This is more than just a little biographical anecdote, it is the story of faith, the Faith, the Holy Catholic Church, the most generous providence of God, courage and trust in the Blessed Virgin Mary, which I learned with great joy anew, scarcely a week before Mother's Day, 2009, which you will read about below in the postscript.
At the turn of the last century my Grandmother, Josephine, a young widow and with my Father, her only son to care for, suffering with terminal tuberculosis, was "abandoned" by her Protestant family in Canada because she had met Maine's former Bishop, then Father Daniel Feeney, and converted to the one true Church, the Catholic Church, was Baptized and my Father with her. It wasn't easy at that time to find yourself cut adrift from family and loved ones, but Josephine persevered. On her death bed she had Dad promise that he would always remain Catholic, and if he had children to have them Baptized and raised in the Catholic Faith, which he did. That promise appears to have been his saving grace, so to speak, and the grace that was the seed of his grandson's future vocation to the priesthood, long after he, too, had died. This story would fill a book, but I have condensed it to a single web page.
After my Grandmother died, my Father was taken in by an unscrupulous family who was nominally Catholic, but no one knew this at the time. He was terribly treated and he left their house at the age of twelve. In those days a young lad could do this without being considered "truant." A fiercely Protestant Aunt took him under his wing, but like his mother before him, he clung to the Faith, although by that time he was poorly catechized. That had been his initiation into "Catholic family life," and it left his tender childhood heart confused and very hurt. He did not take too kindly to the "institutional Church" after that, but he always remembered his promise to Josephine, whom he loved all the days of his life. So he kept the Faith as best as he could.
When he came back to Maine from Canada and settled in a small town, though he had earned a degree in accounting, he had trouble finding and keeping a position when his employers learned he was Catholic. He had only a little Irish in his lineage, but he might as well have been straight from the "old sod" because for him it was "Irish need not apply" and then some. He never gave up his precious Catholic Faith.
Moreover, there were occasional nights of harassment and
the local version of the Ku Klux Klan. Most Americans, when they think
of the Klan, think, "Oh, those are the people who hate Jews and
Because of the persistent, but subtle prejudice against Catholics who
of the Faith, most people, who hold these prejudices without
articulating them to themselves, easily accept the prevailing
propaganda and thus, do not know that the Klan also hated and
still, Catholics, and especially so in Maine at that time, in the
The Klan gang seldom wore hoods, things being a little less formal, but
they would come in the dark of night in their various vehicles and
by Dad's place and shout cutting remarks designed to intimidate him,
their horns, etc., all with impunity, the town honchos resting securely
in the hands of the Masons and those in sympathy with them. He was
more than ever to never give up the Catholic Faith. Some Catholic
did, unfortunately, joining the Episcopalians because it was good for
and for social ties. It always seemed incongruent to me that names
ending in the vowel i, for instance, were listed on the Episcopalian
When Dad married my mother, a Catholic, he and she had to endure more unkind remarks and the attendant pressure that accompanied them from his Aunt and other relatives. He kept his promise.
The sweet, humble but strong, the great Josephine, had three granddaughters and we were all Baptized and raised in the Faith, trained by the good, saintly nuns of our day, the 'Forties and Fifties,' the Sisters of Mercy. But then came the 'Sixties' and the deluge with it, that swept over the Church, drenching everyone with it in some way. I forgot the promise my Dad made to Josephine and through him the promise had been passed to me, the oldest daughter, my three brothers having died in infancy. Without comprehending it, I joined the revolution and became a "Conciliar Catholic." I went to daily Mass most of the time, when my duties permitted and until I had children, that was almost every day. The so-called "new Mass," not a Mass at all, but a sacrilege, slowly changed me because it is through the Mass we are fed, spiritually, socially, psychologically, and very importantly, doctrinally. It may be subtle compared to formal schooling, but the Mass is the training ground for Sainthood and sanctity. It simply is because that is the way God has chosen for those He favors with the gift of Faith. One day I looked in the mirror but I did not recognize the face that looked back at me for I was no longer Catholic, except in name and inclination only and it showed. Yet, still, I did not know it was the Novus Ordo "Mass" that was the culprit. I cried out to Our Lady, dug out the Rosary I had tucked away unused for many years, and started making novenas and begged God for the Faith.
Shortly after this I would start weeping at "Mass," and then I would notice things and once more a deluge hit, but this time it was the saving waters of Truth. God had arranged it that my circle of friends and acquaintances had changed through the pro-life movement. I do not believe in coincidences. Most of us were Catholics and they were staunch and rooted in Tradition as only a Catholic must be if he is to be Catholic at all. Someone, an unknown benefactor, had a complimentary copy of what was then a solid Catholic paper, The Wanderer, sent to me. The only Catholic paper I had ever read was the diocesan paper and that had gone Modernist only I did not know this was the case. Then some one gave me a copy of The Remnant, and from there I started reading books on the Mass, Tradition, old catechisms, the Council of Trent and so forth. But I had not read as yet the book, THE MOTHERS OF PRIESTS, excerpted on the previous page. I did not even know it was about to be republished by Angelus Press, nor did I know of its existence.
It wasn't long before I joined with friends to ask for the traditional Mass, the Roman Mass or Latin Mass as it is called. But I get ahead of myself.
