My parents were in a “mixed marriage,” meaning in their case, my mother was an Irish Catholic and my father was a “non-catholic.” Dad didn’t go to any church, though he paid to send his six children to catholic schools, as he’d promised when he married mother in the priest’s rectory. (In the thirties, mixed marriages couldn’t happen in the church building, only nearby.) And as part of his fatherly duties, he listened to our catechism homework most nights, along with our spelling words and multiplication tables.
Dad asked a lot of questions about whatever subjects we happened to be studying, but the ones he asked about religion were the most provocative. I would bring his questions to school the following morning and, in the years when I had a nun who welcomed inquiry, they would liven up our class discussions. (Other years they were likely to get me in trouble.)
Mother refused to talk about religion with my father. She reported that the priest who married them told her never to talk religion with her husband. He had been a member of his university’s debating team, and she would never have a change to win the argument. Perhaps Dad talked to me about religion because he couldn’t talk to Mother. But I’m certain my father’s coming from a place of not knowing helped me to understand and learn more about the Catholic religion, and such themes as ethics, justice, and community.
The big worry us kids had was that Dad might not go to heaven since he wasn’t a Catholic. We were told to pray for his conversion, which we did with all the dedication and seriousness young children bring to such efforts. But our prayers were never answered, at least in my mother’s lifetime.
After 46 years of marriage and mother’s funeral in 1983, my father and I were discussing the new liturgy where the priest had begun speaking in English. At the end of mass he would turn to the congregation and say, “God be with you. Go in Peace. “ But my father told me about a particular day when the priest had said, “God be with you. Go and serve one another. “ He had tears in his eyes, as he added a comment in his own unique style, “ And baby, that’s what it’s all about.”