By KATHY SCHMUGGE
“A Christian walks with courage on the roads of the world seeking to follow God’s steps.”
Pope John Paul II, Jan. 31, 2001 weekly audience
ORT MILL — Since Jody McCurdy was a small child, she has been attracted to the Catholic Church. Raised in Charlotte, N.C., during the ’50s, her opportunities to come in contact with Catholics were few, but those she did encounter made a lasting impression on her.
She especially recalls the sisters at Mercy Hospital in Charlotte, and all the kindness and concern they showed her as a child. “I can remember hearing them swishing down the hall of the hospital, and I knew that I would soon receive a tender smile.” During her youth, the Sisters of Mercy wore habits whenever they were in public so she could recognize them immediately and would instinctively gravitate toward them.
As a small redhead with freckles, not yet 10, Jody was in total awe of the religious and their dedication to God’s people. Unfortunately her Protestant parents, who had a very negative opinion about the Catholic Church, did not share her admiration. Eventually their confrontations grew too painful, and Jody no longer spoke of her dreams of one day joining the church and becoming a woman religious.
For Jody, the church provided a sharp contrast to her dysfunctional family plagued with alcohol and abuse. Through the many trials Jody endured as a child, she stayed ever close to God. “My parents did not know how to show love,” said Jody, “but these nuns showed me unconditional love,” something this eldest child of four needed so desperately.
Although she describes her young life as “a living hell,” she has found forgiveness and mentioned that she was thankful to her mother, for at least making sure the family went to church and read the Bible. She said she was blessed to have two spiritual grandmothers who provided her with hope during some dismal times in her life.
As the years went by, her love of the church continued, but it seemed every time she moved close to the door, something would block her entrance. Her main concern was her parents. She felt that converting to Catholicism would devastate them, so she waited patiently for the “right time.”
After eight years of being the sole caregiver of both parents, her father passed away last year. She was later forced to place her mother in a nursing home because of advance stages of dementia. At this moment, she heard a voice inside say, “It is time.”
“I remember looking in the phone book for the closest Catholic Church and dialing the number,” said Jody as she recalled her conversation with Deacon Jon Dwyer who heads the RCIA program at St. Philip Neri Mission in Fort Mill. “I was extremely nervous and did not know if I could even become Catholic. Deacon Jon was so kind, and when he said they were about to start a new RCIA program, I felt encouraged,” she said.
Shortly after the phone call, Jody went with an acquaintance to help her apply for government-subsidized housing. Low and behold, the woman, Ro Hensen, who conducted the agency’s interview was a parishioner at the St. Philip Neri, the church she had just called! Ro was so impressed with Jody and her story that she called the deacon that night and asked to be her sponsor.
“God had his hand on me that day because Ro has been the best. Without knowing me she took me under her wing, and has been a true friend. I know that everything she does, she does out of love of the church,” Jody said. She also mentioned how Deacon Dwyer has been like a father to the candidates, guiding and always there with a ready hug. As she went through the RCIA program, she got to know her pastor, Father John Giuliani. Judy recalled how nervous she was when she prepared for her first reconciliation but how he, in his gentleness, was truly Christ for her in the sacrament.
Her own family is thrilled. Three of her four children attended the Rite of Election, along with one grandchild. Her children are glad that she is finally fulfilling her childhood dream. Jody’s husband, a Catholic, is thrilled that she is entering in the church as well. His mother had an incredible impact on watering the seeds of faith planted in Jody as a child. “My mother-in-law was an inspiration to me. She was a very saintly woman,” added Jody, who treasures the rosary and other religious items given to her after her mother-in-law died in a tragic automobile accident walking home from church.
Jody believes that her life has come full circle and feels as though God is guiding this whole process. Even though she is currently suffering from a serious health condition that wears her down, she has a peace that can only come from God. On Easter Sunday, also the day she was born, this 57-year-old finally realized her life long aspiration to serve God as a Catholic woman.