. The quadruplets are,  from left to right in the front row, Stephen, Cara and Timothy, with Emily at right in the back row. Their big sister Katie is at left in the back row.
The Kranking children pose on the back porch of their Burtonsville home with the family dogs. The quadruplets are, from left to right in the front row, Stephen, Cara and Timothy, with Emily at right in the back row. Their big sister Katie is at left in the back row. CS PHOTOS BY MICHAEL HOYT
About 15 years ago, Mary Kranking went to the doctor's office for a prenatal exam, and technicians detected four distinct heartbeats, and a sonogram confirmed that she and her husband Andy would be having quadruplet babies.

About three weeks ago, Timothy, Emily, Stephen and Cara Kranking graduated together from the eighth grade at St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring, and this fall they will be freshmen together at St. John's College High School in Washington, their dad's alma mater.

And just as their heartbeats are different, the four siblings who are now 14 have different personalities and different interests, but the Catholic faith they share has helped them from their first moments in life through today, when they are preparing for high school.

"Through it all, our faith has been strong. We feel God's presence," said their father, Andy Kranking, who is a sergeant with the Montgomery County Police.

When the four babies were born two and one-half months early on Jan. 29, 1994, the Krankings' fellow parishioners at Resurrection Parish in Burtonsville rallied to their aid, praying for them, collecting baby supplies and even helping with baby-sitting, feeding and bathing the newborns.

"They were like my aunts, my mothers, my sisters. They'll always be close. There's a bond there," said Mary Kranking. "I could not have gotten through those early months, (those first few years) without them."

The blessings for the family continue, as St. John's reached out to them and offering special accommodations for Emily, who has cerebral palsy.

"I'm thrilled to go to St. John's. My dad went there. Ever since I was little, I wanted to go to St. John's," said Emily, who feels specially blessed by God, because when she was very young, it was feared she might never walk or talk, but she overcame those odds. "He (God) gave me a miracle. He spared my life," she said.

Andy Kranking said he is excited to see their four younger children go to St. John's. Their oldest daughter Katie is 15 and is enjoying being a student at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, where she will be a sophomore this fall.

"For me, my high school years were my favorite years in school. Most of my close friends I hang out with today are guys I went to St. John's with," said Andy Kranking. "I'm hoping they'll develop bonds with their new friends (that they'll) carry through life."

On a recent afternoon, the four siblings talked about their interests.

Cara, who wore a red St. John's sweatshirt like Emily, likes to play softball and basketball and go swimming. "I'm fun, very outgoing, and a good friend," she said. Like many girls her age, she likes "Hannah Montana," and she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up. She joked that one of the advantages to being a quadruplet is "you get to go in the front of the line at Disney World."

Stephen, a quiet and serious youth, likes to play "Guitar Hero" and enjoys playing CYO basketball, soccer and baseball. "I mainly want to be a professional athlete (someday), or a police officer like my dad," he said.

Emily, who once told a reporter that she wanted to "work for God someday," still wants to do that, either as a stay-at-home mom or as a nun. She enjoys writing and participated in the theater program and student government at St. Bernadette's and was captain of the powder-puff team there.

Timothy, who has an easy smile, likes to play practical jokes, especially on his brother. He plays the piano and performed the Beatles "Hard Day's Night" as his siblings gathered around to hear him play on a recent afternoon. He also enjoys CYO sports, and thinks about being a police officer or musician or baseball player some day.

This spring, Bishop Martin Holley confirmed the Kranking quadruplets, and Timothy chose the name "Pio" after St. Padre Pio, a saint that he feels a special bond with. When he was 10, Timothy nearly died of a staph infection. A friend loaned them a relic of St. Padre Pio, and the family also had a small bottle of holy water from Lourdes. One day, his condition improved dramatically, and it turned out that at that same time, the schoolchildren at St. Bernadette's were all in church together, praying the rosary for him.

"The more I think about it, it's more of a miracle," said Timothy.

Over the years at St. Bernadette's, the Kranking children took turns leading their siblings in praying the rosary as they were shuttled to school in the family minivan, and they all served as safety patrols at the school this past year.

"I'm proud, because they have remained close to each other. They're still tight knit," said Mary Kranking. "When the chips are down, they're always there for each other. They have a strong faith, too."

Recently, the family shared a special blessing, attending Pope Benedict's Papal Mass at Nationals Park together. They sat on the third base line, in the lower deck, on that sunny morning, with nearly 50,000 people from across the country.

"It was cool, I never saw the pope before," said Cara.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Timothy added.

Andy noted, "We were baking!"

Emily enjoyed seeing the pope in person. "He was great! I'll never forget that moment."

Their mom Mary said, "Even though there were thousands of people, there was a sense of peace."

And Stephen said, "I've never been closer to God before, I guess."

Mary Kranking admits that having five teen-agers in the house can be challenging, but she said, "I'm thankful every morning. I can't imagine life without them. It doesn't mean things are not challenging at times. Teen-age personalities can be daunting. (Then) I take a step back and pray again. I never could envision my life so complete."

This is an exciting time for her family, as they embark on a new stage of life. "God has great plans for all of you," she said to her children, whose heartbeats she came to know years ago.