30 December 2013


I had said to my children that they must all make their own decisions about becoming Catholics.  I think this was right.  By the end of 1995, Johnny was 20, Helen 18, Eddie 15, and Adele 13.  I did not and do not think it could have been right to impose my own choice on persons of those ages.

Nonetheless, it is certainly true that the younger ones were much more likely than the older to follow me into the Church, and they did.

Johnny did not.  Johnny had finished high school without a very clear idea of what he wanted to do.  At one point, in fact, he had thought of being a commercial pilot, but his vision requires spectacles and this would have limited his opportunities.  Pilot training is expensive as well, and although he could have got government student loans, they must be repaid.  In 1995 he was working as a cook in the Pukekohe Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway.

And he was restless.  Living at home was of necessity oppressive to a young man of that age.  Sue's father lived in Seattle.  Johnny investigated, found that he could get a job at KFC in Seattle on the basis of his job here.  Short-term, he could live with Sue's father.

Johnny left Auckland in June, 1995.  I think that his siblings will never forget that occasion.  We said good-bye to him in the airport, walked out to our ancient yellow 'van, and drove home - weeping.  Johnny was in Seattle for two years and a half years - and the experience was absolutely necessary for him.  I have just finished discussing the time with him, trying to work up a bit of a timetable:

  • June, 1995 - he arrived in Seattle, staying for the first few months with Sue's father (he found an apartment to share with two other guys for the rest of his time there).  He worked for KFC at the corner of Aurora Avenue and 135th Street - perhaps with ironic appropriateness in the neighbourhood called Bitter Lake.  The work was hard; his life was not amusing.  12 July, 1995 was Johnny's 20th birthday, celebrated far from home.
  • Somewhere around the end of 1995 or the beginning of 1996, Johnny got a job at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Bellevue.  This was, I think, a real step up for him - and was the start of what must have been about five years' employment in the 'hospitality industry' for Johnny, working at several different hotels.
  • And somewhere in this time - late 1995 or early 1996 - Johnny contacted Mark Shea, and Father Michael Sweeney, OP - the latter a Dominican priest at Blessed Sacrament parish.  I believe it was Johnny's extreme good fortune - and God's loving providence - that led him to Father Michael.  Had it not been for that priest, now the president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, I wonder whether Johnny would be a Catholic today.  Father Michael was a true father to Johnny when he needed it.  He was received into the Church at Easter vigil, Saturday 6 April, 1996.
  • And at the end of that year, lost his job at the Hyatt.  The matter was really only a technical one, and Johnny was permitted to resign.  He had parked someone's car.  Unfortunately, Johnny had no driver's licence.  (I confess to being interested to know that he could drive at all.  He had declined to learn to drive when he lived at home because he felt he wouldn't be seen dead in my series of jalopies :-)).
  • Things became very difficult for him now.  He had been working at poor jobs at low pay.  He now returned to KFC - lower pay than at the hotel.  He had to take a second job, working at what was then called the Aurora Seafair Inn (now called Days Inn).  Each evening, finishing at KFC, he rushed home to change out of his greasy KFC clothes and took the 'bus to the motel for the night shift.
One additional wonderful relation that grew during this time was his friendship with my brother Peter, Johnny's uncle.  Each year Johnny spent the Thanksgiving holiday at Peter's house.  Johnny now travels to the US from time to time.  When he does, Peter's is an obligatory stop.

Easter, 1997 he came home for a visit.  This, also, was a necessary part of growing up.  He had shown he could survive on his own - but also discovered, what, at times, you must leave home to do, that his mother and father love him.  In December, 1997 - before Christmas I think - he came home and almost immediately got a job working at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland.

24 December 2013

Susan settled

Susan's mother, Helen Virginia Stretcher as she was born, was a convert to what is often referred to as Anglo-Catholicism.  Her own family had been Methodists.  Susan told me of her mother's conversion only within the last year.  I had vague notions of Virginia's family as coming from a long line of Episcopalians (American Anglicans) but this was not so.

