I Choose to Stay

Church

A few weeks after I was born my mother and father took me to All Saints Catholic Church to be baptized by the Reverend John Perusina. My Aunt Polly was my godmother and like my mom she was a very devout Catholic. In fact all of my cousins from Mama’s side of the family attended Catholic schools where we spent as many as twelve years learning about our church and participating in the sacraments. On Sundays we dressed in our best and attended mass at various parishes across the city of Houston.

The first Catholic community that I actually remember is St. Peter the Apostle where I attended first grade. I was quite young then, barely five years old. Much of that time is a fog because here was much havoc taking place in my home with the birth of my youngest brother, the constant illnesses of my middle brother and the death of my dear Uncle Bob. What I do remember is the great kindness that was extended to me by my teacher, Sister Camilla, and a friend, Virginia. I also enjoyed visits from my Aunt Polly who lived just down the street from the church. She checked in periodically to be sure that I was doing well. I suppose that none of the wonderful people who took the time to care for me that year ever knew how much their consideration meant to me, but in my heart I began to associate my Catholicism with love.

My family moved to another home just before I began second grade. We lived within walking distance of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church. With only a brief interruption I would spend the rest of my growing up years in the hands of Carmelite priests and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. I made many lifelong friends during those times and it was at Mt. Carmel that I made my first confession and my first communion. In the fourth grade I was confirmed in my faith. Those were glorious years in which I felt safe and loved and supported. My church family was like a great big extension of my own family, and when my father died all of the wonderful people from the parish watched over me and my mother and brothers. I was often frightened then, but the steadiness of the Church always came to my rescue.

I married my husband at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and the same  Father Perusina who had baptized me was the priest who performed the ceremony. For a long time I kept driving back to Mt. Carmel for mass on Sundays but it was just too far away from where I lived. I ended up going to Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Houston but it felt so unfamiliar and I did not know anyone there. I floated around from parish to parish as we made our moves, but once we purchased a home I found St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church where my own children would grow up as Catholics. I felt that same sense of family that I had enjoyed in my youth among the priests and parishioners there. My young adult life was spent teaching there on Sundays, managing the religious education program for a time, and making some of the very best friends that I have ever had.

When we moved from the house that had been our abode for over thirty years I found myself once again driving a rather long distance just to remain at St. Frances Cabrini but that became rather tedious and so I began searching for a closer parish in which to invest my faith. By happenstance I found Mary Queen Catholic Church.

The summer of 2017 had been wrought with pain for me and my husband. He had endured a stroke and we felt so much uncertainty about the future. Only a few short weeks later hurricane Harvey inundated our area. For days on end we sat in our home worrying that the waters might find their way inside while watching dreadful images of destruction in places that we knew quite well. When all was said and done we were fine but many of our family members and friends had lost most of their possessions and the security of their homes. It felt as though nobody was completely immune.

Two of the mothers of friends with whom I had gone to school at Mt. Carmel died during the time of our city’s recovery. Sadly Mt. Carmel had not been spared by Harvey. It’s roof had collapsed from the weight of the rain and it would be months before it was repaired. The families had to find alternative places to hold the funerals and it was Mary Queen Catholic Church that agreed to open their doors to provide them with a proper service. At the very same time the ladies of the quilting group at Mary Queen sent a prayer quilt to my husband with assurances that they would pray for his recovery and improved health.

We were so moved by the generosity of the people at Mary Queen that we decided that we had finally found our new home parish. We have not regretted our decision because we once again feel the kind of love and generosity that I experienced at St. Peter the Apostle, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and St. Frances Cabrini. The community of worshipers are the true leaders of a parish. It is in the people who fill the pews each Sunday that I find the word of God living and breathing around me. My new Mary Queen family quenches my spiritual thirst.

I am a Catholic. My parents brought me to the church as a child. I have stayed as an adult. There are many problems within the Catholic Church because even though it was founded by Christ, it is run on this earth by humans who by nature are sometimes frail and prone to mistakes. My faith bears the scars of many sins but it also represents the message of love that has sustained me during my most difficult times.

I have seen priests who failed in their stewardship and even felt uncomfortable around two of them that I purposely avoided. They were both later found credibly guilty of sexual abuse. It has saddened me to face the reality that the Catholic Church has for so long abrogated its duties to protect the flock, but I do not view the sinfulness of a few as a reason to leave. For most of my seventy years the priests and nuns and members of the Catholic Church have given me love, understanding, support, and a feeling of moving ever closer to God. I see no reason to leave or to turn my back on a religion that has been a source of sustenance and strength. I will stand by my church just as it has always stood by me.

Find me perfect people, perfect religions, perfect institution, perfect nations and I may be willing to admit that I should be disgusted with the Catholic Church. Since there are no such organizations that can claim to be without sin I choose instead to stay to help build my church on more solid ground. Jesus was all about love and forgiveness. That is how I view my own part in the Catholic Church. I will stay and I will love the family who joins me each Sunday to focus on what faith is really about. 

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