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 • W







ray for him.” When I was a child, these

were the three words my mother, Christine,

always spoke whenever my four siblings

and I asked what had happened to my father.

Before their separation, both of my parents were

devout Catholics. They brought us to Church, had all

five of us baptized, were active in prayer groups and

the Church community, donated time and money, and

often prayed the


But just before I started kindergarten at Sacred

Heart School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, my father’s

unchecked anger and lifestyle metamorphosed him

into a highly unpredictable stranger, to say the least.

Friends and family members encouraged him to seek

help, but he refused. His refusals were often followed

by heightened cruelty towards my mother, so people

stopped interfering. We were isolated.

My mother, afraid his violence would metastasize

and infect us all, asked her parish priest what she

should do. Worried that their marriage was at stake

and not fully understanding my father’s illness, the

priest told her to “go home, and be a good wife.” He

later apologized. But by the time my mother summoned

the courage to leave, we’d lost our house, two cars,

and my parents’ savings. We went from a “model”

middle-class family to one that was splintered and


Now alone with five children in an unfamiliar neigh-

borhood, my mother made it a priority that we continue

our Catholic faith and education. There were several

obstacles to this goal: We’d lost the cars; how would we

get to Mass? We’d lost our savings; how would we pay

for Catholic schooling, uniforms, and sacraments?

In the beginning, it was difficult, but my mother

made it work. To get to Mass at St. Mary the Morning

Star, she would gently tuck her three smaller children

inside of a little red wagon, myself included, and pull

the wagon behind her while my two older siblings fol-

lowed closely behind. She also taught catechism so that

her children would have Catholic school scholarships.

And when a little red wagon and scholarships weren’t

enough, she relied on the kindness of friends she had

met through the Church and strangers who stocked

the food pantry.

Though she struggled, she made prayer a vital part

of our lives. Before each meal, we said Grace, even on

nights she refused to eat until all of us were fed. There

was never a morning she didn’t bless us before we got

on the school

bus or a night she didn’t kiss

each forehead and say, “St. Michael be in your

dreams.” She instilled the belief that if we asked for

God’s love, we would receive it. And she was an endless

reminder of it.

And, despite her pain at both his abuse and absence,

she has told us each day to

pray f

or my father. She

forgave him, because she understood the best way to

teach is to lead, and the best way to heal is to love. She

wanted us all to understand that



difficult at times, is a necessary leap of faith, and that

faith, love, hope, and forgiveness are all interchange-

able words.

Eventually, my mother met worshippers while at


Healing Mass a

t the

National Shrine of The Divine Mercy

who reached out to my family, provided us with

a used car, and helped us find a better home. If it hadn’t

been for their help in my youth, my life could have

been consumed by violence and addiction, and, like my

father, I could be absent from my loved ones’ lives.

Today, my mother watches as her grandchildren,

my nieces and nephew, pull each other around in the

little red wagon in her backyard. She blesses their fore-

heads before they leave, and, if they spend the night at

Nana’s, kisses their foreheads, saying, “St. Michael be

in your dreams” at night. She still prays for my father,

though she forgave him long ago. She does this so he

can forgive himself, because, when you love someone,

you don’t give up on that.

Breanne Reilly is a staff writer at the Marian Helpers

Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.



By Breanne



amily matters

the story of a daughter