Growing up I thought marching to John Philip Sousa’s "The Washington Post March" was part of being Catholic. Little did I know it was all part of a conspiracy to try to turn me in to a decent human being.
It all started at the Catholic Guadalupe Mission. It was my first introduction to the real world. It was just a small redbrick house turned into a church by the old 400 South viaduct on 500 West in Salt Lake City. But for me, it was big. It was my universe growing up. Father Collins was the priest who took the vows of poverty so seriously that when we buried him we had to get him some new shoes and pants because his old ones all had holes in them. In addition, there were the sisters of the Perpetual Adoration who were there to serve the poor. It was a humble place and full of love.
As a kid, I was dragged or carried by my parents to Sunday Mass, where I later attended catechism (religious classes). It was there I met my nemesis, who later became my guardian angel — Sister Sophia. She taught the class and demanded complete attention. She taught us about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor and sick and respecting the dignity of every individual. It didn’t mean much then: I was only concerned that I got my tokens for Father Collins’ toy auctions. After class we marched to Sousa’s marches around the back, where we got a stale loaf of Wonder bread. That was fun and got our endorphins going.
Part of the conspiracy to learn values included the bribe — the tokens we earned for attending Mass and catechism. We saved them up for Father Collins’ big toy auction, where he periodically pinned up a variety of toys on bedsheets and we would bid on them using our tokens. Can you imagine a bunch of kids yelling and bidding, sometimes against ourselves, for whistles and other 10-cent toys? The big prizes were the windup toys and spinning tops. Little did we know that we were being taught how to be good people, since Father Collins started and ended the auction with us all praying.
To this day, when I hear a Sousa march my patriotism comes alive, as do my thoughts about the values I learned at the Guadalupe Mission. As a kid, learning about values didn’t mean much; however, now I realize they are the essence of being something more than oneself. And the lessons of my nemesis, Sister Sophia, are deeply embedded in my mind — and ears that she pulled when I messed up.
The conspiracy worked. For many of us, those values are part of our way of life — to care for the poor, care for each other and respect the dignity and worth of every individual. Many of us were fortunate to have had “a mission” to help us see that we are part of something other than ourselves, that in giving, our lives are enriched. Now, we have some elected officials who may have had the same value lessons from their churches but somehow seem to have ignored them by justifying following a higher principle. What might that higher principle be?
Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch's staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and commission on Hispanic education. Email: [email protected]