During his weekly adoration hour at midnight on Friday mornings, St. Joseph Church in Conway parishioner Don Kremer would walk into the adoration chapel, approach the altar, stand on the steps with his arms raised, praying for his four adult children to come back to the Church.
On July 27, 2018, he heard an answer. But it wasn’t what he expected.
“I clearly heard Jesus say, ‘You are praying the wrong prayer.’ It really shook me up when I heard that. Isn’t that my job? Isn’t it my job to get my kids back to the Church? It was a spiritually boggling experience to me. ‘You need to let go of your kids and focus on yourself instead,’” Kremer said.
While Susan Mendiola, a parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers, did not have the same type of holy encounter, she came to a spiritual awakening of her own, diving into her spirituality and sharing that faith with her daughter rather than trying to convince her to go to Mass.
“I believe she is going to attend when she makes the conscious choice in God’s time, not mine,” Mendiola said. “When she does answer God’s call to be his servant and desires to be as close as she can to Jesus on earth, she will ultimately know from everything that I share with her and everything she has learned so far that the Catholic Church and its bridegroom Jesus in the Eucharist is waiting for her with open arms daily at the holy sacrifice of the Mass in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
Parents Kremer and Mendiola have pursued a deeper personal faith as their adult children wrestle with theirs. Their experiences can be a roadmap of trusting in God for other parents whose adult children have left the Church.
Mendiola, a cradle Catholic, carried on faith traditions passed down to her. Though she received her sacraments, Mendiola did not regularly attend Mass while growing up.
Her three children — now 19, 21 and 28 — were baptized, attended religious education and went to Mass “every Sunday that I could,” which did not mean every week.
“My husband did not attend Mass at the time,” she said. “I would say when my oldest daughter left for college, and we started having some struggles at home, I began diving deeper into my faith and learning about Scripture and incorporating everything the Catholic Church has to offer into my life.”
This conversion of heart led to a deeper appreciation for Catholicism that impacted the lives of her two youngest, who now attend Mass as a family.
However, her oldest daughter, Monica, no longer attends Mass.
“She hasn’t told me why. I think it’s just based on her upbringing and how we practiced at home at that time,” Mendiola said. “She does allow my grandson to attend Mass with me. … I see her somewhat light up when I share stories of faith with her. We invite her to Mass every Sunday; she declines.”
However, on Holy Thursday this year, Monica said yes.
“She said she felt called to be there,” Mendiola said. “She was happy she was there.”
But Mendiola said she avoids the “selfish” temptation to push her daughter back into the faith.
“I continue to have faith that God is working in her life, and she has the tools, wisdom and knowledge from her confirmation gifts to know how to listen and answer God’s call to come back into communion with the Catholic Church when it’s her time,” Mendiola said.
Kremer, a certified spiritual director, can trace his conversion of heart to his four adult children no longer attending the Catholic Church. He and his late wife, Cherie, on paper, did all the “right” things — they attended weekly Mass, made sure their children received the sacraments and attended religious education, but an “underlying faith,” the “why” of why humans were put on earth, was not clearly spelled out.
“Faith has to say there’s a reason for humanity, and we’re here to make a difference in the universe and the world. … There’s something bigger going on here. Much bigger than individual salvation,” Kremer said.
He explored disaffiliation in his thesis at Fordham University in New York, where he received his doctorate of ministry in 2022.
For his thesis, he interviewed his adult children about why they left the Church. There were some surprises, including how each one had a catechist tell them at some point in religious education, “If you don’t do this and this, you’re going to hell,” which made them angry about the Church later in life. He also discovered they walked away from the Church much younger than he realized, one as young as third grade.
“When our kids are young, I’m afraid what we do is cram down their throats stories about Jesus, but it’s superficial without the underlying, ‘I can feel the presence of God in me, and there is a larger purpose,’” Kremer said.
Kremer has a loving relationship with all his children. He still prays for his children, but not that they will come back to Mass.
“My prayer right now is that they find their vocation in the world,” he said. “That they find the way to make the world a better place. I pray that they find their way to make the universe a divine place.”
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