I’m 30 years old and grew up in the Catholic Church. I always saw it as a chore or something that took my time away on a Sunday where I could be watching cartoons in my pjs. When I grew up and left the nest, I left my Sunday “chores” behind. The wind took my wings to the city I always longed to live in and not glance at from across the bay. New York. My timing couldn’t have been worse for striking out on my own. A global pandemic hit the world and I was trapped inside a bricked room with my Netflix, cat, and laptop. I moved back home to my family’s house in Garden City, Long Island. My first weekend home, a familiar vibe permeated the house. My Dad peeked his head into my room and just like when I was a kid he asked, “you almost ready for mass?”. With a smile on my face I nodded and removed my Harry Styles sweatshirt and replaced it with a button down and jeans. Father James captivated me from the moment I sat in our unspoken designated family pew. His lively and welcoming charisma engulfed me back into reminiscence of the faith and inspiration I hadn’t realized I lost when my attendance dropped. When leaving, my parents greeted Father James like a family friend. His eyes shifted to me and with sincerity he shook my hand and said, “ I haven’t seen you here before”. Some shame made me shift my weight and say, “yes I just moved back home”. As if to comfort me and absolve me of my guilt, he kept my hand in his and began asking me about my life. The guilt faded and I was surprised to have a casual conversation with a Priest who was so obviously invested in my faith that all my anxiety had seemed to dissolve. The way he made me feel so at peace and comfortable was a connection I felt blessed to have. I didn’t want to lose it. That was two and a half years ago. I attend mass every Sunday as well as Sacraments and am still living with my parents. The difference now is it’s me peeking my head into my parents room every Sunday asking them if they’re ready for mass. That is all thanks to the attention, inclusivity and genuineness of Father James welcoming me back.

Annie Gardner

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