In reaching back to the past, many of us use a variety of tools: photos, journals, scrapbooks, audio recordings, videos, among others. For me, this summer, it was the Church that helped me to connect in a very special way to my family generations past.
Over the last several years, my 85-year-old mother and my aunts have talked and actually researched about where they lived over the years, including the North Shore of Massachusetts.
While in New England this summer, I had the chance to visit Gloucester, Mass., the site of the well-known statue of the fisherman and the place where the crew of the lost fishing vessel the Andrea Gail, made famous by the movie “The Perfect Storm,” left port in 1991. My family connections reach to that rich fishing tradition of more than 350 years, as part of the late 19th century influx of Italian and Portuguese immigrants seeking a better life in America.
This wasn’t my first visit or my first effort to walk the same streets they did as Depression-era youngsters, but it was especially noteworthy.
I enjoyed stopping in the same candy store where my mom bought penny candy almost 80 years ago, was fascinated to see the multi-family row house where she, my five aunts, one uncle and grandparents crowded together, marveled at the beauty of the rocky coast and considered at the harbor-side Fisherman’s Memorial the sacrifice of more than 10,000 there who, through the years, went “down to the sea in ships.”
But I was surprised by how moved I was to walk the grounds of the Catholic school where they were taught by the sisters, whose convent is still there, and see the church where they received the sacraments.
St. Ann Church and School were built in the 1880s for and has served more than six generations of the Cape Ann fishing community. And while it has been merged with three other area churches into Holy Family Parish, it remains rooted and committed to the families of various cultures that make up that community.
I found myself thinking how, despite all of the contemporary media possibilities I have at my fingertips today and the modern conveniences and affluence previous generations have not enjoyed, we share a faith and its expression through the celebration of the Mass and other sacraments. And while there are changes that have and will occur in the liturgy, it is through that belief in God, shared worship and that desire to love God and serve God through loving others that we connect to those who came before and who follow us.
My trip that I thought was a walk into the past brought me face to face with the presence of faith and its importance in my life today.
St. Anthony Messenger Press offers resources if you want to tap your interest in intergenerational relationships. “Grandma’s Bread/El Pan de la Abuelita: A Eucharist Film,” a DVD in both English and Spanish languages, is a classic story designed to demonstrate important truths about those generational connections as well as the Eucharist, death and the importance of tradition in our lives.
Susan Vogt’s 2011 book “Parenting Your Adult Child: Keeping the Faith (and Your Sanity) tackles the thorny issues associated with staying connected with children after they grow up.
Photos of the statue at the Fisherman’s Memorial and St. Ann Church, both in Gloucester, Mass. (Photos by Mark Lombard)