My dad was raised Catholic and wanted to be a priest. When he was 12 years old (1924) he was sent to a minor seminary as a good candidate. I know he was smart, and he must have been pious - by the time he died he was a staunch and sneering atheist. When Dad was 14 years old he contracted a bad case of meningitis which left him profoundly deaf. He dropped out of school. I think it was the pain of becoming deaf that turned him against God, but it took a long time to manifest itself in a rejection of his childhood faith. His mom, my Grandmother, was a pious and believing Catholic. As a teen and young man, Dad took care of her and didn't want to disappoint her.
Dad continued to practice his faith until he met my mom, a very staunch Fundamentalist who was convinced she could convert him. They were married by a priest, in the rectory. At that time mixed marriages could not take place in a Catholic Church. Mom told me once that she thought if she married him he would "get saved" and they would live happily ever after. She also told me that she lied to the priest when he asked her to promise to raise her children Catholic. She was ashamed and sad that's she'd lied, but she was also sure it would just be a matter of time before Dad would ask Jesus to be his Savior. Unfortunately that never happened. As Mom and Dad argued about God , Dad became more and more dismissive of religion in general. By the time I came along in the late 50s, Dad didn't ever go to Mass. He didn't come to our little fundamentalist church, either. He wanted nothing to do with religion and nothing to do with religious people. It was a constant source of pain and sorrow to my mom and to us. We kids believed that atheists (and Catholics, and Lutherans, and Mormons, and everyone but us) were all going to hell. As a child I prayed and prayed for Dad's salvation.
My paternal Grandmother died when I was five. I was not allowed to go to the funeral because my mom didn't believe children should see a Catholic funeral because it was, "so sad." Mom explained that Catholics made a lot of fuss at their funerals because they didn't know if their loved one was in heaven or not. She said Catholic funerals were too sad for children, and she felt sorry for Catholics.
All I remember about Grandma was that she was plump and smiley and her room was full of odd pictures of Jesus - odd to me because they were Catholic images. She had a crucifix. And she had a little plaque on her wall that said, JESUS SAVES. Her English was poor but she never failed to express her delight at seeing us. She wasn't critical of my mom. In fact once, when Mom was trying to evangelize her, Grandma pointed to the plaque and said, "Yesus saves, only Yesus!" I wish I'd known her better.
Fast forward thirty-plus years. I was a new Catholic and I wanted to know all about my Catholic Grandma. I emailed Dad. "Tell me about your mom." He wrote back, pages and pages of childhood memories. Grandma was jolly. She loved a joke and was quick to laugh. She worked hard and didn't complain. She was always praying the Rosary. She made all their socks. Her hands were never still. She was kind. Everyone loved her. I asked him why he and Mom got married by a priest. "So my mother would not cry," said Dad.
This is a woman who was widowed young and raised eight children without a husband. She was an immigrant from Croatia who never learned to speak English well. She was barely literate. Her family was so poor that she often went hungry so her kids could eat. She never missed Mass. I can only imagine her sorrow over the son who wanted to be a priest and ended up scowling at the Catholic faith.
I really didn't get to know Grandma, but when my dad was clearing stuff from his house he sent me her missal. The green velvet cover had faded, the ivory monstrance on the front was chipped. Inside it was inscribed with her name and the year of my dad's birth - 1912. The pages were well-worn, in fact, the binding was falling apart. Each spread of two pages was the same. On the left the writing was in Croatian. On the facing page was an illustration of what the priest was doing at that moment in the Mass. I don't know how well Grandma could read. But I know she followed the Mass because I could see the proof in her missal-a missal printed for everyone - those who could read, and those who could not.
It has always felt like a miracle that I, a woman raised as a fundamentalist evangelical (and very anti-Catholic to boot) could end up Catholic. It is such an incredible gift! Every day I thank Jesus for bringing me home to His Church, despite all the obstacles of my upbringing. And in the last few years, I've been thanking Grandma, too.
I believe my Catholic Grandma prayed me into the Church, against all odds. My husband, my children and their spouses, and now my grandchildren, are faithful Catholics, living a full sacramental life, as close to Jesus as is possible on this earth. Thank you, Jesus. And thank you, Grandma. You never criticized, you never judged, but I know you prayed.
I can't wait to meet you again.
And, now that I'm Catholic, I have reason to hope, even for Dad. It's not my place to say he is in hell - despite how negative he could be, even to the very end. I pray for him. God alone knows the depths of Dad's wounds, the source of his pain and bitterness. And God alone forgives. I don't KNOW if my Dad is in heaven. But I hope. He was baptized and confirmed. And at one point he felt he had a vocation. He knew Jesus once. I hope He knows him again. I have every hope that Grandma is praying for his soul too.
I am a Catholic wife, mom and grandma. In 1995, after Bible college and a few years as an Evangelical Missionary, I was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. These are my personal musings on Scripture, prayer, and living close to Jesus.