My Catholic con­ver­sion, and things that flowed

De­spite be­ing a les­bian, church has pro­vided role mod­els and a sense of so­cial jus­tice

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - DEIRDRE PIKE

“What if she wants to marry a Protes­tant boy,” my mom ex­claimed as she burst into tears at our first meet­ing with my priest since I’d an­nounced at the ripe old age of 15, I was be­com­ing a Catholic.

Although I knew I was dif­fer­ent “that way,” I hadn’t come out as a les­bian yet or her fear may have been eas­ily al­layed. In­stead the priest as­sured her I’d be free to marry a Protes­tant boy if one came along, be­ing post-Vat­i­can II and all.

My dad wasn’t too thrilled ei­ther, he be­ing born in Belfast to a mom whose favourite colour was Or­ange and was now ap­par­ently busy rolling in her grave at the thought of me be­com­ing a Mick.

He didn’t hold back as he told the priest he was taught all Catholics were (in­sert ex­ple­tives here)! De­spite th­ese ini­tial protes­ta­tions, both my par­ents would at­tend Mass with me many times over the course of the next decades and my father was buried by a Catholic priest.

On Au­gust 28, 1978, they stood to­gether in the front row, my mother bawl­ing her eyes out, as I was bap­tized for the sec­ond time in my life. She didn’t have my faith that this bap­tism was go­ing to save me. (There are no sec­ond bap­tisms any­more for the most part as Vat­i­can II also taught us one good one will do the trick but I do think I may have needed the dou­ble dip­ping.)

My first bap­tism took place at St. John’s United Church in Strat­ford, shortly af­ter I was adopted.

A few years later we moved to Strathroy and found a church with the same name. I had a splen­did time go­ing to Sun­day School, mem­o­riz­ing the names of all the books in the tes­ta­ments, old and new.

It was the one place I could count on a gold star with nary a teacher telling me I wasn’t work­ing to my full po­ten­tial.

When I was seven, my dad had to spend a bit of time be­hind bars for il­le­gally ex­er­cis­ing his white col­lar. The church folks weren’t as wel­com­ing to my par­ents af­ter that, with one man ad­vis­ing my mom to “leave that jail­bird.” I’m glad she didn’t listen to him. Now I just needed to find my own ride on Sun­days.

I would hop in with any fam­ily in the area head­ing out to sing songs and listen to sto­ries about a God who loved his adopted chil­dren and calmed the storms: Pres­by­te­rian with the Smiths; United with the McCracken’s; and Bap­tist with the Wil­ton’s.

It wasn’t un­til high school when the sep­a­rate and pub­lic schools com­bined into one that I be­came fast friends with a Catholic girl and had a chance to go to Mass for the first time.

Folk Masses were the big thing and they sang, “Lord is it Mine,” by Su­per­tramp and prayers to the tune of Si­mon and Gar­funkel’s, “Are You Go­ing to Scar­bor­ough Fair?” I was given a job of run­ning the over­head slides. We stood, sat, knelt and stood again. There were bells and smells, prayers to learn and re­cite to­gether so we could re­spond in this liv­ing di­a­logue with God. I wanted in.

I spent a year or so of Tues­day nights at the rec­tory go­ing through, “Life With Christ,” with a most gen­tle and lov­ing man, Father Cooney. Sis­ter Anne Wil­son, an Ur­su­line, had me vol­un­teer with her, even­tu­ally teach­ing ESL to Dutch and Por­tuguese im­mi­grants. I had a God who loved me, a com­mu­nity that wel­comed me just as I was, and par­ents who sup­ported me. With­out that base, the first half of my life would have been much darker and per­haps much shorter.

Al­most 40 years later it still seems to fas­ci­nate or con­fuse peo­ple that I am both a prac­tic­ing Catholic and a prac­tic­ing les­bian. My ex­pe­ri­ence in the church pro­vides me with em­pow­er­ing role mod­els and a frame­work that has taught me to care deeply for the right peo­ple, those on the edge as I’ve been. I’m on re­treat this week sur­rounded by the wis­dom of the Sis­ters of St. Joseph in Lon­don, look­ing for the tools I need now in the sec­ond half of my life. I have faith I will find them.

Deirdre Pike is a bi-weekly free­lance colum­nist for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor. You can reach her at dpikeatthes­pec@gmail.com or fol­low her on Twit­ter @deirdrepike.

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