Over the Hill

Remembering a Catholic mother's struggle

Special to The TribuneMay 8, 2014 

Phil Dirkx

Sunday is Mother’s Day, so I’ll tell you my mother’s story.

She was a lifelong Catholic. In 1920, she married a man and they had a daughter, Mary. In 1928, Mother divorced him, and married my father. The church then banned her from Holy Communion because she was a remarried divorcee.

Maybe that seemed unimportant to her in those “Roaring Twenties,” especially as a single mother raising a partially disabled daughter. But as my mother got older, it became more and more of a concern for her.

The nuns and priests had educated her well about many things, including sin. She believed that if she died while guilty of a mortal sin, she faced eternal damnation. As the years passed, her conscience must have grown louder and louder. It probably made a difficult marriage impossible to mend.

On June 3, 1958, after 30 years of marriage, Pop came home and found half the furniture gone. He also found a brief note. Mother had moved out. Mary, her now grown daughter, went with her.

I’ve read that Pope Francis knows his church’s rules on divorce and remarriage cause pain. And he wants to know what the Catholics around the world think of those rules. It’s one of the topics in a survey that he instructed all dioceses to conduct. Other topics include contraception, same-sex unions and unmarried couples living together.

The April 30 Los Angeles Times reported that German bishops said many of their parishioners believe the “treatment of remarried divorcees is pitiless.”

Living in a mixed-marriage household is difficult even without religious penalties. I grew up in one. Pop drove us to church on Sunday, and then sat in our parked Model-T Ford reading the Sunday paper until the Mass ended.

But Pop readily accepted Mary as his own daughter. He willingly took her to doctors and hospitals for treatment and operations on her clubfeet, and he bought her special shoes. He and Mary also shared a love of sports. They were pals.

He was deeply hurt when she left that day with Mother and seldom contacted him again. But I understood Mary’s difficult choice. She was intellectually and emotionally dependent on Mother.

Divorce and remarriage and the other topics on the Pope’s survey will be discussed this fall at a gathering of Catholic bishops from around the world. But the Los Angeles Times said Pope Francis “almost certainly will not call” for ending the communion ban for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Local priests, however, may be encouraged to be more flexible in meeting the needs of individual Catholics. So have a hopeful Mother’s Day.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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