SOME PEOPLE HAVE profound spiritual experiences praying in a church or contemplating a sunset or starry sky. I had one while looking at a weather-beaten farmhouse near Atlantic City, N.J.
For my brother, Larry, and me, the move happened too fast. We had just graduated – he from elementary and I from high school – and it was wrenching to leave behind friends and familiar places. But we understood Dad needed an easier commute to his two jobs as a legal stenographer in New York City.
Commuting from the farmhouse was simpler, but still too long a trip to be workable. What my father really wanted was an apartment in Brooklyn, but housing there was in short supply. The farmhouse would be “just a place to live” until an apartment became available, he explained.
Dad was doing the best he could, but the long-neglected farmhouse was a far cry from the clean, comfortable home we had left. It had no running water or indoor bathroom and needed paint. A contractor did the major repairs, and Dad joined in on weekends. During the week, Larry and I were left to do the painting. Our only ray of hope was a family across the street who let us use their bathroom.
Two years before, when I was 15, I had experienced a much more wrenching loss: my mother died in my arms at a tuberculosis hospital.
By the middle of the summer, we had a workable kitchen and bathroom, and the house was looking more like a home. Then one day, Dad opened the newspaper and saw a picture of a black family of six who were living in a car.
My father was a committed Catholic who took his faith very seriously. He had come into the Church 13 years before, when hardships made him realize his need for God. He never talked much about his faith at home – his conversion upset my mother, but it was the bedrock of his life. So I believe it was the Holy Spirit who prompted him to notice and reach out to that homeless family.
No sooner had he discovered how to contact the family, we moved into an apartment in Brooklyn. To our astonishment, Dad gave the farmhouse to the family in need. Other amazing developments followed.
One Saturday, unable to cope with my sadness and sense of loss, I told my father, “I can’t take it anymore.” Dad replied, “Why don’t you go see a priest at Our Lady of Angels?”
I took his advice and had a good talk with a kind priest by the name of Father Jim. Seeing that I didn’t know much about God, he suggested I sign up for religious education classes. That’s where I began to find the healing and peace I needed. Eight months later, it was a very happy guy who stepped up to the baptismal font and was reborn as a son of God!
Knowing that I would need support, Father Jim introduced me to parishioners who were serious about following Christ. Some of them – including Jack, whom I chose to be my godfather – became close friends. As I went on to a sales career, these friendships encouraged me to keep praying and growing in my spiritual life.
And so it was that four years later, Jack and I and two friends walked into Mass at Our Lady of Angels on what was an ordinary Sunday until, in his homily, the priest asked: “What are you doing to thank God for the gift of faith?” My heart took a leap. I knew I was being addressed, not just by Father Tom, but by the Lord!
I emerged from church amazed only to discover that my three friends had also sensed some call from God. We went to see Father Tom that very night. Eight months later, all four of us quit our jobs to study for the priesthood. We were all ordained and remained close friends. I am the group’s lone survivor.
Fast-forward to last year. A friend invited me to Atlantic City, and we took a side trip to the farmhouse where I spent that fateful summer. Memories came flooding in. Everything came together, and it hit me that another loving Father had been watching over me during that difficult, lonely time in my life.
My heavenly Father was carrying out His wonderful plan for me, even when I couldn’t see it.
Fr. Robert Blauvelt has been a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, for fifty-six years.