It was second grade. My classmates were receiving re conciliation in order to prepare for first Communion and I wasn't baptized. My mother was Jewish, my father was Catholic and I felt like I was being singled out in my class. My parents didn't know what to do, so they went to talk to Father Clark.
Father Clark respected my mom and didn't try to convert her into being Catholic. He treated her as he would a person whom he just baptized. He regarded her with absolutely no prejudice or scorn. Father was friendly, kind and convinced my parents that baptism in the Roman Catholic faith was the best choice for me. Even though I wouldn't receive reconciliation with my peers, I would receive first Communion with them. Then my parents left, and never once did Father mention my mother being baptized as well.
I recall the day I was baptized. I was so excited, I think I probably gave Father Clark a hug before and after the ceremony. My classmates watched in the pews directly in front of me. At that time, I was old enough to repeat the vows that your parents usually say. Father announced that this was a very special baptism, for I would remember it all throughout my entire life. And I will.
I just received confirmation this year. My mother is still Jewish, my father still Catholic. At the end of the ceremony we went out to dinner to celebrate. I remember Mom looking at me, saying that, if it weren's for Father Clark, I wouldn't be sitting here with my red and white gown with a smile upon my face. I would have no religion — or, at least, no confirmed religion.
If Father Clark hadn's treated my mom like he did, she would've never let me be baptized. She had said, “He is such a great person. I was comfortable with him and he made me feel like baptism was the right choice.”
I can't imagine what life would be like if I wasn't Catholic! Religion is such an essential part of my life now.
Now Father is sick. He still tries his best to make it to our Masses on Fridays, and sometimes he makes it to the Sunday ones as well. But often he is not there. I miss his sermons. They never fail to fill me with light and hope. They just make so much sense. I hope he knows that he is the sole reason why I am there, sitting in church. He changed my life. He was there for my family. More importantly, he was there for me.
It amazes me how, even though he is very sick, he still makes it to numerous Masses. I don't know why, but this trivial fact makes me feel stronger than I was before, for just seeing him in church makes me feel better. I guess it's because if he manages to lead the Church in praising God in the condition he's in, I can conquer the daily tasks that I have to do. It proves that God is more powerful than you think. He's there to guide you through the day. At least, I know he's there for me, and he's definitely there for Father as well.
Father Clark is my hero because he is the reason I am Catholic.
Jennifer Therrien, an eighth-grade student at St. Leo the Great School in Lincroft, N.J., writes from Little Silver, N.J.