My identification with my faith has always been tied up with my two grandmothers. Both of them were, and are, devout Catholics. My maternal grandmother died when I was a baby but when my mom tells me about her she always mentions how important her Catholic faith was to Grandma Theresa. Growing up, my mom went to church with her family every single Sunday. My mom has tried to instill the same Catholic faith in us, even though none of us are particularly devout at the moment because of how involved in politics the Church is getting. I grew up knowing that faith was important to Grandma Theresa and it was one of the things I associated with her. I think faith still connects my mom and grandmother and it’s part of the reason why my mom has tried so hard to keep us connected with the church. Ultimately I think she was successful—while I’m not currently going to church because of certain actions the church hierarchy has taken, I love the Catholic religion and am always working to deepen my spiritual relationship with God even if I can’t find that spiritual succor within a brick and mortar church building.
My paternal grandmother, Grandma Fran, is one of my favorite people in the entire world. We’ve always been close. She lives up in Waupaca with my grandpa, in a cabin surrounded by forest, so we couldn’t exactly go and see her on the weekends. My brother and I would spend a week every summer up in Waupaca with them and some of my earliest memories are walking in the woods picking berries or going fishing off the dock in the state park. We always slept in a guest bedroom filled with Catholic paraphernalia: books by popes, paintings of Jesus, Mary, the saints, and guardian angels, and a dresser with a drawer full of prayer cards. My brother doesn’t usually go up to Waupaca with me anymore, but I still sleep in that bedroom every time I visit. We would attend church with them while we were visiting, at a much smaller congregation than the one my family used to go to in Madison. I remember asking my grandmother questions about faith from a very young age. I distinctly remember asking her when I was about seven why she was so convinced that heaven existed. She told me that she had been very close with her grandmother and they’d made a pact with each other that whoever died first would send the other one a sign that everything was okay in the afterlife. Apparently, I was born on her grandmother’s birthday and my grandma considered my birthday a fulfillment of their pact. That story has stuck with me for a very long time.
Although my grandma is more devout, she describes herself as a “Cafeteria Catholic”, sometimes picking and choosing what to believe. I’m the same way, and so are my parents. Although my grandma and I don’t always share the same opinions on church teachings, we can have respectful conversations about them and we know the things that the other person won’t budge on. While these conversations can sometimes be frustrating, I appreciate that we’re able to have them and that she is willing to listen to what I have to say even when it doesn’t accord with her own values. In spite of this, we’re still close; I call her almost every day and tell her about what’s going on in my life, even though I can’t get up to Waupaca to see her very often. My Catholic faith is very closely associated with her, in particular her simple way of living and how she always tries to put God first in a way that feels sincere.
I love visiting different churches and religious sites when I travel. When my family was in Portugal a couple of years ago we stopped at Fatima, which has a major Catholic pilgrimage site where Mary supposedly appeared to three children in the early twentieth century. While we were there our tour guide stopped at a big Catholic superstore filled with statues, Rosaries, prayer cards, and all kinds of other souvenirs. We bought two bags’ worth full of holy objects for all of my relatives. I got a statue of Mary for Grandma Fran (although thanks to the pandemic I wasn’t able to give it to her for another couple of years). When I was in Europe last year I went to several different Catholic churches in different countries. I always like visiting Catholic churches because it makes me feel a little bit more at home, even in a foreign country. While I didn’t always have the spare change to pay to light a candle, whenever I did I would dedicate it to my two grandmothers—one living, and one no longer with us.