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How the bells of St Agatha’s lead Lisa back to the Catholic Church

Lisa Carter

Lisa Carter: “I was away from the Church for 14 years … and I didn’t like going to anyone’s church – Catholic church or any church.”

LISA Carter was out of touch and drifting from the Church for a long time, until the church bells of St Agatha’s, Clayfield called her back.

For 14 years, she had no interest in being a part of any Church, let alone the Catholic faith in which she was raised.

Like so many of her friends, she was disillusioned, but deep down she was still Catholic.

The bells calling people to Sunday Mass also started to work on Lisa and she could resist no more.

She followed the bells, rejoined the flock and is now helping others to reconnect through the Catholics Returning Home program at St Agatha’s.

It wasn’t an easy road back.

Lisa had been raised a Catholic, attended St Finbarr’s primary school and Mt St Michael’s College at Ashgrove, “and then continued Mass and everything”.

She said that all changed after she was married in her early 20s and the marriage “did not work out”.

“That was what really sort of broke it for me, because I thought that somehow the Church had let me down,” she said.

Lisa felt the Church had told her, “If you do this, this and this everything turns out alright”.

She was left with a broken marriage and disillusion instead.

“That was the catalyst I suppose,” she said.

“I was away from the Church for 14 years from there, and I didn’t like going to anyone’s church – Catholic Church or any church.

“It was really a case of – how I saw it – that the Church had let me down.

“Because it was some sort of a stamp on you if you divorced and all that sort of thing, so you feel like you’re not welcome in the Church, which Pope Francis has sort of put right now, I guess.

“So there was that and just, I suppose, a disappointment in myself with that as well.

“I didn’t like any Church. I thought it was all misguiding, I guess.”

She was no different from many other young Catholics her age.

“Most people I knew had stopped going to Mass and having an association with Catholicism after high school, so I was a bit of a stayer, really, in that way,” she said.

“To be away from the Church didn’t change anything because no-one else around you was really doing much.”

But her Catholic roots ran deep.

“You know, you grow up in that Catholic environment and it kind of never leaves you, particularly if you’ve been to a Catholic school,” Lisa said.

“And, so I lived near a church, a few doors up at Windsor, for about nine years … and I started to think, ‘Oh, maybe I might go there one day’, but I didn’t.

“Then I moved to Clayfield and I heard (church) bells again – and I thought only Anglicans rang the bells – but that’s when I thought, ‘I might go to wherever those bells are coming from, one day’.

“And eventually I did, in 2003.

“From there I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go along and if I don’t like it I don’t have to go again’.”

Lisa said leading up to that point her movement back to the Church had not been a conscious thing.

“But obviously I thought, ‘Well, there is something missing because life has not turned out the way I thought it might’ or ‘What does it all really mean?’,” she said.

“And I started to question or to get that call shortly after I moved (to Clayfield) and heard those bells but it took me a couple of years to actually act on it.

“You sort of can get the message from, I guess, the Holy Spirit through different ways and one of them was (the urge to respond to the bells).”

Lisa has heard similar stories from people coming to Catholics Returning Home.  

“They all come along and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I just felt something was missing’ …,” she said.

“That same story is repeated in all of us and we’ve just got to go on the journey of discovery, I suppose, of a more spiritual life.”

On her own experience of being prompted by the bells, Lisa said “you always say that’s the Holy Spirit connecting you with maybe who you need to be connected with at the time”.

“Other people have come along and have seen our banner or one fellow said, ‘I kept driving past that church and I thought, ‘I’ve got to go in there one day’,” she said.

“And eventually he got around to it and got a brochure for the Catholics Returning Home program and that’s when he came back.

“So, I guess, pay attention, but we always say people will come when they’re ready; we can’t force it. Sometimes it takes years, like myself and a few other people on the team who’ve passed through – it can be years.”

Lisa said “landing in the right parish” was also a blessing for her.

She is grateful that parish priest at St Agatha’s when she arrived there was Brisbane archdiocese’s judicial vicar Fr Adrian Farrelly.

“I went through that annulment process and that probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t have gone to where we had the judicial vicar who knew how to approach things and knew how to approach people,” she said.

Fr Farrelly’s pastoral approach was also crucial in Lisa’s return.

“His message has been the same all the time, which is ‘You’re loved by God and as a Christian this is what we do, we try and help people’,” she said.

Fr Farrelly had a big influence in Lisa’s early days of reconnecting.

“The way his homilies came out you could start to get an understanding of what the Church was really about – obviously not just going to Mass; it’s Christian life,” Lisa said.

She said Fr Farrelly was “very much an instrument of faith, an example of faith” whose message hit home.

It was important for “returning Catholics” to have that kind of example – “someone who’s living a Christian life and showing you how to go”.

“That’s what you’re looking for – someone, I guess, to show you who Christ is,” Lisa said.

By Peter Bugden

Written by: Peter Bugden
Catholic Church Insurance

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