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St. Anthony Messenger

Let Us Pray: My Mother’s Voice

February 26, 2021
Issue
Let Us Pray: My Mother’s Voice

My two brothers and I awoke in an unfamiliar place. This new house was different. It squeaked with unfamiliar noises—sounds that weren’t eerie but new. The different, yet comfortable, smell of the new house hung in the air, waiting to embrace my family, the new owners. The smell of the previous owners would linger until we made this place our own.

We moved in two days earlier on a Friday in 1957. Boxes were strewn all over the large attic, which my brothers and I claimed as our new bedroom. It had windows looking down into the backyard, which made the room airy and bright.

We no longer lived in the one-bedroom, third-floor apartment on the South Side of Chicago with our parents and sister. We no longer made the small dining room our bedroom, as we had since birth. Now our family lived in a huge house, with a backyard, a porch, and a front yard. We could make noise without worrying about someone tapping on their ceiling in the apartment below us, scolding us for being too rambunctious.

We fell in love with our home in a neighborhood that didn’t want us there.

 

Prayers of Healing

We barely slept before the morning sun filtered through the windows over our beds. Unaccustomed to sleeping alone, on that first night we pushed our single beds together into one large bed. Sleeping apart from one another was unknowable.

The three of us got up knowing Mom was going to make us go to church. After readying ourselves, and a quick bowl of cereal, we walked to St. Clotilde Catholic Church, which was two blocks from our home. It was our first Mass in our new community. It was a quiet walk, with the normal warnings of good behavior from Mom. There was hesitation and nervousness, which came over my mother as we approached the church.

Upon entering, we were greeted by an amalgam of white faces. They turned and stared. We found a pew near the back of the church and sat quietly as the priest began the service. He prayed in Latin and spoke in English, while my brothers and I busied ourselves by poking one another.

There was a quiet tenseness on my mother’s face during the service—and she didn’t go up for Communion. My brothers and I, though older, had not yet received our first Communion. After Mass concluded, we walked out of the church through the sea of white parishioners who, strangely, parted as we approached them. My mother, who was kind and soft-spoken, moaned through a barely opened mouth as we walked home.

It was difficult to determine what she was saying, but whatever it was, she was not happy. I was unfortunately holding her hand as her fingers dug into the flesh of my hand. Again, she muttered something, but we dared not ask what was wrong.

Then I began to understand her angry words: “That man is not going to put me out of my church!” she said over and over.

We later learned the priest was not welcoming to the new Black parishioners. He wanted us to go elsewhere. Evidently, he didn’t realize who my mother was and the depth of her faith and determination to confront what was so terribly wrong. From that day forward, she attended daily Mass and sat in the front pew.

But what I found extraordinary was the tenacity of my mother’s faith. For at every meal, as we prayed for God to bless the food, she’d always whisper, “Please heal your priest.” Day after day, meal after meal, she prayed: “Please heal your priest. Please heal your priest.”

 

We Are All God’s Children

What I learned from my mother’s simple prayer was that the reason the priest didn’t want us at the church was because we were Black. He didn’t want us there because he was broken—by fear, ignorance, anger, and by a society that taught him to be afraid of what he did not know. He needed to be healed.

Over the next few years, the priest, Father Mattimore, got to know my mother, and my mother got to know and forgive him. On my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, he came to our home and blessed their marriage and was blessed in return. That day, Father Mattimore became our pastor.

A great truth was taught to me long ago: We are all God’s children. If I discriminate or hate someone—for reasons of race, gender, capabilities, or lack thereof—it is not that person who is broken. It is me.


A Prayer to Open Our Hearts

Lord, there is no better
time than now for our
faith to become more
vibrant, more evident,
more on fire with love.
Our love is needed
in our parishes, our
families, and our communities.
Lord, you
have told us you are
the way. With your
grace, we shall follow.


Questions to Consider

Search within to find your fear of “the other.”

  • Have you bought into a societal belief that is fed by fear and ignorance?
  • Have you ever challenged those who speak pejoratively of others because they are discriminatory in their actions or beliefs?
  • Have you sat quietly and not challenged those words of hate because you were afraid or didn’t want to offend?

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Comments

Tue, 03/16/2021 - 08:34 AM
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!
Tue, 03/16/2021 - 08:55 AM
The story ends, as it should - as racism should - and has. In the 1950s, this story, and others just like it, happened everywhere - some with less than beautiful results - as this one, Love, Respect and Forgiveness. In 2021, this is a discussion because the powers that be are making it a discussion. I am 65 yrs old and have watched the perfect dissipation of racism in our society. The fuel to reopen an ugly time in history is being used for a narrative that will destroy us from within. The Devil is alive and having a ball. Your "Questions to Consider" are passive aggressive questions. They are fuel looking for a fire. Re-ask: From the positive side - Are you praying for the demonic forces to stop this resurgence of ignorance? Are you standing against the devil and his legions through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament? We need "on your knees" prayer for this country - not a conversation. Racism is a new/old truthful wound, scarred with love, and gone. Hate used as an agenda is causing too many to hide. Heal your priests.
Tue, 03/16/2021 - 05:20 PM
Amen!
Tue, 03/16/2021 - 10:57 AM
Yes we do need a conversation - with each other- with God leading the discussion
Tue, 03/16/2021 - 11:51 AM
Powerful and uplifting! Eye opening. Truth. Inspiring, beautiful faith. I was born in 1958 so this is meaningful. Your mother’s voice, like my mother’s voice, reflects God’s heart. Thanks for sharing.
Tue, 03/16/2021 - 12:11 PM
Well, in four months but close enough. Racism hasn't "perfectly dissipated;" it may have gone a little quieter for awhile but it's never gone away. If anyone believes that the disproportionate numbers of people of color incarcerated, living in poverty, attending poorly performing schools, put to death by the state, is a result of anything other than ongoing systemic racism, they are living in a fantasy. Thank you for the beautiful story and lessons in this piece, bless you and your family, and this priest. I will pray for Anonymous' healing.
Sat, 03/27/2021 - 08:55 AM
I love your story. I wish the Church I have spent my life in would welcome everyone. Unfortunately it does not. It is the rejection of so many members of our world that has led to the rejection of the core message of faith and forgiveness. I wish the younger members of my family could find the same solace in the Church that I do but they cannot because of the Church's continued rejection of those who are divorced, homosexual, or female.

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