Thursday, December 16, 2010

My family's faith story

I've been meaning to post on this for some time. I absolutely love reading about others' faith stories, and how they came to hold their faith. I'm a big fan of "conversion stories." I own a solid handful of books of such stories, and I reread them often. I have blogged about how I came back to the adult practice of my faith when I attended law school, but I never really went into how I originally inherited my faith. So I thought I'd share. :)

My mom is of Italian descent (she's only in the second or third generation born in America, depending on the side of the family) and her immediate and extended family were all Catholic. This area, in fact, is full of the descendants of Italian and Polish immigrants. And we have many beautiful, old churches to show for it.

On my dad's side, my grandmother was of German descent. My grandfather's family is of indigenous descent, specifically, Six Nations Mohawk. Growing up, my dad was raised nominally Protestant. He was baptized in a Lutheran church, but the family never regularly attended. Through the years, he recalls belonging to a slew of different churches, Church of the Nazarene, Methodist, etc., usually based on baseball team membership. :)

When I was growing up, my dad did not attend Mass with us. Now, here is the thing. My mom received all her sacraments, and my parents were married in the Church. However, even though we were dutifully signed up for CCD (religious education classes) each year, and were receiving our sacraments of initiation, my mom, sisters and I rarely attended Mass ourselves. We were the penultimate Christmas and Easter Catholics. Consequently, I disliked CCD, and could not see the relevance it had to anything in my life. I always believed in God, but CCD seemed far removed from the way I thought about God.

I am grateful though that my mom's early attempts to raise us in the faith did instill in me a strong sense of God. I never doubted Him, and that He was there, I just wished that I didn't have to sit through those boring classes every week. They were on Tuesday afternoons, too. Sundays were no different than any other day to me, and we didn't practice any Catholic traditions in our home. I didn't really understand that being Catholic was any different from being any other kind of Christian. I didn't even know what a Protestant was. The Catholic faith didn't seem profound or meaningful in any way to me. I figured all belief in God was similar, and that it didn't matter.

As a very little girl, maybe 3 or 4, I remember being in bed one night, and I had a "vision" (or something) of Jesus coming to comfort me. I don't remember why, but I was upset or worried about something, and He sat on the corner of my bed and stroked my hair and told me it would be ok. Was it a dream? Maybe. But it is a memory that is extremely vivid, and I've always wondered. In any case, it gave me comfort and solidified my belief that God was real.

Anyway, where was I? CCD = Disaster, right. This continued until nearly my confirmation in early high school. Then, something changed. One of my aunts joined a prayer group devoted to our Blessed Mother and invited us to come. For whatever reason, this struck my mom's fancy, and we went. From that point forward, the fellowship, the prayers, and the support system moved my mom back to her Catholic faith. We started going to Mass every Sunday and praying the rosary. Even I enjoyed the prayer group. The ladies were fun! And my cousins were often there too.

Interestingly, by this point, my mom's immediate family had all left the Catholic Church. They all remain devoted Christians (mostly Assemblies of God), but none remained Catholic. The temptation for us to fall away was right there, very strong, but I'm so, so grateful that we remained.

With our renewed Mass and prayer group attendance, my dad started to see how important this had become to us. One day, something extremely fortuitous happened: while reading the newspaper, he saw an article about a brand new parish. One completely unique in our state, in that it is housed on a Native American reservation. He showed the article to my mom, and they agreed to go to Mass there.

This church is so adorable and quaint. Very intimate, and decorated in indigenous art, it is a beacon of the faith amongst people who may not have otherwise set foot in a Catholic Church. Based on my impression and experience, this is a very sensitive issue amongst indigenous people, and understandably so. The past is rife with heavy handed (and worse) tactics to mold Native Americans into what the larger society would rather have them do (including their religious beliefs), and as you can imagine, this type of persuasion is not very effective. Generally speaking, Native people have a strong sense of God, but Christianity of any kind is not usually their chosen path.

So this parish is just a wonder, and especially meaningful in an area with such a large (relatively speaking) contingent of Native Americans. My dad is a very quiet guy, a man of few words. I get my introverted personality from him. :) He didn't say much, but he wanted to keep going, and this spoke volumes. So we did.

In the mean time, his parents found out about this parish, and they started attending too. A year or two later, my dad confided that he'd like to take classes to become a Catholic. So, after nearly 25 years of marriage, my dad entered the Church at the Easter Vigil. :) His confirmation saint is Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks. I've been to her shrine, which is within driving distance of where I live. She was a young Mohawk woman living in the late seventeenth century who took a lot of heat from family and friends for becoming a devoted Catholic. She had a particular devotion to the Mass, and the Eucharist. Her mother died of smallpox, which she also contracted, and it disfigured her face. When she died at age 24, her face was miraculously healed and serene. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the 1980's, and is revered at the little Native American parish that my dad converted at.

My grandparents converted as well. When they each passed away, both received a full Mass of Christian Burial.

So there you have it. I love my heritage, and my faith. I inherited that as well, but I made it my own as an adult, and I wouldn't change it for the world.


  1. What a lovely and unique story. It makes me want to go and write a post about my own families tale of Catholicism. Although, it's not nearly as interesting as yours.

    Thank you for sharing! I love conversion stories too.

  2. I love hearing other's face stories too, and this is a great one. Being from Oklahoma, I also love that your dad's native background is also honored by your church. My family and I were also baptized at our church's Easter Vigil, and that is so, so special. Nice to meet you!

  3. What an interesting story! I just came over here from your post about patron saints. I love reading faith stories too, also as someone who returned to the practice of the faith as an adult. I could have written this part myself:

    "I didn't really understand that being Catholic was any different from being any other kind of Christian. I didn't even know what a Protestant was. The Catholic faith didn't seem profound or meaningful in any way to me. I figured all belief in God was similar, and that it didn't matter."

    Yep, that's how I was as a kid. Both of my parents were/are Catholic, but we didn't really practice the faith in our house and I grew up in the south, where Catholics are a definite minority. Really enjoyed reading your story!


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