Pope Francis's Visit Stirs Up Strong Memories

Reminds me of the Catholic cultural identity and family of the 1960s

For those of us Catholic Baby Boomers who grew up during the 1960s, the church was about more than religion. It was like an extended family and cultural identity.

That meant Catholic School with its nuns and ear tugs and religious teachings. It meant serving as an altar boy, and singing Latin Mass in the choir.

Attending mass on Sunday was a must with your parents in tow, but when going to Catholic School, you also went to church Monday through Friday before the school day even got started.

Being Catholic meant attending church socials like the chicken and haluski (cabbage and noodle) dinners of the Slovak Catholic Church I participated in. It also meant going to ice-cream parties that brought families together and even included Bingo games -- which raised money for Catholic charities, even if it was gambling that technically was illegal.

We listened to Notre Dame football on the radio and got home from church in time on Sunday to watch Lindsey Nelson's rebroadcast of a Notre Dame win the day before. They rarely lost in those days, and if they did it was usually to Purdue.

Sunday was the day for family. Either Mom made her Sunday best dish of roast beef, or we went to the homes of relatives or to a nice restaurant.

All of these memories are what I think about as Pope Francis visits the United States this week. I don't go to church like I did as a youngster, but you bet I watched the masses the Pope served in my country. To listen to music and choirs is something all Catholics enjoy, whether they're still close to the church or not.

Once you're Catholic, you never lose that sense of cultural identity. Notre Dame may not be as good as it was when I was a kid and Ara Parshegian coached the team, but I still watch and root for the Irish to win.

I remember how my parents reacted when Pope John Paul II visited Chicago in October 1979. It reaffirmed their faith and was important to them in getting over the loss of their oldest son and my brother.

Last week's papal visit brings back a flood of fond memories, especially since most of my immediate family and relatives have passed on years ago. That weekend when Pope John Paul II came was the last time I attended a Notre Dame game by the way, going with the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus. Notre Dame won 21-13 over Georgia Tech.

So with Pope Francis visiting Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, it's great to hear his message focusing on families and their sustainability and importance. Even though the American family looks different today compared to when I was a kid, a family is a family.

The Pope has called on our nation to come together and be the leader in the world that we should be, and I can only hope that message is ultimately heeded. A family divided won't succeed. We learned that during the Civil War.

In the end, we're all one big extended family trying to live our lives as best we can and support and comfort each other, and create moments we'll never forget.

I wish my parents and two of my brothers I lost were still around for Pope Francis's visit.

I know what they'd be thinking and feeling: that there's nothing like family, which makes everything you go through worthwhile.

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