In Memory of My Grandparents

When my grandparents were my age, the second Vatican Council hadn’t even happened yet. The Catholic Church as I know it is extremely different from the Catholic Church that they knew and is even different from the Catholic Church that my parents have known in their lifetime.

Both of my parents were raised in Catholic households, my mother in a Polish Catholic family and my father in a German and Irish one. They went to Catholic schools, sang in church choirs, and attended every holy day of obligation. There were also the more cultural signs of their Catholicism – meatless Fridays, prayers to Saint Jude, palms on the wall.

My parents passed many of these elements of Catholicism onto me. We ate pasta and fish sticks on Fridays in Lent and kept our Palm Sunday palms year round; we lit the candles on the Advent wreath over Sunday night dinner; we said a prayer to Saint Christopher every time my dad backed the car out of the driveway on a road trip.

My maternal grandfather would have been 87 this month – my paternal grandmother 88. All of my grandparents have passed away and as I think about these birthdays, I think about the foundation my grandparents laid for me. My grandparents lived their Catholicism as it had been passed on to them, my parents live their Catholicism as it has been passed on to them, and I live my Catholicism as it has been passed on to me. As an individual I have kept some things and changed others, just as the Catholic Church has as an institution.

Sometimes it is hard to see that change does happen – within individuals and also within the Church. But when you look at it over the period of a lifetime, there are changes. I wonder what traditions will be the same and what will have changed fifty years from now, during the course of my lifetime.

Deb Heimel grew up in Pennsylvania and hasn’t had fish sticks in 13 years.


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