More than a few of you have asked, so I thought I would take a few weeks here to explain. This is my story—no one else’s. The people I know who have left the Catholic church have very good reasons for doing so. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind.
The first time I ever walked into St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg was for Katie Stevens’ funeral. It was January 2010. I would go to my grandfather’s funeral that next week, and my mother’s that March.
Katie was 15 when she died in a car accident on the way home from an ACTS Bible study. The student who was driving was not drunk, just reckless. This was the second funeral for a teenager from St. Mary’s that school year. In September, 13-year-old Quinn Kott died following a football game.
The sanctuary holds about 750, and it was packed an hour before the funeral started. They opened up the St. Mary’s School gym across the street and broadcast the funeral to a standing-room only crowd.
Steve Wiggins gave up his seat for my daughter and I to attend Katie’s funeral. My daughter wanted to go because she knew Katie’s younger sister. I’d been to a Catholic wedding before but never to a Catholic funeral.
While we waited for things to begin, I just looked around. There’s a lot to look at. Maybe that’s why all the kids weren’t too noisy.
St. Mary’s is one of the painted churches in Central Texas, built by German (or, in some cases, Czech) immigrants and intricately painted. The main colors are salmon, sage, forest and sienna. There are the stained-glass windows, most of which feature Mary. Plus, there are lots of statues. There’s a painting of Jesus breaking the bread at Emmaus and another one of Melchizedek blessing Abraham while Lot looks on.
I’d never heard the priest, Father Enda McKenna, and I couldn’t be sure of his accent. I’ve since learned he came from Ireland. He’s spent his 50-year career mostly on the south side of San Antonio and in northern Mexico. His accent is Irish-Mexican-Texan.
The service was in a slightly different order from what I grew up with in the Episcopal church, but it wasn’t exactly foreign. I knew the “Hail Mary” prayer—no idea where I picked that up. I knew not to go forward during Communion.
My daughter was shocked that I seemed to know my way around the service.
“Are you Catholic?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
Two years and three months later, I would be.