Fond memories of growing up Catholic

By Megan Erbacher

About five weeks ago, I had the pleasure of checking out St. Benedict Cathedral. I always thought the cathedral was beautiful – as I’m sure most of you did – but wait until you see its magnificence now, after the renovations. It truly takes your breath away.

I had to pinch myself to remember I was in Evansville, Indiana, in one of the churches that belong to the Catholic Diocese of Evansville. Growing up Catholic, this is my home diocese, and I feel blessed to be part of the 75th-anniversary celebrations.

I can’t wait until everyone gets a chance to marvel at the stunning renovations, and I’m looking forward to witnessing the Dedication Mass, to be celebrated by Bishop Joseph M. Siegel, on Nov. 6.

I pray everyone takes the chance to truly embrace the radiance of our cathedral and to soak it all in. If you’re attending the Dedication Mass, take a moment to read Matt Miller’s article, “Making St. Benedict Cathedral ‘a church,’” on page B16 of this week’s newspaper. Matt is our Diocesan Director of Worship, and his piece explains exactly what will occur during the Dedication Mass. It certainly helped me better understand what to expect, so now I won’t be wondering during the celebration.

As our diocese celebrates 75 years, it has caused me to reminisce on my childhood and growing up Catholic. For as long as I’ve been alive, my family has been a member of St. Matthew Parish in Mt. Vernon, and I attended school there through fifth grade.

I love thinking about my time in school at St. Matthew. I had amazing teachers who helped shape my faith and love for God, not only in religion class but during the entirety of my time there. I feel blessed that I attended a school where we were able to grow together in our faith, to pray together and to attend Mass together.

I’m still friends today with classmates from St. Matthew, where together we celebrated the sacraments of our first Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation. And we were able to witness the Stations of the Cross – at school – how cool is that?!

Unfortunately as a child, I’m afraid I didn’t realize the beauty of my home parish and took it for granted. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate it; as well as each of the 45 parishes in the Evansville Diocese. I may be biased, but I believe as a diocese we have some of the most beautiful churches around. We are truly blessed by that.

The Diocese of Evansville, established in 1944 by Pope Pius XII, serves 12 counties in Southwestern Indiana. For those who may be wondering which counties, they are: Posey, Vanderburgh, Warrick, Gibson, Spencer, Dubois, Pike, Knox, Daviess, Martin, Greene and Sullivan.

I’ll admit, as a youngster attending St. Matthew, I never quite grasped the scope of our diocese. We encompass about 5,010 square miles across those 12 counties. In our 75th year, we have 45 parishes, 22 elementary schools and four high schools.

Whew; to me, that’s quite impressive and something to be proud of.

The older I’ve gotten the more I continue to appreciate my faith. It’s not that I never did before, but as a cradle Catholic I hate to admit when I was a kid I maybe didn’t realize how special it is to be raised Catholic.

I remember thinking how cool it was to share with friends and acquaintances that my dad is the 11th child of 12 – ‘Yes, 12!’ I’d exclaim when they looked at me, puzzled. I’m fully aware there are many Catholic families with just as many, and some with quite a few more, children. But since I had two siblings and many of my friends had small families, 12 was something to brag about.

Another fun fact about my dad’s family – all 12 kids born to my grandparents, John and Evelyn Jo, were given names that begin with ‘J.’ My grandpa even had a trucking company when there were 10 kids, and it was called The 10 J’s.

And perhaps the coolest – to me – fact about my dad’s family is one of his older brothers is a priest in our diocese. I’ve always especially enjoyed bragging about my uncle Father Joe. “Effie,” who is the sixth in the Erbacher sibling lineup.

“What? You have an uncle who’s a priest?” I remember many friends asking. I would smile real big and respond, “Yes, I do.”

I’ve always been proud to say that I have an uncle who felt called by God to serve Him and our local diocese. He was ordained March 25, 1972, and has served in many parishes and positions during his 47 years as a priest. He’s currently overseeing the new St. Mary Church being built – the first in our diocese in a decade – in Ireland.

It’s always been a joy to have my uncle Father Joe bless our annual Christmas lunch at my Aunt Joyce’s. And any time I have a question about God, the Bible or Catholicism – he’s always been my go-to. I know his wisdom will have an answer for me, and I know he won’t judge me for asking even the silliest of inquiries.

My uncle married my parents at St. Benedict on Feb. 26, 1982. He baptized me, and my two older siblings, Clint and Kayce. He baptized my sweet niece and goddaughter Jude. My uncle will also celebrate my marriage in January, and I feel privileged to have him do so.

I’m not sure I have ever thanked my parents for raising me Catholic – many thanks to both of you.

So, this Sunday before or after Mass, I encourage you to take a look around your home parish and thank God for all he has given our diocese the past 75 years, and to embrace what’s to come in the next 75 years, growing together in our Catholic faith.