When a close friend was murdered early last year, Canarsie resident Claudia O’Brien reached a turning point in her faith journey. She was tired of drifting from church to church with no commitment or connection.
“I was struggling,” she said. “I was looking for answers and support.”
She found the faith and community she was seeking at St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Flatlands.
After completing almost a year of faith formation through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), O’Brien will receive the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil later this month.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited,” she said. “I feel like I’m on the path to something real.”
She can see God’s hand in her life from the very beginning when she was baptized in the Catholic faith. Her parents, originally from Trinidad, settled in Flatbush and raised their children to be church-going Christians.
“As a teenager, my dad was saved at the Church of the Nazarene, so we started going there,” O’Brien explained. “I felt like I had a relationship with God, but no real connection.”
She attended Christian churches as a young adult and during her college years at Columbia University, but she felt something was missing.
As preachers spoke, she saw how people would jot notes and highlight passages. That didn’t resonate with her. She didn’t believe that was what church was supposed to be. “It’s easy to lose the sense of why you’re there, and what the message is,” she said.
Six years ago, O’Brien found new meaning and purpose in life with the birth of her son Chase.
“I started feeling very connected with God,” she said. “I felt very blessed and grateful. I asked God to help me take care of him (her son), and He did.”
As a single mother, working full-time as the director of a nurses staffing agency, she found herself turning to God when she was worried or trying to get through the workday on little sleep, or needed patience with a screaming child.
When her son was old enough for school, someone suggested Midwood Catholic Academy, across the street from St. Thomas Aquinas Church. It was convenient to her home and job. But she didn’t think it was an option.
“I had not baptized my son. I didn’t think he could go to Catholic school,” she said.
She was surprised when he was accepted, and fit right into the faith-filled atmosphere. “One day, he came home and said, ‘Mama, we have to practice our prayers,’” she said.
Her heart began to stir.
Then she received the news that her best friend was killed while trying to stop a store robbery. She went to prayer meetings and spent sleepless nights poring over her Bible for comfort.
“It was a sorrowful time,” she said. “His death pushed me.”
Putting Life Into Perspective
O’Brien started to put life into perspective, for herself and her son. She wanted to do things differently than her parents. It was important for Chase to have faith, to know God, to be part of a faith community. She hoped she could find that too.
She liked the community at Midwood Catholic and what she had seen of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, so she decided to visit Father Dwayne Davis, parochial vicar, to arrange for her son to be baptized. What could have been a short meeting became an opportunity for O’Brien to share her story and receive pastoral guidance.
Father Davis not only baptized her son, but also directed her to the parish bereavement ministry. He encouraged her to keep the conversation going with God, and told to her about the RCIA process.
“It was amazing how all of those things came together when I spoke to Father Dwayne,” she said.
Last May, she started RCIA classes at the parish.
“I feel like I’m getting all the tools I need to be Catholic,” O’Brien said of the process. She said she’s also learning what “Catholics are all about – caring, sharing and praying for the sick and the poor and the deceased.”
What she finds most gratifying is that, unlike other churches, she can walk into any Catholic church and be at home. “No matter where you go, the message is always the same. We recognize what God did for us, and what we have to do for God and others,” she said.
She’s grateful for the people who’ve been supporting her on her journey – her father, who is growing closer to the Catholic Church again, and the community she’s found at her parish and school, especially fellow Midwood Catholic mom, Anna Greenidge, her sponsor.
“Everything is becoming good in my life and I have to thank God,” she said. “God brought all of this together.”