A Tale of Two Cities: Chicago and Milwaukee

A Tale of Two Cities: Chicago and Milwaukee

In case you missed it, here’s my recent travel story for the Albany Times Union. One weekend, two great American cities: 

As the lazy days of summer wind down and travel plans shift from weeklong vacations to weekend getaways, it’s nice to know that a short hop on a direct flight from Albany International Airport can get you to the Windy City, where there’s something for everyone, whether your interests run toward sports, art, food, architecture or shopping. And, if you’re interested in tackling two cities, a quick and inexpensive Amtrak ride will take you from Chicago to Milwaukee, where more of everything awaits on the banks of the seemingly endless Lake Michigan.

Chicago is one of those cities that almost everyone has been through — even if only on a layover at one of its twomajor airports — but doing a deep dive into the city of deep-dish pizza can fill a weekend to overflowing.

Having a game plan is a good bet. Start by choosing from one of the many hotels that are within walking distance of most major sights. Somewhere along the Magnificent Mile, known for its upscale shops, is the perfect location for navigating the must-see attractions. Purchase the Chicago CityPASS, and you’ll save money and time by getting one ticket to access five key attractions.  Continue reading…

Miscarriage: love and loss 24 years later

Miscarriage: love and loss 24 years later

My annual tribute to the baby I lost 24 years ago today, the baby I call Grace:

For the past few days I’ve been looking at the numbers on the calendar, growing more and more introspective as we inched closer to August 6. It was 24 years ago today that I learned the baby I was carrying, my second baby, had died 11 weeks into my pregnancy.

With a mother’s intuition, I had known something was wrong during that pregnancy from a couple of weeks before. The day Dennis and I — with Noah in tow — went to the midwife for my regular check up, I didn’t even take the little tape recorder with me to capture the sound of baby’s heartbeat, so convinced was I that I would hear only silence. I went back for the recorder only after Dennis insisted. But somehow I knew. Because when you are a mother sometimes you just know things about your children, even when there is no logical reason you should, even when they are still growing inside you.

When we went for the ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage, we saw the perfect form of our baby up on the screen. I remember Dennis looking so happy, thinking everything was okay after all, and me pointing out that the heart was still. No blinking blip. No more life.

With that same mother’s intuition, no matter how busy or stressed I am, no matter how many other things I seem to forget as I race through my life at breakneck speed, I never forget this anniversary. It is imprinted on my heart. As the date nears, I feel a stillness settling in, a quiet place amid the chaos, a space reserved just for this baby, the one I never to got hold, the one I call Grace.

In the past, I have talked about the ways Grace shaped our family by her absence rather than her presence, and that truth remains with me. I am very much aware of the fact that life would be very different had she lived. She managed to leave her mark on us, even without taking a breath. She lingers here, not only in my heart but around the edges of our lives — especially the lives of our two girls who followed her. I know them because I did not know Grace. What a sorrowful and yet beautiful impact she had on us.

So thank you, baby, for all that you were and all that you have given us without ever setting foot on this earth. The power of one small life.

‘This is how you do Church.’

‘This is how you do Church.’

As I settled into my pew at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago one recent Sunday morning, I gazed up at the beautiful interior, a feast for the eyes, and hoped for a liturgy that would be a feast for my soul. I was not disappointed; in fact, I was joyful, verging on giddy.

Thumbing through the cathedral bulletin before Mass, I read an informative public policy piece on growing anti-Catholic sentiments and religious liberty; a short reflection on that day’s Gospel story; and a reflection on the upcoming Feast of Mary Magdalene that made this Magdala fan-girl smile from ear to ear. In terms of a spiritual meal, this spread was a feast of delicious appetizers that left me content and looking forward to the main course, which was everything I’d hoped for and more.

The music was accessible and easy to sing. The homily was on-point and offered food for thought. The Liturgy of the Eucharist was reverent to the point of giving me goosebumps. The pews were filled with people young and old, families and singles, but, best of all, so many young adults. After a liturgy that was beautiful from start to finish, the lector ran through announcements about upcoming events — coffee and pastry in the courtyard after Mass, a summer jazz concert (BYO picnic dinner), a paint-and-sip party. Everything was free and open to anyone and everyone, no exceptions. I turned to my husband, Dennis, and said: “This is how you do Church.”

As we walked out of Mass, we were stopped multiple times by people encouraging us to join them in the courtyard. The young priest who wrote the Mary Magdalene reflection was greeting people in the back. (I knew he was the writer because he was wearing a name tag.) I stopped to thank him for the inspiration. Then I made my way over to the celebrant so I could thank him as well.

Maybe the hopefulness of that morning has something to do with the population of Chicago in general. I had felt a surge of hope as we wandered the halls of the Chicago Art Institute because it was so crowded with young adults and families, but I believe my Mass high was due to more than demographics. It was due to the intentional effort that had been made to welcome newcomers, to find points of connection, to offer something relevant and inviting, to recognize that, while the Eucharist is Source and Summit, we humans often need tangible benefits to go along with the transcendent intangibles.

For years I’ve given a talk called “Lost Generation,” which focuses on reaching out to adult Catholics disconnected from the faith. One of my key points has been that we cannot bridge the divide by starting with theology, or even with Eucharist. For many people who are inactive or uncatechized, the Eucharist is a Mystery that requires time, prayer and revelation that doesn’t always arrive all at once when someone walks through the door. We have to meet people at the door, connect with them where they are, and walk with them down the path until the mundane gives way to Mystery.

That connection begins with sincere welcome, with broad inclusion, with coffee gatherings and painting classes — not just once in a while and not just with minimum effort. Connection begins with a willingness to let go of the old mantra, “We’ve always done it this way,” and open our hearts and minds to new ways of doing things.

There’s a surefire way to know if we’re on target: Imagine you are a non-Catholic — or disconnected Catholic — walking into Sunday Mass at your church for the very first time. Would that experience of Church make you want to come back a second time? If the answer is not a resounding YES, it’s time to rethink the usual routines.

People are hungry for deep connection and loving community. If you build it, they will come. And they will bring their friends.

This column originally appeared in the Aug. 4, 2022, issue of The Evangelist.

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