Is the Catholic Faith Dying in Your Family?

June 11, 1918 – Michael Tobin, aged about 45 years, the well-known manager of the Henrietta Supply Company store, died at his residence at 11:05 o’clock last night following a long illness. The deceased is survived by his widow, Mrs. Matilda Little Tobin, and four children – Charles, Clarence, Raymond and Paul, all at home. He is also survived by his father, Thomas Tobin and several brothers and sisters. The deceased was a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of St. George. Funeral services will be held on Thursday morning. The body will be taken to Loretto for burial. Mr. Tobin was a member of St. Agnes Catholic Church.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

This obituary of my grandfather, Michael, was sent to me by a distant cousin who has done considerable work with the family tree.

I didn’t know my grandfather of course – he passed away when my dad, Raymond, was just eight years old. It must have been a difficult time for my grandmother, a young widow with four children. She did okay, though – she lived to be ninety-eight! I remember her well.

Although I had heard a little bit about my Grandfather Tobin, I didn’t know much about his personal story, and in reading the obit I was taken by the vitality of his relationship to the Church. He was an active member of St. Agnes Church, and was buried at St. Michael Cemetery in Loretto, PA, the parish and town made famous by the “Apostle of the Alleghenies,” the Russian Prince turned priest, Fr. Demetrius Gallitzen. My grandfather was also a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of St George. I like to think that my grandfather would have been very proud that one of his grandsons, born thirty years after his death, would become a priest and bishop.

The obituary mentions my great-grandfather Thomas Tobin. One of my prized personal possessions is a large, old family Bible that was owned and used by my great-grandfather Thomas. Apparently it was used frequently because when it came to me it was worn and badly deteriorated. I later had it restored to its, more or less, original condition.

All this I mention because I have grown to appreciate so much, and to thank God for, the Catholic Faith of my family and how it has been handed on to me through many generations. How different my life would be without my Catholic Faith.

At the same time, however, I have to wonder if the Catholic Faith will survive the present generation of my family and be handed on to other future generations.

At the Mass to inaugurate the Year of Faith I mentioned the recent survey that indicated that almost 20 percent of Americans now say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent just five years ago. This is the secular, atheistic culture in which we’re now living, and the data is clearly confirmed in the real experience of our families. Many of our young people, in fact, are abandoning their spiritual heritage, their Catholic Faith. The reasons are complex but the reality is terribly sad. How heartbreaking it is for many a parent and grandparent to watch their kids become totally secular, ignore the sacraments, never attend Mass and, eventually, completely drop out of the Church.

Obviously I don’t have children or grandchildren, but I do have lots of nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, and first and second cousins, some once or twice removed. Most of the young folks in my extended family were baptized and raised Catholic. Some are still active in the Church and attend Mass regularly, but many others do not. I worry about this latter group and pray for them, but am not sure what else to do.

What about your family?

We speak a lot now about evangelization. The organized Church – the diocese, and our parishes, schools and organizations – is an agent of evangelization. But, in fact, it is within our Catholic families that evangelization has to occur and where it is most effective.

Pope Benedict addressed that reality in a speech last year when he said: “The new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family. The family is indeed the way of the Church because it is the ‘human space’ of our encounter with Christ.”

The Catholic family is the primary place for evangelization. Parents and grandparents have the solemn obligation to practice the faith, raise their children in the faith, and give good example of what it means to be an adult Christian living in the world today. But shame on those children and grandchildren who turn their backs on their family’s spiritual heritage and abandon the “faith of their fathers.”

November, the month of the Poor Souls, is the time when Catholics remember and pray for the faithful departed, and we do so with particular love and reverence for the deceased members of our families. In praying for them we should always be mindful of and grateful for the gifts and blessings they’ve given us. But no gift is more precious – no gift has more lasting value – than our Catholic Faith. I wonder if the present generation understands that. I wonder – will your Catholic Faith be handed on to your children and grandchildren? Will they accept the gift of faith and treasure it? Or will the rich heritage of the Catholic Faith, passed along through many generations, die in your family?