Catholic Day Pass By Kevin Hofmann Director, Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion We always just called them “the nuns.” They were two Sisters, two Sisters of Mercy, who were like family members to my best friend’s family. They were a package deal. I never saw one without the other. I had to call my best friend this week and ask him their names because I never knew their individual names. Sister Celeste and Sister Gina Mary were their names. In 1975 my family and I moved to North Rosedale Park, a nice, beautiful, quiet, and predominantly white neighborhood in Detroit. I was self-conscious and very anxious about being the first Black child on our block. No one else looked like me and in every group, I was unique. As an eight-year-old I wanted to be more like a chameleon, tip toeing through life without being noticed. I became very aware of my surroundings, constantly looking for a safe place to land. I returned to the neighborhood a few years ago and as I drove down the street that I barely recognized now, I could point out what was safe and what wasn’t. I remember the houses that were safe for me as a child of color, and I remember the houses and families that were not safe. I realized I spent a lot of time as a child searching for a safe harbor. Fortunately, directly across the street from my new house, there was a safe harbor for me. My soon-to-be best friend, Mike Tenbusch (pictured with Kevin above) and his family lived across the street. I knew while in their home I was safe. I was safe from the ignorant comments, safe from the slights, and safe from the noise that often comes with my skin tone. About once a month, the nuns would come over to Mike’s house for dinner, cards, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. I quickly became part of the Tenbusch family and would look forward to the visit from the nuns. It was an honor to be included in the festivities and enjoyed quite a few hands of Crazy Eights or Rummy with them. The nuns were especially patient with me as I struggled to hold the cards in my small hands often losing a few cards under the kitchen table during every hand. The nuns and the Tenbuschs introduced me to Catholicism. I often would spend the night over at Mike’s on Friday or Saturday. If it was a Saturday, we would stay up late, watching The Love Boat and Fantasy Island on TV and wake up to go to church at St. Scholastica. It was a large, ornate, church that was very impressive. Father Livi would say the Mass and I would struggle to make sense of his words though his thick Italian accent. My father was a Lutheran minister, so I was comfortable in church. The Mass was easy to follow because so much was like the Lutheran church services I knew. Several times a year, the Tenbuschs would have a full Mass in their living room. Another close friend of the family, Father Frank Canfield, would say Mass and give communion in front of the fireplace. I enjoyed talking to Father Frank who has this calm metered way of talking. He talks like every word is important. Father Frank had an Obama-like ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. He showed me compassion and gave me positive attention. But, there was always something uncomfortable about Mass that I did not like. I remember there was a shift in the 1980s, I think. When communion was announced there was new verbiage that came with it. Now the instructions were clear. If you were not Catholic, you were not allowed to take communion. A sacrament that signified community was now exclusive and I was not allowed to participate. As all the Tenbuschs stepped out into the center aisle to take communion, I stayed in the pew looking down. I didn’t want to get the “heathen stares” from those who were allowed to partake. I sat alone in the pew feeling like I had broken every commandment and committed five of the seven deadly sins. It was uncomfortable because I felt singled out. Jesus himself was looking down on me from the cross in the back of the beautiful alter. I was convinced if any non-Catholic made their way towards the chalice, Jesus would elevate himself off the cross and strike them down at Father Livi’s feet. This was a confusing process to me. I remember thinking in my adolescent mind this was unfair. Jesus shared his last supper with Judas, but I couldn’t get a wafer and a sip of wine any longer at St. Scholastica. Judas was on the guest list before me! It felt like occasionally I was allowed to come in to church. I was able to get the day pass, but my day pass did not include all the thrills. After a few years I stopped going with the family to St. Scholastica. The call to communion made me feel like an outsider. It told me I was not welcome. I always thought we should always invite everyone to the table. The meal we are offering may be just what that person needs.