Like many of the twenty-five percent or so of the American people who would respond with “Roman Catholic” when asked their religion in an emergency room, I am a “cradle Catholic,” born into an Irish-American family in Detroit as a baby boomer in 1952, baptized at St. Gabriel’s on the southwest side in the same year. I first received the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in second grade at St. Eugene’s parish in northwest Detroit, for which the Sisters of Notre Dame DeNamur admirably prepared me. I still stand amazed at the reverence instilled in the second-graders in the black-and-white photos shot by my father, Don, that day. I was also confirmed at St. Eugene’s parish in the fourth grade, after which my mother, Ann, took me out for my favorite breakfast, strawberry pancakes, where I played “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys at least twice. Since my return and faithful assent to all that the Catholic Church teaches in 1995, I have been a regular communicant and penitent.
My first memory on this earth is as a baby, less than a year old, of being driven by my parents to a funeral in Pennsylvania, an event my mother corroborated years later as I described it. My favorite memory from childhood is one I frequently think back on. It is one of observing from my pew prior to the 6:30 am Mass in 1958 the Sisters entering St. Eugene’s from the front-side entrance of the Church, special to them for access from their one-room convent in the adjoining school. It was winter, and the church was dimly-lit. They entered with awe-inspiring reverence, processing in their full habits, the beads of their waist-draped rosaries colliding gently, genuflecting and kneeling in silent preparation for the soon to occur reenactment in a non-bloody manner of Our Lord’s eternal sacrifice first offered on Calvary for our salvation, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The latent aroma of incense and the sight of fresh beeswax candles flickering on the altar, together with the sisters’ silent reverence and obvious practice of what they taught their first graders – the importance of reverence in the House of God – is an impression which not only convinced me that Jesus lived there in the Tabernacle, but was also an actual grace which I believe, together with my baptismal grace and my Mom’s faith witness, was instrumental in eventually leading me back into the fullness of Catholic teaching. I do not know now what became of each Sister, but I am sure that whatever their relationship with Our Lord today, they had no idea that one of their first-graders was so inspired by their witness to the real Presence they gave that winter morn.