taking the words of Jesus seriously

On St. Patrick’s Day, I was invited to a White House brunch to celebrate with President Biden and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.  As the fourth son of Irish Catholic immigrants, I was proud and blessed to join 100 Catholic leaders from across the country. President Biden was passionate when he shared about how much his Catholic faith helped shape and form who he is today. How his politics are connected to his understanding of Catholic Social Teachings.  In the room were an eclectic collection of Catholic leaders – Sisters, Priests, theologians, activists, writers, business leaders, college professors, leaders of various Catholic organizations and even media personalities. As the President was giving his remarks, I looked around the room and noticed most heads nodding. I could sense that every one of them could share the same story about how their Catholic faith moved them to do the work of peace and justice. President Biden was not just speaking for himself.  He was speaking for each of us. 

I read an article about the event in ussanews. It described those who attended the White House event as “leftists who pretend to be Catholics”. I am not sure who the author was referring to.  I knew most of the people that were in attendance. I have worked and worshiped with them.  They are among the most committed and dedicated faith leaders. They each can share their story about how being Catholic is what moved them to the work of peace and justice. I will share mine. 

My parents were poor Irish Catholic immigrants who came to America in 1950. We attended a mostly Irish Catholic parish which my parents were very active in and made sure all of us kids were as well. My siblings and I all attended Catholic schools. All of my brothers were altar boys. Several times a week my mom would gather us around her bed in the evening to pray a Rosary. Prominently displayed on our living room wall were two pictures. One was Pope John XXIII and the other was President Kennedy.  But for my mother, being Catholic went much deeper than just the rights and rituals. Mom taught me that being Catholic was more than just attending Mass and obeying the Commandments. Being Catholic was about how you lived every moment. Did you treat others with love and respect? Our neighborhood during my childhood was in transition. My mother would be the first person welcoming new folks. Regardless of the color of their skin, their race or even their sexual orientation. She told me that being Catholic was not a way to get to Heaven but a way to create Heaven on Earth. 

Stella and I have been married for 35 years. She was raised in the same town as me, but in a poor Italian Catholic immigrant neighborhood. Our Catholic faith has been a major part of our life and spiritual journey. We have four children. We did not follow the traditional route of having children. When we were first married Stella was a single mom, so I became a stepdad. We then had a child together. After a few years we decided to become foster parents and ended up adopting a brother and sister whom we were fostering. We also opened our home to several of our kids’ friends who were in trouble. It was our Catholic faith that led us to become foster and adoptive parents. Despite raising a family and both working we found time to volunteer. We both felt blessed, and our Catholic faith taught us to share that blessing. Today I volunteer at a soup kitchen at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Stella volunteers two days a week at Hospice. 

I have been an activist for peace and justice for most of my life. I have helped to organize marches and rallies, participated in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, and have gone on extended hunger fasts.  I was the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network and co-founded the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Most recently I co-founded and serve as the National Co-Director of Catholics Vote Common Good, www.votecommongood.com/catholics-vote-common-good/.  I am not an activist to prove that I am a good Catholic. I am an activist because that is what my Catholic faith and the words of Jesus call me to do. I am not sure what the author meant when he called me and others “pretend Catholics”.  But based on what he wrote, I am pretty sure if Jesus were walking the Earth today, he would be identified as one of those “pretend Catholics.”  

About The Author


Patrick Carolan is a Catholic activist, writer, and storyteller. He served as the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network, co-founded the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Faithful Democracy Coalition, and Catholics Vote Common Good. He currently serves as National Co-Director of Catholics Vote Common Good.

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