I was 20 years old and unmarried when I had my daughter. I was raised by a single mother who sporadically took my sister and me to Mass. We were Christmas-Easter Catholics. I wanted to get my daughter baptized but I knew I wasn’t living an active Catholic lifestyle.
When I went to my parish pastor for a meeting about baptizing my daughter he wasn’t very nice and I felt no guidance from him. At one point he referred to me as “stupid” and I was in tears. I was very much lost but not stupid.
Leaving his office I felt more lost than ever. Speaking with my mom after the meeting, I told her I wasn’t going to get my daughter baptized and was going to look into other religions. When my grandmother got word of this she became angry.
At the time, the Archdiocese was promoting a “coming home” program to welcome Catholics back to practicing their faith. I wasn’t expecting to feel any different when a family member suggested I call the pastor at St. Joachim Parish in Philadelphia.
When I talked to the pastor he made me feel anything but stupid. He explained some of the beliefs of the Church to me and welcomed me to his parish to find my way. By the end of this simple phone conversation I knew I didn’t need to come to his parish. I wanted to baptize my child in to the Catholic faith, in my parish. While I had one bad meeting with one priest I had an amazing, life-changing conversation with another.
Twelve years ago I became a freelance photographer for The Catholic Standard and Times. Over the years I have shared this story with many people. Each time I’ve wondered who the priest was on the telephone, who I never met. I considered looking up who the pastor of St. Joachim Parish was in 1999 but never did.
For a recent photo shoot I chose Our Mother of Consolation Parish in Chestnut Hill and called the pastor to ask if it would be alright if I came to photograph a Sunday Mass. He was very friendly and said to make sure I said hello to him after Mass, which I did. During our conversation he mentioned that he was pastor there for eight years and prior to that he was pastor at St. Joachim Parish. As I did the math in my head, realizing that he was the priest I spoke to on the phone 13 years ago, tears welled up in my eyes. I told him he didn’t know it but he was the reason I decided to have my daughter baptized Catholic. I was finally able to thank the man who touched my life 13 years earlier.
Many people have one bad experience in the Church and they leave feeling angry or hurt. I was on the path to being one of those people.
I have worked for the Church for many years now, and I’ve since come across the priest who made me cry years earlier. He has touched many lives in positive ways. Priests are human just like all of us. I realize that maybe he was having a bad day or maybe the way he chose to communicate was lost on me.
Understanding people from this perspective is one of the ways I live my Catholic faith today. I pray that those people who have a bad experience in the Church might find a priest like Father Bob Bazzoli to impact their life as he did mine.
Sarah Webb is staff photographer for CatholicPhilly.com.