I hardly knew my maternal grandfather. What I do remember is a rather frail and crotchety old man, who wheezed a lot, and who smelled like cigarettes. However, from the stories that my mother later told me, Grandpa Floyd was a successful businessman, a committed patriot and a man who, despite many personal demons and weaknesses, intensely loved his family.
My grandfather was born and raised as a Presbyterian Christian. In the late 1930s, he married my grandmother Edith who was very much a Catholic. At the time of their marriage, it was a rather uncommon experience for Catholics to marry outside of their faith. The church, quite rightly, was concerned about a loss of faith on the part of both the Catholic and non-Catholic spouse alike.
The practice at the time was for such “mixed marriages” to take place outside of Mass, outside of the church itself, and instead in the priest’s rectory or another suitable place. Although difficult to understand today, this was the practice of the time. Furthermore, the non-Catholic parties in the marriage had to make a solemn promise that they would do all in their power to raise any children from the marriage as Catholics.
But my grandfather loved my grandmother. She had red hair, after all. She was naturally vivacious. And he thought that she was just the prettiest thing he had ever seen. And even though he was not very religiously observant himself, he thought long and hard about making that promise of raising the children as Catholics. In the end he did make the promise, and he and my grandmother Edith were married. And when my mother and her two sisters arrived, they were all baptized and raised as Catholics. My grandfather kept his promise.
Over the years, a quaint routine developed. Every Sunday morning he would get his three girls up and help his wife prepare them for church. Then he would bundle them into his large, shiny, chrome Buick and drive them to Mass, dropping them off right in front of church. He would tell the girls to obey their mother and behave at Mass. He would then return home and start making pancakes. Knowing how long Mass lasted, he boarded his Buick, returned to the church at exactly the right time, scooped up his family and delivered them home to a pancake breakfast. Every Sunday. Every holy day. For years and years and years. My grandfather kept his promise.
But Grandpa Floyd went further. He made sure that his three girls had the advantage of going to a Catholic grade school and high school and college. And he supported them in finding their spouses and by walking them down the aisle in a Catholic church. My grandfather kept his promise.
As I look back on my grandfather’s life, I sometimes wonder why he never became a Catholic. Why didn’t he at least come in to Mass with his wife and three daughters, why did he remain outside? Was it something that was said to him — was he treated poorly? Or, perhaps, a desire on his part to remain true to his family heritage? Maybe he was just plain stubborn! Or was it a matter of conscience? This remains a mystery to me, but I do know from family stories and from the testimony of his actions, one very important thing about him. My grandfather kept his promise.
In November 1982, my Grandpa Floyd’s health finally gave out. In the hospital where he lay dying, in great pain and overcome with fear, his three daughters called for a priest to come. And a priest did come — and rightly, because he was dying, gave him the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Another priest came and performed a simple wake service for him in the funeral home on that cold November day. In attendance that day was a young man, all of 7, who was trying to make sense of it all. That young man would one day become a priest — and all because his grandfather, my Grandpa Floyd, kept his promise.
Fr. Girotti, vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay, has just released a new DVD series, “Live Your Faith.” It is available through the Families & Schools of Discipleship Mission Team, [email protected].