In 1932, when Ginny was 18 years old, she was admitted as a student in the first junior college class in what was then called St Helen's Hall (now the Oregon Episcopal School).  She spent two years there.  At her entrance, she was a Methodist.  When she graduated (2nd row, left):

she was an Anglican - and evidently (Susan remembers) of a rather 'high' sort.

Virginia died in February, 1992.  There was no hint on our horizon of the Catholic Church.

Susan's father, Edwin Parker Peery, already had cancer by then.  In January, 1995, Sue received a letter - or possibly a 'phone call? - from a son of her father's second wife Arlene: would Susan like to come to the US to see her father?  Arlene's son had to travel a great deal in his work; he would gladly let Sue use his 'frequent flier' points to come to Seattle.

Sue was, in fact, still unsettled in mind about our decision to become Catholics.  In reality, it ought to have been far easier for her than for me.  She had been brought up Anglican.  Her family attended St Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle - and services were not so different from Catholic Mass: Communion was part of Sunday service; the priest was called 'Father;' vestments were worn.  Yet she had been heavily affected by our years as Reformed Protestants.  She found herself wondering, perhaps, if what was happening was just another of John Jensen's changes of mind.

I thought it wonderful that she should go to Seattle.  Not only would she see her father; she would also be able to spend time with Mark Shea - the man to whom I almost owe my soul.  It had been Mark's e-mails that had been of such importance in my own conversion.  Mark would, I was sure, help her.

In February, 1995, Sue flew to San Francisco, thence to Seattle.  She spent, I think not quite three weeks on her trip.  She saw many relations, there and in Portland.  And she attended Mass with Mark, at Blessed Sacrament parish in the University district, where she had lived with her family from the end of primary school until she left home.  Sue returned home, 'a different person,' as people say - or perhaps integrated in mind and heart.

And I have wondered, since I learnt of Virginia's own Anglo-Catholicism, whether her prayers from Heaven were not of very great importance in our own conversion.

By now, all of our family had decided to become Catholics - except Johnny.

21 December 2013


When Sue, Johnny, and I had that dramatic meeting with Mike (our minister) and Roel, I said definitely that I believed I had to become a Catholic - Sue and Johnny said they were not yet sure.

Perhaps I did not take this statement on Sue's part as seriously as I ought to have done (none who know me well will be surprised :-)).

Because Christmas falls in high summer in New Zealand, the country shuts down at this time even more than northern hemisphere countries do.  From Christmas until usually the week after New Year's, many of us are on holiday.  One Saturday evening - perhaps 7 January, 1995 - I suggested to Sue that we go to evening Mass at St Andrew's in Tuakau.  We were, after all, Catholics now; let's get to know some of the neighbouring parishes.

The assumption that 'we' were Catholics now was, if not premature, at least thoughtless.  Sue was, I perceived, not very happy that evening.  I didn't really know why that should be.  It was a pleasant, warm, summer evening - sunny until 8:30 or 9.  The parish is a pleasant 15-minute, 12 Km, drive from Pukekohe.  It is a fairly old (1950s??  pre-WW2??) wooden building, very nice, very Catholic.

I don't know when it was that Susan explained why she was so uncomfortable attending Mass there that evening.  When she told me, she said that what she had echoing in her mind was our minister's clear words to her from that meeting: "It is my duty to tell you that you are not to attend Mass anywhere, for any reason."

I think, believing what he believed, that this was exactly the right thing for him to say.  It is to Susan's credit that she took this seriously enough to be concerned.

Nevertheless, she went.  I think that at this time she was still uncertain about her own will.

Our three younger children, I am sure, were willing at that time to trust my judgement.  Eddie, it is true, had considerable interest in the Protestant-Catholic arguments, and he and I discussed the issues at considerable length.  The three of them had begun to make some friends at St Patrick's - and tolerating pretty well three church services a day (8AM Mass; 10:30AM Reformed Church morning worship; 5PM Reformed Church evening worship).

Johnny was definitely still on the 'undecided' list - and was, in fact, to depart for the United States in June of that year.

