The Family Papist


Several years ago my brother began to do some serious research on our family history. And by “serious” I mean he spent untold hours compiling hundreds of pages of information about our forbears. He and my sister-in-law have pored over countless census records, courthouse archives and online resources. They’ve slogged through cemeteries looking for graves and talked with dozens of fellow family detectives. The results of their work is an amazing history of our families. My brother said it was his hope to find each one of our ancestors as they set foot in America—and he has done just that Of course every family has their own story of genesis and expansion, of triumph and heartbreak, and ours is no different. The gift that he’s given to us is an amazing one and I can never thank him enough for finding our own unique story.

I’ll admit that I never spent a lot of time thinking of where our people had come from or what had led them to this country. But now that I’m getting older, looking back has a certain kind of comfort to it. Thanks to my brother, we can do that now. Several of our ancestors came over on the Mayflower and others were among the settlers at Jamestown. Many fought in the Revolutionary War, all of them as rebels against King George and his oppression. We have soldiers in the Civil War as well, all of them on the side of the South. But not all ancestors were soldiers. We come from a long line of farmers, coopers, wheelwrights and tanners. A few ancestors were in government or ministry. Some came to this country as indentured servants. Others were colonial governors and landholders, with responsibility for those dependent on them for their livelihoods. Along the way, they married and had families, which is where folks like I come in. When I hear their stories, I look for what inspired them and kept them going as they made their way from England and Scotland and Wales, across a vast ocean, to this new land that wasn’t yet a country.

For our earliest family members, it was their faith in Christ which led them to the New World. They were members of protestant sects who felt that they could be more free to worship as they chose if they came here. They felt the established protestant churches had become corrupted. They disliked anything that hinted at Catholicism. In all his extensive research, my brother has found NO Catholics in our family tree. Since the voyage of the Mayflower, all our ancestors are some kind of protestant: Separatists, Anabaptists, Puritans and the more familiar varieties of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. I wonder what they’d think of me?

I chose to enter the Catholic Church because of the Holy Eucharist. I believe Jesus when He told us He is the Bread of Heaven. I believe His words at the Last Supper. When I look at the history of Christianity, I believe the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ on St. Peter (Matthew 16:18). I believe Jesus when He tells us He will be with His Church always and I cling to that truth. I’m faithful to our Pope as the successor of St. Peter. I believe He is chosen and guided by the Holy Spirit and can never lead the Bride of Christ into error. I believe in all the articles of my faith which my ancestors chose to leave behind. But are we really so different?

Granted,their journey across the Atlantic was dangerous, lengthy and life-threateneing. All I did was to symbolically swim the Tiber River. My becoming Catholic didn’t mean that I had to leave my family and friends or to make a life for myself in a new country. But really, it did. I immigrated into a land of great history and populated by Saints and a Queen I barely knew. I pledged myself to a creed that is more than seven times older than America. In a journey only The Lord Himself could have foreseen, I became a Papist. My family’s lengthy legacy of “separatism” had come to a sudden end when I was embraced by the Catholic Church. I wonder what my long line of protestant grandfathers and grandmothers would make of that? I’d like to think they understand what faith can call of us to do with our lives. I’d like to think they’d welcome me as I take my place in our family as a pilgrim of a different sort, having come “home to Rome,” after a long and eventful absence.

“It’s the Catholic Church who calls you “separated brethren,” she who feels the awful loss.”

—-Flannery O’Connor




2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ruth Ann
    Jul 20, 2014 @ 21:22:23

    This is a wonderful story, Judy. Your brother and his wife did an amazing job. Your analogy about becoming Catholic is so interesting and true!


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