I am an Ascension Catholic. Not a great Ascension Catholic. But I am, I know, a far better Catholic when under that East Avenue dome than when I consider my place in the overall Roman Catholic Church.

In fact, I try not to think much about the Church of Rome, the pope, the edicts, the structures and their prideful inequities. I could fill a column in writing about priests and boys and cover-ups, the illogic of pro-life and pro-death penalty, the current interrogation of nuns and their orders as a means to reinstate repression, the welcoming of Anglicans and the repudiation of gays and women that to me it represents.

Instead, I’ll think again to Saturday evening when our daughter, Mariah, and 83 of her peers chose to be confirmed. Eighty-four 13-year-olds. Young men and women. Sponsors at their shoulders. Choosing, I know with widely varied appreciations of the moment, to be more fully members of a worthy community. Being recognized on their passage from unformed kids into young people who make astounding and consequential choices. Being credited and challenged to make those choices with a spirited conscience. Being challenged to rise out of the blinding self-involvement of their curious age to see the world anew in its complexity, failure and hope, to believe in their untested power to make positive change.

I’ll think about the faces I knew. A man who takes pleasure in declaring himself a “parish priest.” New friends of my daughter’s since she began middle school at Ascension. Her oldest friend from our old block whom she has known since the very start. The music director who remembers my dad from decades in the choir. The religious coordinator who has a grace about her that says simple and profound things. One of my sisters, who sponsored Mariah. Another sister, the Sister, who is remarkably now 40 years in the convent. My wife, Mary, and the look on her face as she distributes communion. Mariah’s face, her sister Marissa’s face. Two sisters, two years apart, adopted by two Oak Park families and profoundly and goofily and wonderfully connected.

To be a Haley at Ascension is to understand deep roots and a powerful sense of place and time. My five siblings baptized there. First communions and confirmations. So many sermons slept through. Dreaded confessions. Mary and I were married at Ascension by my dad’s brothers, Jack and Joe, the two most divergent priests ever ordained. Think Oscar and Felix, only in liturgical mode. Our two kids baptized under the dome. Both my parents buried from there, embraced by a church community in an utterly transforming way.

And driving home Saturday evening toward the family party, the first spoken acknowledgement/realization by Mary that someday she expects to be buried from there, too.

Likely, I’m not Catholic enough to meet the expectations of many. And I’m not out to offend, though I believe that many Catholics, in defending their definition of the church, take offense too quickly. The Catholic Church has long been focused on parishes and their boundaries. As a kid, I understood we were on the right side of Taylor Avenue to be included in Ascension parish, as opposed to neighbors who headed to St. Catherine’s. Ascension has had strong pastors and ones who, to me, left few traces. But the strength of community has long been building, amplifying the instincts of a good priest and covering for those with not much to offer.

This is a good moment for a good place.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...