My Catholic conversion, and things that flowed
Despite being a lesbian, church has provided role models and a sense of social justice
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @deirdrepike.