I was in the newsstand of a Miami bus terminal, my saddle oxfords a bit scuffed and my uniform crumpled after a steamy day of classes, when I spotted something that utterly horrified me. It was not an X-rated magazine, but something much worse: a book called “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell.
I was born on April 15, 1952 in Columbus, OH, the first of 2 children, into a family that did not practice any religious faith. We moved every couple of years, as my dad advanced his career as a professor. Christmas and Easter were celebrated as secular holidays. In fact there seemed to be an outright opposition in my household to anything to do with God, Jesus, the Bible, or church.
I was raised in the Methodist faith in a small town in North Carolina. The only Catholic Church in town was a block away from my house and a large brick home which served as a convent was just around the corner. I would often see the nuns, dressed in their habits, walking to the Catholic school which adjoined the church. Whenever I saw them I felt a great sense of respect. I considered them to be very holy, although, I knew nothing about the Catholic faith.
“Then you will know that I, the Lord your God dwell in Zion, my holy hill.” (Joel 3:17a, NIV)
I was born in 1971 in Sosnowiec, an industrial mining city in southern Poland, and raised as a devout Catholic. These were harsh times; communism had reared its ugly head, stigmatizing and criticizing the beliefs of those whose faith was precious to them.
Ruth: That Good Friday, I carefully took out white construction paper and the big, thick crayons that normally were reserved for my coloring books. Slowly, and very deliberately, I drew three crosses, the middle one in red. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I remember talking to Jesus in my own child-like way. That is my first memory of prayer or any understanding, however rudimentary, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. I was a preschooler, not yet attending kindergarten, but this memory is still so vivid and detailed that it doesn’t seem that almost fifty years have passed.
I stood on the edge of America, sand under my feet and the warm water from the Atlantic Ocean washing over my toes. On the horizon I could see them: early morning thunderheads. All lined up and towering into the sky–some closer, some farther away–but all beautiful and majestic; standing like sentinels ready to fight an unseen enemy and seemingly ready to protect. As I watched, some of these thunderheads developed into giants, with the telltale anvil head shape. While others, shaded from the sun by the larger clouds, simply died off, giving no rain to the earth. This made me think of the parable Jesus told about the seeds scattered along the roadside. Some of these storms had taken root, but in shallow ground. After starting out quite hopeful and impressive, they died out in the shadows of those who were fulfilling their cyclic duties of sea to rain, rain to sea–their roots were not deep enough. I could certainly relate.
My return to the Catholic Church after twenty years away as an Evangelical Protestant was my heart’s response to Jesus, as He drew me back into full communion with His Church and complete union with Him in the Holy Eucharist.
I was baptized Shannon Mary Kelly, oldest of six children of an Irish-Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan. I made my First Confession and First Communion when I was eight years old. I remember how very close to Jesus I felt as I received Holy Communion for the first time.