A PILGRIM JOURNEY
My Father was one of four Children came from a strong Methodist background – his Father was Choirmaster in Thorne, near Doncaster and the family attended the Chapel as Dad used to say – morning, noon and night – until when he became old enough he decided enough was enough. He fondly used to talk about carol singing around the village at Christmas time and being welcomed by the villagers with warm drinks and mince pies. I have a strong recollection of him always listening on the Wireless (as it was in those days in the 50s) to the hymn singing on a Sunday evening… I’m sure he had a faith to the end although it was in his case, private.
Mother came from a strong Anglican background – a number of members of the family were very musical, some playing the organ in church, teaching the piano and singing. She remained Anglican all her life and my Sister and I were baptised in the Anglican Church.
We were first sent to the Methodist Sunday School which was fantastic with over 100 children every week. I well remember the Sunday School anniversaries, the Nativity Plays and the singing which I still enjoy to this day, singing in three Choirs.
Both my parents ran a Hairdressing Business in Cleethorpes and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace used to send children from St. Anthony’s Orphanage in Grimsby to have their hair cut. Friendship blossomed with the sisters and also with some of the parents of children who attended the Convent School.
Mum was very fond of the Sisters and thought some day perhaps her two Daughters may attend the local Convent School and this is just what happened.
In the mid 50’s my Father, dressed in his hairdressing white smock and myself, rode our bikes to the Convent School late one Friday afternoon and the then Head, Sr. Alberta interviewed me and said to my Dad, ‘I have turned away a number of prospective pupils today but I have decided I am going to take this child of yours at the start of the new term in September.’
What a thrill for the young Nanette – buying the new School uniform and looking forward to meeting so many new friends. I still can remember vividly my first morning at St. Francis Xaviers Convent School in Grimsby and when it was time to leave in my teens the sadness of leaving the place where I had been so happy, and especially with the love and care of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace… the break was devastating.
In the meantime the Catholic Enquiry Centre had featured in my life and I secretly got in touch, unbeknown to my Parents or anyone, for them to send me the little brown envelope every week with details of the Catholic Faith, the sacraments and everything about becoming a Catholic. On a Thursday morning I used to run downstairs and retrieve the delivery before my parents caught me and then hid it and avidly read what was being sent to me. I often think and wonder who used to prepare and post these off to me: Bless them.
I well remember the prayer I was advised to say and if my memory serves me well can still remember it to this day ………
LORD GRANT ME THE GRACE OF A DEEP, FERVENT AND LIVING FAITH IN YOU
REMOVE FROM ME PRIDE, VANITY, INSINCERITY, TIMIDITY AND ANYTHING WHATSOEVER WHICH MAY BE AN OBSTACLE TO MY COMPLETE ACCEPTANCE OF YOUR REVEALED TRUTH
MAY I BE ABSOLUTELY TRUE TO YOU, ASSENTING WITH ALL MY BEING TO EVERYTHING YOU WOULD HAVE ME BELIEVE
LEAD ME BY YOUR GRACE TO WORSHIP YOU AS YOU DESIRE TO BE WORSHIPPED SO THAT EVER GUIDED BY YOUR TRUTH I MAY GROW DAILY IN YOUR LOVE.
By this time I had been confirmed in the Anglican tradition and attended Church regularly and was involved in the local Church life.
However from my Convent School days and my love of the faith I started to think about becoming a Catholic.
I was still young and felt I could present my family with a dilemma as there were no other Catholics in the family.
In my late teens I met my future husband. We celebrated our Ruby Wedding Anniversary in 2008 and I felt before we were married I was again being tapped on the shoulder! It would be wonderful if we could both become Catholics!
I remember one day taking my future husband to the Convent to meet the Sisters and we were given books to read but it did seem a bit, all me and I was wanting my soulmate to accept something perhaps neither of us were ready for. We were both at the time practicing active members in the Church of England.
So another 20 years went by and we both became friendly with two very good Catholics, one of which had two brothers who were priests in the Nottingham Diocese.
Some of our conversations drifted into Faith questions and I remember vividly asking, ‘Can anyone go into the Catholic Church’ and was told of course they can.
It was the Feast of the Holy Family 1982 and I had not been into St. Mary’s Grimsby since School days. Whatever happened that day the tears streamed uncontrollably down my face and something very special was occurring. A feeling you get when you come home after a long journey.
It was the year of the Holy Father Pope John Paul’s visit to England. I said to my friends, ‘What about the Papal Visit? – I really do want to see him – I will camp out whatever – wherever, whatever I want to see him.’
What a lovely surprise followed. Our friend spoke to his brother, a priest in Skegness and who Fr Joseph Finneran knew. We do not know how to this day but he managed to get four tickets to the Papal Mass at Wembley Stadium on the Pentecost weekend 29th May 1982 which he was happy for us to attend. I can remember saying when the weather was mentioned – don’t mention it – it will be perfect and it was the most beautiful weekend.
We booked to stay in London, spent the Saturday morning watching the television from Canterbury when the Holy Father and Archbishop Runcie prayed in the Cathedral – what a historic, beautiful moment.
Travelling to Wembley Stadium the crowds were tremendous but everyone was of the same mind and so happy. Never before have I been in such a long queue for the toilet, chatting with pilgrims who were asking which diocese I had come from and saying, ‘No I’m not a Catholic’ and someone saying, ‘Well you have more of a reason to be here than us!’ I felt very humbled.
I will never forget the wonderful Wembley Mass with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and the thought that here on this day we were witnessing in our land a Mass celebrated by the successor of St. Peter himself. This was most certainly the icing on the cake for me and to be seated very close to the Choristers was such a thrill. I could no longer turn my back on the faith which I had now come to realise I could no longer ignore.
When the Holy Father left the stadium it was amazing to see how many of the 1200 priests present were sitting in his Chair!
On walking back after the Mass the police horses were getting a bit fed up at one point and one gave my friend a friendly nudge, took a bite at his arm leaving a bruise and the Met Police said that they had never experienced such a well behaved crowd – no trouble whatsoever – it was a bit of heaven on earth that day.
On returning to my home town, when discussing my thoughts with my husband and the strong pull to become a Catholic, he said to me, ‘Why do you not contact the local Priest?’ I could hardly believe what he was saying as I had always thought we should make this move together. ‘ No’, he said, ‘if you are happy so am I.’
The next day he was in London on business and the car was outside on the Monday lunchtime. I rang the Priest at St. Mary’s and he said, ‘You sound as if you have things you wish to discuss.’ I said, ‘Yes Father, when can I come to see you.’ He said, ‘You can come now.’ ‘Brilliant,’ I thought and with no more hesitation I got into the car and drove up to St. Mary’s in the pouring rain, ran out of the car and it was as if I was almost being carried up the hill to the Presbytery door and I knew there was no going back.
I was received into the Church in April 1983 and I suppose the rest is history. I have always appreciated my start in the Methodist Church and progression into the Church of England from my parents and in their memory have tried to actively work ecumenically since becoming a Catholic. I have some wonderful friends in all the other Churches and through local Churches Together groups which is such a blessing.
Hence having been an Enquirer myself at the visit of the Holy Father in 1982 I am so happy and feel very privileged to be part of the National Catholic Enquiry Team for the visit of our current Holy Father Pope Benedict XV1 and will most certainly do my best to share my faith in whatever way I can in helping others.
Nanette Brown is volunteering as a member of the Catholic Enquiry Office (www.life4seekers.co.uk) team during the Papal Visit. She describes how the last Papal Visit to the UK changed her life.