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God gets a seat at Foley table.

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The average Catholic family does not sit around of an evening discussing religion; it was a new situation, too, for the Foleys of upper-middle-class All Hallows Parish here.

By the time the evening was over, David Foley was surprised that his children were so articulate about their religion. Nancy Foley had listened with some fascination evident as Katie, 18, Tim, 16, and Sheila, 14, joined in a discussion of their prayer and school life, perceptions of God, non-Catholic friends, gays in the military, and what makes a good homily.

Oldest daughter, Erin, is away at college, but the others talked, at first with a little hesitation, about the role religion plays in their lives.

The Foleys are deeply involved in parish programs, though they do not pray together as a family. David and Nancy -- originally from Indianapolis -- are in a small parish group that meets to pray and talk; the three children attend Catholic schools. Lawyer David reads the Wall Street Journal, and at home the family takes the local daily and Our Sunday Visitor.

All Hallows is an open parish, meaning, in David Foley's words, that the pastor, Msgr. Pat Fox, is "willing to let go of control without relinquishing his role -- he invites people in in a quiet way."

What is it that David Foley wants his children to know about the Catholic church?

"That this is a very forgiving church," he said, "and that just because it doesn't accommodate you at a particular time in your life does not mean that you should abandon it."

He said parents should not feel guilty if children opt not to continue as practicing Catholics. "That doesn't mean they're not going to heaven," he said, "but they might be denying themselves some pretty good aid and support during their lives."

What does Nancy hope for her children?

Nancy replied, "The Catholic church is way behind the American social and political vision of women," but echoed David when she added that "even though I may not be happy with the role of women in the church today, I would not leave because of that."

She continued, "I look on the church as being part of me and my tradition; I hope the children would pick up on that. Even if they left I hope they would always have a basic love of Jesus Christ and let God guide their lives." High school senior Katie, who is in the church choir and fellowship and Bible study groups, said, "I'd never leave; it is just such a part of life. God is my best friend."

Tim said that part of parents wanting children to understand their faith is that "they don't want us getting hurt." Though All Hallows does not permit girl altar servers, Tim, who is in the parish youth group, has no problems accepting the idea of women priests or married priests -- "I think if there were married priests there would be a lot more."

Sheila had the following comments on homilies: "Lots of time I drift off in space because they're talking stuff that doesn't interest me, like money, or in some sort of language I can't understand. This past Sunday I understood because Father (Bill) Wilson went up there; and he was funny, he got the congregation laughing."

"My youth group minister tells good sermons," said Tim, "and when (the priests) tell stories about what happens to them and it relates to the gospel, then you can relate. If it's something else they kind of lose me at the second sentence."

Today's young people are comfortable with peers of other faiths -- if the Foleys are typical. And they say their non-Catholic friends -- Jews and Lutherans among them -- also are religious. Sheila finds the Lutheran church little different from All Hallows, "though they only have the Eucharist one a month."

The weekend before the interview was the gay march in Washington. Both parents seemed slightly ambivalent about their attitudes toward gays. Nancy said she was not certain about gays in the military, but wondered if the issue was "more hype than it is a problem, and I'm leaning to being more open."

Said David, "We want to love and support gays, but I don't think they're entitled to any particular privileges. They want us to verify and validate their lifestyle -- I don't think that's right, and that's what the church says."

Daughter Katie added, "It's okay that they're like that. That's the way they are. And we have to accept them and love them and bring them into the church. We can't close our doors on them, or what kind of role model are we being?"

As the family talked, it appeared that what really was being transmitted by parents to the children was an openness, but one qualified -- to the extent it was qualified -- by the Catholic Christian message learned at home, in the parish groups and at school.

On population and birth control issues, Nancy asked rhetorically, "how are you going to bring the population down except by using some forms of artificial contraception? I don't see (any changes) with our present pope at all. Hopefully the next pope will be able to be a little more realistic. Most Catholics -- at least in the U.S. -- practice birth control. Very frustrating, trying to be a good Catholic, and yet ..."

The family's social gospel activities are those connected to the parish: outreach to migrants through St. Vincent de Paul Society, and visits -- in Sheila's case -- to the school of St. Jude's, All Hallows' twin parish in downtown San Diego.

And the priesthood? None of the three children has thought of becoming a priest, though Katie said, "I'd like to give a sermon now and then. Some priests are so bland. They can say the Mass -- let's get someone else in to give the homily. I'd do it. I could draw people in."

Tim thought being a priest would be a good job for someone who has retired, and he expects there to be women priests in his lifetime. For himself, he has a prayer life that does include saying the Our Father and Hail Mary at times, but more often he "talks to Jesus as a friend."

And it is the ease with which the children said these things about prayer that was the gauge of the Christian distance traversed between the two generations.
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Title Annotation:Teaching The Faith
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:May 28, 1993
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