Called By Name

Editor's Note: In this story with a purpose, St. Patrick parishioner Ronnie Muro describes how Father Pat Sullivan changed his life forever -- just by calling his name.

In tribute to Father Pat Sullivan on the occasion of his retirement, July 2007

As with many young adults, I found myself drifting away from church in my twenties. Four years away at college followed by a new job, new responsibilities and then two kids had made me an “occasional” church goer.  The priest at my church didn’t help matters with his angry sermons, his demands for money and his generally foul disposition.  But it wasn’t his fault. I was just drifting and it didn’t really matter to me.

Debbie and I started attending St. Catherine’s in Pratt City on occasion just to see what it was like. With two young children, we weren’t always there on Sunday. But on Christmas Eve we made sure to always show up.  Arriving late as usual, it was not surprising that we had to sit in the very first row.  How embarrassing was that?

It turned out to be a great thing, however, as I had a front-row seat for a scene I will never forget.  Here was this priest (Father Pat), distributing Communion, and I noticed that he called each person by name.  As the men, women and children continued to process to the Eucharist, I marveled that Father Pat knew every single name. Many, like me, were only there because it was Christmas. Surely some of them had to be visitors. How was it possible that he knew every name?  But he did.

It had always struck me prior to this night that Father Pat always seemed to remember my name. After meeting him just once at Immaculate Heart of Mary he remembered Debbie and me each time we visited St. Catherine’s.  He had a way of making you feel that you were special – certainly important enough to remember your name.

So we began trying to attend more regularly.  I remember another Sunday that we arrived late (as usual) and slipped into the choir loft with the kids.  It was an easy way to sneak in late and you could tend to the children easier in the loft without disturbing anyone.  I was near the back and noticed I could barely see Father Pat. I had to sit up in my seat just to see him on the altar.

Fr. Pat Sullivan

“I have called you by name. You are mine.”

Isaiah 43:1

During his sermon that day, he posed a question to the congregation. “What is the most important thing in your life?”  With Father Pat this was no rhetorical question. He wanted answers and he went one by one down the rows asking for answers. As he moved to the back of the church, I remember thinking, “Surely I am safe way up here in the choir loft.  “Besides,” I thought, slumping in my seat, “Father can’t even see me up here.”

Sure enough he started on those in the front row of the choir loft.  My heart was pounding. I hated talking in front of crowds and I hated being called out like this.  But of course, here came Father’s booming voice. “Ok, Ronnie, I know you’re trying to hide up there!”

I couldn’t believe it. What nerve! Calling me out like that. I should have been really ticked off. Instead, I summoned the courage to voice a response – “My family.” There, I did it. Two words. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?

As I thought about that I wondered why I didn’t get more upset at this priest for embarrassing me like that in front of the whole church. Be assured, I was embarrassed. But the funny thing was, I wasn’t really that mad.

In fact, I realized that it really meant something to me that Father Pat, in the middle of saying Mass, somehow knew I was there, knew where I was sitting, and of course, knew my name.  I guess that just overrode all the other negative feelings.

Soon we were regular members of St. Patrick and not long after, Father Pat and Sister Joan Harrington asked Debbie and me to start working with the youth of the church. My life was changed forever as that got me more involved in church than I had ever been.  It gave me a chance to learn more about my faith, to deepen my spirituality and to actually start practicing what had been preached to me for so many years.

As I reflect back I realize now how important it was to have Father Pat Sullivan there for me at that precise point in my life. With a simple hello, a hearty handshake and an occasional hug he brought me back to the church. But most importantly, he called me by name, and that made me feel special, even when I was hiding in the back of the choir loft.