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
One of my favorite memories is 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.
St. Eugene’s eventually closed in the Year of Our Lord 1989 due to “white flight” and demographic changes after the 1967 riots in Detroit, and with this came to an end the place where I spent some of the holiest years of my life, years in which neither I nor my classmates were ashamed to publicly give witness to our faith in Christ (yes, I too dressed in sheets and played the priest in acting out the Mass with my siblings).
I graduated from St. Eugene’s in 1966, when the liturgical changes after the close of the council promulgated in Sacrosanctum Concilium to the best of my memory had not yet been thoroughly implemented. I journeyed off to Detroit Cathedral High School downtown, where my experience of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist began to fade, as I no longer was required (sadly, in retrospect) to attend daily Mass. To be sure, in my adolescent years I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what was happening in the Church in the United States after the Council, and, after seeing a pretty, red-headed Sophomore on the bus on her way to Immaculata High one day (in the end I proved too shy to sit next to her on the DSR bus...), I confess I really never paid it much attention.
In the ensuing years I drifted further and further away from the Church, the Body of Christ, in true “prodigal son” fashion, often arguing with my mother over matters of faith. How Our Lord led me home is outside the scope of this endeavor; suffice it to say that there are rough parallels with St. Augustine.
When I did return to the Faith, I was unable to find employment in my undergraduate major, so I began to volunteer teaching CCD in my parish, hoping eventually to land a job there teaching history. This required me to earn catechist certification offered by the Archdiocese of Detroit, which I did in 1978. No sooner had I completed the requirements, when a combination Religion/History opening occurred at Benedictine High School in Detroit. I taught there for one year, after which I landed a job teaching Scripture (for which I, by true Catholic standards, was woefully unprepared to do) at St. Agatha, where I remained for one year. I then took a position at a Catholic high school in a suburb of Detroit, where I have been ever since.
Since 1995, however, and my “reversion” (no doubt through the prayers of my Mom) to the fullness of Catholic teaching, I have made ten year study of the post-conciliar years in the United States, for which my training in history and as a catechist at the St. John Bosco Institute for Catechetics, as well as twenty-five years as a catechist in the Archdiocese of Detroit have come in handy.