Everyone has a unique faith journey. Tell us about yours.
I was raised Baptist by my grandparents, but I had experienced the Catholic Church because my mother and stepdad were Catholic. I met my husband, Acklen, who is Catholic, and I didn’t think I wanted to join. Then, one Ash Wednesday, when we were living in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, we went to Mass — and it was packed. I didn’t think I would “feel” God in a Catholic Church, but it wasn’t about God being in the building, per se, but within me. I felt like this is where God is leading me. I cannot tell you the love that I got from studying the documents of the Church. The catechesis fills me with such love and devotion. I don’t believe enough people really think about the Eucharist and the fact that there was a savior who gave up his life for my sins — our sins — before we were born. His Body and his Blood — given up for us.
Besides teaching catechesis in a volunteer capacity, your professional career was spent teaching high school religion class in Milwaukee. What do you like about teaching?
I love the young minds. We have an opportunity to open the church doors to the young. Right now, they don’t feel like they have a place. I hear a lot that they don’t feel listened to by the adults in their lives, and I believe we are not supporting the young as we should. We as adults tend to say, “you are a child, you don’t know.” But they have something to offer, and we need to let them have their voice. When I go into the classroom, I want to listen. Why do you want to be confirmed? What does it mean to you? What does religion mean to you? I want to hear about their experiences. It’s hard being young today; there is so much bullying. They need something to bring them back and to know that God accepts them for who they are, and that is all that matters.
You are a cantor at Masses and musically gifted. So much so that other parishioners ask you to sing for funerals. How long have you been singing?
I started singing when I was about 7 years old. We used to do these operettas and I was playing Snow White. I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” God gave me the voice, so I use it. People get ahold of something and think, “This is who I am.” I love to sing, but it doesn’t define me; it’s just a part of my life.
You are a breast cancer survivor and have experienced family tragedy. Others in similar situations might have lost faith — what kept your faith strong?
A: Prayer. I have a very strong faith. I met a woman a long time ago who told me, “No matter what happens, you don’t give up your God.” I won’t give up my God. Everything else will go away sooner or later. What I get out of church fulfills me. A teacher once said if you really understood God’s grace, you would die. Every time something happened that could destroy me, God’s grace has been there. Even when the Catholic Church wasn’t kind to African Americans. It’s my Church. I am not going anywhere.