Growing in Faith

Growing in Faith

America Magazine

A mother reflects on her daughter’s experience of growing up black and Catholic.

When my little girl became a teenager, I didn’t flinch. Raising a daughter who is so solidly grounded in her faith has made this journey (so far) a less stressful experience than those I’ve heard described by other parents. A very modest young lady, my daughter Vanessa and I don’t argue about short skirts and makeup, parties or boys. Our conversations seem more focused on her grades, goals, golf and God, and for that I am grateful.

Vanessa certainly is more confident and comfortable in her faith than I was at her age. Yet there are unmistakable similarities between her childhood and mine. Just as my daughter and son are doing now, I grew up in a predominantly white community, attending a school with a similar demographic. I only knew of one other black Catholic family.

Of mixed heritage with light skin and long hair, my lineage always seemed in question during my youth. I learned quickly that it was easier to just avoid the more uncomfortable questions—“You’re Catholic? But, you’re black!”—if I just skipped mentioning the fact that I was Catholic. I certainly was not ashamed, but learning to navigate life as a young girl of color in the 1970s seemed struggle enough. As a result of keeping this part of my identity concealed, I eventually attended Mass with less and less frequency. By the time I had begun my own family, attending church had become an occasional event: Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, weddings and funerals.

This routine for us, however, would change with a knock at the door in 2006. Vanessa was only 6 years old. A local youth group was visiting door-to-door to invite neighbors to visit their church. Their excitement intrigued Vanessa. In the days that followed she asked more about God and church and said, simply, “Why don’t we go more often?” And so it began from “the mouths of babes” (Ps 8:2).

Vanessa helped our family realign our relationship with God and recognize the importance of reinforcing that relationship through regular Mass attendance. We have become quite involved members, teaching at the children’s liturgy, serving as eucharistic ministers, participating in the choir and vacation Bible school. Additionally, both Vanessa and her brother Joseph attended the Aquinas Institute of Rochester, as we have always believed in the importance of a faith-based education.

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