Before all of this and while I was a "Conciliar Catholic" I had married a French Catholic, my beloved husband of 43 years this year . Our first son, John, was born two months prematurely and was very tiny and very sick. Although neonatal medicine had progressed remarkably since my Grandmother gave birth, it was nowhere as good as it is today and we did not know if John would live at all or for how long. As soon as he was delivered on the Feast of the Assumption, I dedicated John to Our Lady since he was born on her Feast. I knew one cannot bargain with God, but one can ask and offer up a sacrifice as an act of good Faith, so I did: promising God and Her, if John should survive long enough that we might raise him, that I would give him back to Heaven as God's priest. And then I trusted Them both and went about being a regular mother and a modern "Catholic."
I did not tell John anything about my prayer and promise and in the blur of the heady days of change and dislocation I "sort of" forgot about it. Now I get behind myself instead of ahead.
As my circle of association more and more centered on
were Catholic, that is rooted in Tradition, I remembered my promise,
still I said nothing to anyone. I was unaware that I was somewhat
the second Mother's story on the previous page because I had not read
book and did not know she had ever lived. I merely knew enough about
the "wrong kind" of guilt and that a parent has an obligation not to
implant it even with good intentions. Later I would read from St.
Alphonsus Liguori about the mortal sins parents can commit regarding
encouraging vocations unwisely and or the reverse.
Meanwhile, my Dad, who had grown a bit lax in his practice of the Faith, called me with great news. He had found a nice parish in Florida where he had moved with my mother, sought out the priest and went to Confession. You see, Dad had kept his promise, but so did [and continues to do] Jesus. You acknowledge Him before men, He acknowledges you before His Father when you die. Dad was 21 days away from his death, only he did not know it when he telephoned me with his happy news. He suffered a stroke and was dead three weeks later after receiving the Sacraments just before the stroke. Thank you God and thank you for Josephine and my Father, her son and my son, his grandson and my loving husband who prays with me every night for the strength to endure these days of chastisement, for God's grace, and in gratitude for all that God has given us through the Catholic Faith, our wealth and our legacy when we die.
John came to me one day and said he wanted to be a priest, and that he was sure enough as a young man can be when he receives this beckoning from Christ. I remembered what I had told God and Our Lady and that this must mean they accepted my offer, if I can put it like that. I told him of my prayer-promise on his birth day. I do not know if she is still in Purgatory or has taken her place among the Saints in Heaven, but I can't shake the thought that all this time Josephine has been looking after us all in her special way and that all she suffered for Jesus, to be a Catholic, became not only the mighty mustard seed of Faith, but an outpouring of that stored-up grace [which had "collected interest"] in union with Jesus' Passion and Death, that God has distributed through the years when needed most and perhaps we least realized it. While John was in the seminary I discovered the book by Angelus Press and read the stories of the mothers of priests.
Today John is a priest. When he was ordained I received in a little ceremony the Winding Cloth used at ordination in the traditional Roman Rite, not the Novus Ordo, perhaps invalid by now in some dioceses, ordination rite. The Winding Cloth is traditionally given to the living mothers of priests, to be cherished and kept in a special linen envelope bag. When the mother of the priest dies, the Cloth is placed in her casket. A little traditional humorous story accompanies the practice: This way Heaven and Saint Peter know that the soul is that of a mother of a priest. In my case I can use all the help I can get. Please pray for traditional vocations and for all priests whom Satan despises and who uses every deceit and trickery to lead them into discouragement, sin and apostasy. And pray for me so I will have strength enough to do my best to help other Catholics who are where I once was and are looking for answers and assistance.
Thank Thee God, thank Thee, and thank thee, O Blessed
Father John Fongemie's great-grandmother died in Colorado
Springs at one of the hospitals there well known for treating TB
patients. She died there on May 19, 1917 and was buried in a local
cemetery. But we had no records and my father was never sure about the
burial. I always wanted to know, but years of record searching on the
web yielded nothing of consequence or any leads. When Father John
called in April to say that he would be filling in for an FSSP priest
in Colorado Springs, I knew that once more God had arranged matters,
that this certainly was not a coincidence. A mother of a priest learns
discretion and a stay-back-stance, so as to not interfere with his
priestly duties; one becomes entirely dependent on the providence and
will of God; I said nothing other then to mention that I thought she
buried there, not asking for anything of him. During the Rosary I did
ask our Holy Mother for the favor. The next morning Father John
telephoned with the news that a young parishioner there, Nancy, helped
out with research at the university and they located the records and
the cemetery. What a Mother's Day gift for Josephine and me! Beyond all
human understanding, in the ordinary course of events, other than to
suggest a happy coincidence. Oh, no, only the incomparable, bountiful
gift of the Grace of God distributed through the loving hands of one
Mother to another, begun by another mother, long long ago. And Nancy
and her friends? These young stalwart, pious Catholics will visit her
grave among others to pray for the repose of the Holy Souls on All
Souls' Day every year!
Thank Thee God, thank Thee, and thank thee, O Blessed
Virgin, MEDIATRIX OF ALL GRACES,
thank thee! And thank you, Nancy and Father John for responding to the
wonders of the grace of God!