When I was in my teens, I fell in love — with every pretty girl
I saw, with Shakespeare, and, most abidingly, with the Catholic Church.
Oh, how glorious she was! And also how intimate.
My childhood world had been Catholic; my father’s immigrant
parents’ house had been full of crucifixes, sacred pictures,
and rosaries. One of the strongest memories I have of those early days
is of my fat little Grandma Sobran saying her beads. It was a mystery
to me. But it was somehow the world I belonged to.
Both my mother and father had been raised as Catholics (her parents
had sent her to a Catholic school, which she never spoke well of to
me, and at my father’s funeral I learned, much to my surprise,
that he had been an altar boy), but neither was pious. Yet I envied
both of them.
They divorced and both soon married others. Mom’s new husband
was Jerry Fox, a big, handsome, genial man — a veteran of World
War II — whom I loved at once. He was the sweetest man I ever
knew; everyone liked him. I called him Pop.
I also hit it off with his parents. They accepted me as a grandson
right away. Grandma Fox was a librarian, and she brought me countless
old books the library was discarding; one was a tiny dictionary I studied
all the time. Grandpa Fox had a wonderful sense of humor, and Pop had
obviously inherited his warmth from him.
The Foxes were also Catholics, very devout ones, their home full of
rosaries, crucifixes, images of the Blessed Virgin, and Bing Crosby
records. Too bad they never met my father’s parents. (Or are
they all together in heaven now?)
Having been divorced and then married a divorced woman, Pop was a
fallen-away Catholic; but unlike so many, such as Mom, he held no bitterness
against the Church. Just the opposite. He loved the Church deeply.
He taught my brother and me to make the sign of the cross and to say
grace before every meal. I still pray for his soul. If not for him,
I wouldn’t be a Catholic today.
In my mid teens, at the age when boys are usually in rebellion against
their parents, I was studying the Baltimore Catechism, with no sense
that I was “against” my family. It was one of the most
blissful times of my life. Father Maurice Decker instructed and baptized
me, with Grandma and Grandpa Fox serving as my sponsors on a brilliant
August Sunday afternoon.
We lived only a few doors from the church, so I was there often, pestering
the young Father Leo Broderick with my countless queries. He always
found time for me. He was as kind and genial as Pop.
Over the next few years I lost my faith, left the Church, married
and divorced twice, and finally found my way back. A couple of months
ago a friend found me Father Broderick’s phone number; he was
retired in Michigan, not too far from where I knew him. Out of the
blue I called him one morning and we spoke for the first time in about
Words could never express my gratitude to this holy man. He sounded
exactly as I remembered him. I thanked him as best I could and sent
him a photo of me (in a white beard I didn’t have forty years
ago) with my great-granddaughter Christina. I wanted him to know how
much I owe to him and his unbroken fidelity to our Lord. I try to say
four rosaries daily now.
I have learned one simple truth in my long life: the more we give
thanks, the happier we are. We can never fully repay all those we are
indebted to, but we can acknowledge what we owe them. My debts to Pop
and Father Broderick are virtually infinite. What can I do but pray
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