Friday, September 13, 2013

Growing Up in a Mixed-Faith Family

This post was originally published as a guest post on a friend's blog in January 2012.  The blog I wrote it for is no longer in existence, so I decided to republish it here. 

Before I met my husband, I had a long list of expectations for my future spouse; despite being a devout Catholic, that list did not include any faith requirements.  I grew up in a mixed-faith household, as did my mother before me.  This month, last parents celebrate their 33nd anniversary and my grandparents their 61st.  Clearly they never let their differences of faith prevent them from having successful, loving marriages.
Let me be clear, when I say I come from a mixed-faith household I mean that my parents did not share a faith, however, I do not mean that both faiths were equally represented or practiced.  My mother is Catholic and my father a non-practicing Christian raised in a Baptist tradition.  Unlike all of her friends who asked their husbands to convert to Catholicism before marriage, my mother never made such a request because she believes the decision to convert is my father’s alone to make.  And since she was raised in a mixed-faith household herself (her mother a Catholic and her father a non-practicing Jew), she had an example upon which to model her marriage. 

My brother and I were raised Catholic by both our parents.  Even though my father was not Catholic himself, my parents decided before they married that together they would raise their children in the Church.  My father was always supportive of our Catholic faith, accompanying us to Mass for holidays and on occasion (though not every week), sending me to a Catholic school for several years, and often talking about the aspects of the Church that he liked and respected.  Despite his support, we have always been aware, even from a young age, that he was not himself Catholic and that he had different beliefs than us.  Although he didn’t much discuss the religion he was raised in or his personal beliefs, when asked or prompted, he has always been very honest with us about how his faith differs from our own. 

It never bothered me that my father did not share the faith of my mother, my brother, and myself, except in that I did (and still continue to) pray that my father will one day have a deeper faith and closer relationship with Christ.  Preferably this would take the form of him joining the Catholic Church which I believe to be the fullness of the Truth, yet I would support him if he were to decide to practice his Christian faith in the church of his choice. 

My brother, however, had difficulty with my father’s difference in faith (or perhaps, more aptly, his lack of active faith).  I attribute this to the fact that since both my father and grandfather did not practice, in our family faith had become “something women do”.  For me there was great pride that my Catholic faith was transferred to me from my mother who in turn had received it from her mother.  For my brother though, practicing religion made him feel out of place in a feminine world.  He didn’t want to attend Mass when our father didn’t go, he didn’t want to kneel or take Communion because our father didn’t, and he didn’t identify himself as Catholic, because our father wasn’t.  Through it all, our dad always encouraged him to continue in his faith and eventually he did stop fighting against them.  My brother was confirmed in the faith and considers himself to be Catholic.  In college, he was encountered by many Christian friends who questioned the Catholic faith, which has prompted him to learn even more about what we believe in order to defend the Church.
When Kayla asked me to write this guest post, I thought I wouldn’t have much to say, after all, while being from a “mixed-faith” household, only one was really represented.  Yet the more I though about it, the more I realized how much I learned from being part of a faith-diverse family:

I learned more about my faith.  I knew from an early age that not everyone shares my beliefs, so I came to know (and appreciate) what made my Catholic faith unique.  When I asked my dad about his beliefs and they didn’t match up with my own, I was driven to discover exactly why Catholics believed what they did and whether I truly prescribed to those beliefs.  Nothing makes you question your beliefs more than contact with differing beliefs, and nothing make you stronger in your beliefs than questioning them.

I can talk about religion, politics, and other “touchy subjects” without getting overly emotional or angry.  Because I was able to have open and respectful conversations with people of different views when I was a child, I have little problem doing so as an adult.

I know that the basis of every relationship is respect, not similarity.  If my parents could make a marriage work despite their differences (which are not only religious, my parents grew up in very different households and hold opposing political views), I know that I can have healthy friendships with people of diverse faiths, lifestyles, and backgrounds.  And I do.  My best friend, although coming from my same hometown and a similar middle class upbringing, is my complete opposite in terms of religion, politics and lifestyle, yet she is the first person I turn to when I want to talk about something, even when I know she will completely disagree with me.

My faith can be a comfort to those who don’t share it.  I am the first person my father calls to ask when he needs prayers and when he is going through difficult times, I often try to reassure him using Church teachings about Christ’s power and love.  Even if he doesn’t believe exactly as I do, I think he appreciates knowing that I truly believe in the Catholic faith and that if I do, it may be true.

I’ve learned the power of Mass, prayer, and being a witness of the faith.  When I say my grandfather was a non-practicing Jew, I don’t use the past-tense because he’s passed on but because he recently converted to Catholicism (at the age of 79).  After having attended Mass with his wife for nearly 60 years and raising his children in the faith, he was diagnosed with cancer and realized that it was time for him to finally become part of the faith he had been an outward participant and believer in for many years.  My grandmother never encouraged him to convert, but inadvertently led him to the Church by being a witness of the faith.  My father has in recent years mentioned that he’s thought of converting over the years, so perhaps he someday will.

As it turns out, I am the first woman in three generations to marry a Catholic man.  I love being able to share the most important part of my life with the most important person in my life, yet I am also conscious that I want to make my home an open forum for religious discussion with my children so that I can pass on the lessons I learned coming from a mixed-faith family.   


  1. I think you know this, but I'm a third-generation "mixed marriage" myself. My grandmother (Catholic) eloped with my grandfather (Dutch Reform) because it was so scandalous for and Irish Catholic girl. By the time their daughter (Dutch Reform) married my father (Catholic), it wasn't such a big deal. My father is still, technically, Catholic. His issues with the church have prevented him from practicing, but he went to church with us almost every week (Presbyterian) and got a son who is a Presbyterian minister out of the whole deal.

    I agree with your list of benefits. I have tried to imagine before what a family gathering is like if every single person practices the same faith and/or denomination. In some ways that seems nice, but it must be very challenging to understand others and really own your faith if you've never had exposure to anything different. It can be helpful in the beginning for raising children, but if they don't eventually encounter others who disagree they will struggle a lot more when they are older.

    Great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. I'll be praying for your dad's conversion! My mom finally converted after 17 years of marriage (I was 10 at the time), and with an awesome story like your grandfather's, it's nice to know there's always hope :)


I'd love to hear what you have to say! You can also contact me directly by emailing me at