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The Reactionary Utopian
February 28, 2008

Debts
by Joe Sobran

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 forty years.

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 for them?

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