I recently visited the gravesites of my parents, both of whom were converts to the Catholic Church. I do not have a neat, black-and-white answer as to why they became Catholic, and I don’t remember my parents ever giving one either. It is interesting how parents can remain a mystery to their children, a mystery that only deepens after the parent dies and the children are left with jigsaw puzzle memories.

My parents lived their Catholic faith, although I think both would admit their struggles. My father was an alcoholic—a disease which he would never overcome and that took his life and his marriage. My mother, for the good of her boys, finally separated from my father, but such a disruption is never perfect nor good. Faith-wise, my family was thrown into limbo for most of my childhood and teenage years. At best we were twice-a-year Catholics, lost and confused—reeling from the effects of the modern, shattered family.

My father was brought up in a Presbyterian household, although how staunch it was is open for debate. A story I once heard was of an exchange which occurred sometime after my father’s conversion when my two great aunts from Mississippi made a visit to my grandfather and grandmother. Noticing a little dust on the family Bible, one aunt is said to have remarked, “Maybe if that Bible was not dusty, Jack would never have converted.” A number of years later my own aunt (my father’s sister) would tell these same two great-aunts, “Michael has decided to enter Catholic seminary and we are very proud.” The southern equivalent of drawing a line in the sand!

My grandfather was a self-made and successful businessman who established a local business and, at some point, acquired a bottling company in Cuba. This was pre-Castro when Cuba was open and, apparently, quite the place to be. Every now and then my father would share memories of being a young boy visiting Cuba and he would smile when he talked of visiting some Catholic churches and shrines in the country. Even to the end of his life my father enjoyed spending whole evenings sitting and listening to records of Cuban music. I cannot help but believe that the lived faith my father witnessed in Cuba as a young man lit a spark that eventually led him to embrace Catholicism.

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