Susan's own settlement of mind was to involve a trip to the US of her own.

15 December 2013


It is sometimes said that "Catholics can't get divorced."  More knowledgeable persons say that "Catholics can't get divorced and remarried" (more ignorant ones sometimes think that the process referred to as annulment is "Catholic divorce").

None of these views does justice to the actual situation, not of the marriage of Catholics, but of the marriage of human beings - for it is not the Catholic Church that has created marriage.  God created marriage.

Man is an animal; man is, however, more than an animal.  For animals, the sexual relationship is governed by nature.  Some species of animal - swans are an example - naturally mate for life.  Their union is permanent, exclusive - and intended for reproduction.  With rare exceptions, they live according to their natures - they have - literally - no choice in the matter.

The union of man and woman, in the ideal case, is like that of the swan: permanent, exclusive - and oriented toward offspring - 'open to new life' as the Church expresses it.

To be sure, marriage often falls short of this ideal.  Marriages that are intended at the start to be permanent, fail.  Marriages that are intended at the start, at times experience adultery.  The strangest fact - strange, since reason would seem to say that children are what marriage is all about - the strangest fact is that married couples often seem not to aim at children - a perversion that seems to border on the suicidal, from, at least, the racial point of view.

Nevertheless, despite the failures of marriage, permanence, exclusivity, and openness to new life are the necessary characteristics of marriage - and the intention to aim at these three ideals is necessary for there really to be a marriage.

Christ raised marriage to a new level.  He sanctified it - and made such a marriage indissoluble (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9).  A marriage between baptised persons is what the Church calls a sacramental marriage.  A person who is married cannot re-marry as long as his spouse is alive.  This article discusses the matter clearly.

A critical question, thus, became: was I already married?

It is a fact today that many in the Catholic Church are in the situation of being validly married to another, but now civilly married to a new partner.  So long as they continue live together as husband and wife, they are not allowed to receive Communion.  For good reason - the financial dependence of one partner on the other; the presence of children in the family - a couple in this situation may be given permission to live together 'as brother and sister' - or else forgo the right to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

I applied to the Auckland Diocesan Marriage Tribunal to have my marriage to Edna examined.

The matter was complex.  At the time - 1995 - I had had no contact with Edna for some years.  Letters I had written to the last address I had had for her were returned.  I did not know where Kathleen was living, either.  I did not know of any way to contact Edna.  I told the nun working in the tribunal that this was the case.  She asked if I knew Edna's American Social Security number.  I did not.  I said that I doubted they would locate her.  They said they were sure they would.  The matter was yet messier due to the fact that our marriage had taken place in the Diocese of San Francisco in California.

Many questions were asked in regards all of this: whether I had been baptised before marrying Edna (I actually asked my parents; it appears I had not been); whether Edna had been baptised before marrying me (I was of the opinion that she probably had been, but did not - and do not - know); but above all, what had been my understanding of marriage at the time, and what had been my intentions.

I feared a conflict of interest in this last.  I knew that I had a motivation for saying that my knowledge of marriage, and my intentions in marriage, were inadequate.  If they were judged adequate, perhaps my marriage to Edna was valid.  Nevertheless, I did want the truth.

The truth was, I said to the nun interviewing me, that I did not think I had had any clear idea of marriage.  In 1962, if you wanted to live with a woman, you got married.  No doubt, I supposed, there were people who did not worry about marriage.  The idea certainly would not have occurred to me.

Did I intend permanence and exclusivity?  I certainly said, in my marriage vow, that I did.  We were married - Edna tells me, for I had not even known this at the time - by an Anglican (Episcopalian) priest.  He would have used words about 'forsaking all others' and 'till death do you part.'  I would have said 'I do.'  I am afraid - and I blush to say it - that I probably thought so little about the meaning of those words as not even to have been able not to intend to keep them.

Of one thing I was certain: though, had I been asked at the time if I wanted children, I would, no doubt, have said, "Oh, yes, sure - some day" - it was certainly not my intention for any time soon.  Perhaps the very best thing that happened to us was that, within two months of our marriage, Kathleen was conceived.  God intends better things than we can conceive.

