Let me start by saying that this is an informal blog. All of my opinions, questions and beliefs are not necessarily those of The Catholic Messenger. Now, let me tell you all a little bit about myself:
My name is Mary Agnoli. I am 17 years old as of Aug. 15, The Assumption of Mary. My name is not a coincidence. Perhaps we’ll get to that story one day, but now I’m about to go on the greatest journey of my short life.
To quickly end the suspense, I have been given the amazing opportunity to take part in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, meaning I will spend the upcoming school year in Trieste, Italy! For those of you who don’t know where this city is (because I didn’t), here’s a hint — if you look at a map of Italy you might not even think it’s part of the country. Trieste is way up in the northeast along the Slovenian border. Look it up on a map and be amazed. Seriously. (Click here) www.big-italy-map.co.uk/large-map-of-italy-map.htm
Now, let’s take a step back and I’ll give you some background information:
I live in a typical household with a mom (Marianne), dad (Frank), and brother (Frank) who is currently a sophomore in college. You can tell that we are very original with names. Maybe a few readers have met my dad, Deacon Agnoli, or your children have had my mom as their religion teacher at Assumption High School. Clearly, I come from a very Catholic-oriented background.
For most of my life, I lived in a small Baptist-centered town in rural Kentucky with only one Catholic parish within 30 miles. Our parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, had about 40 families, one Mass on Sundays and about the closest sense of Catholic fellowship and community I’ve ever felt. Everyone knew everyone (which could be both good and bad), and I felt growing confidence in my Catholic beliefs and my abilities to defend my faith. For example, I learned how to respond when people asked “So you’re daddy’s the preacher, right?” I would nod. Or “Have you been saved little lady?” I would nod. Sooo maybe I wasn’t perfectly aware about what my faith entailed, but going to OLPH was still the highlight of my week.
At age 11 I received the horrid news that we were moving to Iowa. I quickly gathered as much information about this unknown Midwestern state as I could, so naturally, I asked my friends. The answer I received: “you know they just watch the corn grow there, right?” I was terrified.
Upon arriving in Davenport, Iowa and being reassured that people in fact did not watch the corn grow, my general fear of my new surroundings still did not subside. The main reason, perhaps, was the notion of starting school. Before this time, I had been homeschooled in the comforts of my mountains and woods — waking up at 9 a.m., staying in my pajamas and having no idea what “grades” actually were. The first grade I received in science class at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport was a “D”… I asked if that was good … people stared. Anyway, entering a new school, in seventh grade, in a new city was not easy. And neither was finding our new parish. We tried a few different parishes, but none had the same feel to me as OLPH, my home.
I would love to be able to say that throughout this rough transition I stayed committed to my Catholic faith, accepted everything without hesitation and looked on the bright side of my move, but I was a pre-teen and naturally did not. I didn’t understand why God, who I had exulted; confided to, loved and worshiped my whole life would put me through so much pain. I was confused, hurt and just plain angry at my faith!
Two years passed and I found myself at Assumption High School. A place, I thought, to start over. To open up my eyes and heart to God again, make new friends and try not to be the awkward “new kid.” Well, two of the three happened (try to guess which), and I started to feel a sense of Catholic community again. I found friends who shared my beliefs, but had questions too, which led to great conversations. I joined the Youth Group at Our Lady of Victory, attended NCYC, and joined AHS’s Worship Team. I started to feel at home in my faith, but not everything taught in religion class set well with me. Nagging questions began entering my mind that I was afraid to voice — in fear I would seem “un-Catholic.” However, my parents were always open to my uncertainty and assured me that my questions were normal. But I was still frustrated.
I still have questions. I still have doubts. But I also have a deep love and devotion to God and my faith. This next year, you have the opportunity to follow me on my journey to understanding. The ups and downs of my faith life will be shared with you as I experience a year away from my home. Where my parents won’t be able to force me out of bed to go to church every Sunday morning. Where I will not attend a Catholic high school where religion is emphasized in every classroom. Where I will have to make my own decisions on where to worship and how regularly. Where hopefully, I will find answers to my questions.
I hope you stay with me through it all …
Your sister in Christ,