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 theRosary.
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 topray 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 thatforgiveness,
difficult at times, is a necessary leap of faith, and that
faith, love, hope, and forgiveness are all interchange-
Eventually, my mother met worshippers while at
aHealing Mass a
t theNational 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.
the story of a daughter