Years after I’d made the detour from my Roman Catholic childhood into the land of Protestantism, a devout and educated Catholic—a deacon in his parish—listened to my story over Easter dinner and attempted to set me straight.
The deacon was the father of a good friend who’d invited me, single and living alone in those days, to dinner with her family. I arrived, fresh from an Easter service among the Methodists. I shared snippets from the morning—the white lilies blooming around the altar; the woman pastor racing down the aisle, Sunday School class in tow, all proclaiming, “He’s Risen!” to kick things off.
The deacon peered at me over his eyeglasses, smiled indulgently, and told me that, Methodist services notwithstanding, I was still a Catholic.
“Were you confirmed?” he asked.
I told him that I had been confirmed, back in elementary school, some twenty years earlier. For him, that settled things. The Church of Rome, he assured me, had first dibs on my soul.
I laughed and went back to the ham on my plate. He was a kind-hearted man just telling me the truth as he saw it, and that was okay. My truth was that I didn’t think about the Catholic Church much anymore. It had been consigned to my spiritual past—along with all of its rituals and rules.
The Church of Rome, he assured me, had first dibs on my soul.
Fast-forward another twenty years, and my son is attending a Catholic elementary school. He started this past fall. It’s a small school, vigorous and demanding, yet nurturing and warm—just the type of community we wanted. This wasn’t our original plan. But parent after parent suggested we consider this school—whether or not we were Catholic.
My husband and I first visited the campus just before Christmas last year. The old brick building was in full holiday bloom: a tree decorated with ornaments the children had made, white paper silhouettes of angels and stars and nativity scenes taped in the tall windows. I was charmed, but a little wary.
We met with the principal in his private office. I liked him right away, the careful way he listened and met our eyes as we spoke, how fully he answered our questions. He’s a deacon, too. He’s also a scholar, a linguist who speaks four languages and holds advanced degrees in education.
“We’re not practicing Catholics,” I told him right off the bat.
He smiled. “It doesn’t matter. We welcome everyone.”
I liked him even more.
We toured the building, walking up to the second- and third-floor classrooms. Bible quotes hung on the walls over Chromebook laptops, iPads, and white board technology. A brand new science lab and a rich, diverse library welcomed students.
We took the stairs down to the basement, where a statue of the Blessed Mother stands in the stairwell in a recessed alcove surrounded by the stone of the building’s foundation. It looks like a little basement grotto. I stopped before her. The Holy Blessed Mother, in her powder blue robes, compassion etched into the creamy stone of her face. Pinpoints of white light shine from her radiant blue eyes, the serpent crushed beneath her feet. She brought to mind all the statues and rosaries and saints of my childhood, curious figures to me then, something else to me now. More than sentimental symbols, they are representations in our shared ecumenical quest, little windows into the mystery of God, inviting a glance.
An amazingly devoted staff of lay people run my son’s school. They give their all to the children every day. My son has flourished academically and socially. He attends Mass once a month, on a weekday. He enjoys the church building—it’s more than 100 years old with a soaring ceiling and stained glass that catches the sunlight—and the air of solemnity (or the “total quiet,” as he calls it) that precedes the Mass.
As a non-Catholic, he can’t receive Communion, so he folds his arms over his chest and gets a blessing instead. He receives Communion on Sundays at our church. He’s got a foot in both camps now, and I can already see that it’s making him more tolerant and curious about the way the world—oh, and maybe God, too—works.
Peering through different lenses, we catch glimpses of God. My son’s journey is just beginning. I hope he finds that each lens yields a new insight. They’re like the milestones on a journey. The lights in Mary’s eyes will be signposts along the way for my son now, illuminating what they can. Just as they have done for me.