N is for Norm in his 40s: My Dad becomes a Catholic. Fourteenth of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
Not many children can say they were at their parent’s baptism. But as a teenager, I attended my dad Norm’s ceremony when he finally became a Catholic in his 40s.
Gathered around the baptismal font at Christ the King Church in Endwell, N.Y., we kids had all we could do to suppress smiles as Dad’s adult godparents – a couple from up the block – promised to keep him on the straight and narrow after his four irreverent decades. How did this happen? Well, of course, there’s a story!
A religiously mixed marriage
When my parents married on Nov. 25, 1948, they embarked on a religiously mixed union. My mom, Peg Laurence, was Catholic – like her German and Italian immigrant ancestors before her –and she drew comfort and support from her church affiliation. But my dad, Norm Charboneau, was a vaguely lapsed Protestant who, during my early childhood, never attended church or showed any religious inclinations.
To marry Mom, however, Dad had to agree not to interfere with her church-going and to raise us children Catholic. And because Dad was a non-Catholic, their vows were exchanged before Rev. John F. O’Connor in the rectory of St. Mary’s Church in Gloversville, N.Y., rather than at the altar. Mom may have had hopes that Dad would ultimately convert, but I doubt she imagined it would take so long.
Raising the children Catholic
Dad was true to his promise, though. While he slept in or mowed the lawn or did whatever he did on Sunday mornings, Mom would dress up and take me, my brothers Mark and Jeff, and sisters Amy and Carol to Christ the King for weekly Sunday mass – not to mention confession, first communion, confirmation, religious ed and other Catholic ceremonies throughout the year.
At first Dad’s absence from church was no big deal, but as we kids got older, we started questioning him about why he wasn’t joining us. Our queries grew more urgent after we heard the fire-and-brimstone Sunday sermons declaring that only Catholics would get into heaven. One year, in desperation, we gave him a rosary for Christmas.
Yet Dad held out against our relentless lobbying, and a story slowly emerged that helped explain his misgivings. Turns out his parents were also in a mixed-religion marriage, but theirs had gone the other way.
A staunch Methodist legacy
My paternal grandmother Mary “Molly” Owen was from a Welsh-Irish Catholic family in Baltimore, Md. She fell in love with my grandfather William Ray Charboneau, a Methodist from Forestport, N.Y., while working for a Baltimore family that vacationed in the Adirondacks.
According to Dad, his father Ray would have had to convert to Catholicism for them to marry in the church – and Ray’s mother Eva (Bull) Charboneau stood in the way.
“Your great-grandmother Eva was a staunch Methodist, and she wouldn’t allow him to convert,” Dad told me. Meanwhile, my grandmother was furious with the Catholic church for having this requirement — so she quit. Thus my grandparents were married on Dec. 22, 1910, by Rev. W.G. Wilmshurst in the parsonage of the Methodist Episcopal church in Dolgeville, N.Y.
Grandma Charboneau apparently passed on her ire to her five sons, because it took Dad a long time to warm up to converting. Nevertheless, years of lobbying by us children finally paid off.
Dad finally converts
In his 40s, Dad signed up for the requisite religious instructions, and he and Mom enlisted two friends, a Catholic couple from our neighborhood, to be his godparents.
Dad would give us regular progress reports at the dinner table until, at last, the final hurdle arrived – his first confession of a lifetime of sins! “Wow, what will the penance be for that?” we kids wondered. But Dad had a plan.
“The priest says the best thing to do is to drive to a Catholic church away from home and make your confession there, where nobody knows you,” Dad explained.
And that’s how, somewhere in upstate New York, an anonymous Catholic priest got an earful as Dad followed through to make it to the baptismal font during my teen years.
Up next, O is for Ordinary Classes: What fun! Please stop back.
© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.