As is the case in increasingly many cases like mine, the Church concluded that my marriage to Edna was not, in the full sense of the word, valid.  I had liked 'due discretion' - a way of saying that I was not grown up enough to consider marriage at the time.  Few, I think, including Edna, would dispute that.  A 'decree of nullity' - a statement that there never was a proper marriage in the first place - was issued.

This decision was not actually delivered to Father Jude until the 23rd of December, 1995 - the day before I (with Susan, and Helen, Eddie, and Adele) were received into the Church.

This post has been very difficult and painful for me to write, detailing, as it does, my own serious misbehaviour.  I have not felt I could avoid some discussion of the matter.

All of this took most of 1995 - but in January of that year, it was not clear that this would be so.

08 December 2013

New beginnings

Rather suddenly, the Catholic Church, which had been almost wholly a mental image theretofore, became a concrete physical - and personal - reality.  The generic idea of one, holy, Catholic and apostolic became now St Patrick's parish, Pukekohe:
 St Patrick's Catholic Church, Pukekohe, 1980.
The generic idea of a Catholic priest became Father Jude McCarthy.  Church authority became Bishop Denis Browne (now Bishop of Hamilton).

Although we had attended Mass here a couple of times before - Christmas midnight Mass in 1993, which was enchanting because carols and other cultural connexions made it seem familiar, and Easter Vigil, 1994, which was strange and in some ways creepy, because as Protestants we had made little of Easter - nonetheless, we had never attended Mass as Catholics - or at least as those who had begun the road that definitely led to being Catholics.  January the 1st, 1995, was our first Mass in that sense.  I recall feeling a bit uncertain and glum.  We attended the 8AM Mass - which has been our normal time ever since - because we were also going to go to the Reformed Church service at 10:30.  I felt a little forlorn.  In our twenty Reformed years I had come to have a special affection for the Dutch.  As I approached the door of the church, I thought of this.  After Mass, a tall man (having spotted the newbie) came up to me and introduced himself.  The Limburg accent nearly moved me to tears.  Jaap has since gone to his reward; Tilly, his wife, still sits behind us.  I had the feeling that the Lord was murmuring in my ear: "You want Dutch?  I have plenty of Dutch.  Dutch, English, Filipino, Maori - men and women from every tribe and tongue on earth."

We - all six of us - made an appointment that week to visit Father McCarthy.  I had, really, no idea what to expect.  Other than Father Horgan, in Yap, I had never met a Catholic priest.  I think perhaps I had thought - in my vanity - that he would be impressed.  Here, after all, was someone wishing to do his church a favour by joining.  Father Jude was quite low-key about the whole business.  He was happy to meet us.  We talked about practical matters - in particular, about RCIA classes.

RCIA - the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults - is, relatively speaking, new.  Once, becoming a Christian was a daunting process.  Christians, after all, were counter-cultural - and sometimes experienced the consequences of being out of step with the world around them.  Entering the Church was not a step to be taken lightly.  People were often catechised for years before reception.

By the Middle Ages, in the European world, being a Catholic was the norm.  Most people were born into the Church.  Converts - Jews, for example, Muslims, and so forth, were taught individually - usually by a priest - and privately.

In 1972 - seven years after the Second Vatican Council - the Congregation for Divine Worship instituted a formal process for admission of adults.  It may well be that the Church saw the difficulties of one-on-one catechisation - amongst which was the falling number of priests - and saw this as a formal solution.  We, then, would be given instruction in this way.

I explained that it was not yet certain that any of us but I myself would actually be entering the Church.  No problem - RCIA classes imposed no obligation to be received.

Classes would begin shortly after Easter.  I was surprised by this.  I had understood, from talking to people on-line, that RCIA normally began in August or September with reception at Easter.  "Ah, yes," said Father Jude, "but we do things a little differently here."

In the meantime, Father said, there was another matter to be taken up.  I was divorced and re-married.