April 11, 2014

Coming home: Woman’s return to the Church is a story touched by tragedy and love

Mary Lynn Burrows and her husband, Bob, are pictured in Holy Spirit Church in Indianapolis on March 23. Mary Lynn returned to the Church in 2009 after being away from the faith for 41 years. (Submitted photo)

Mary Lynn Burrows and her husband, Bob, are pictured in Holy Spirit Church in Indianapolis on March 23. Mary Lynn returned to the Church in 2009 after being away from the faith for 41 years. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: This story is one in a continuing series about people who have left the Church and/or lost their faith in God only to rediscover later the meaning that God and the Church have in their lives.)

By John Shaughnessy

The fear of what she had to admit nearly stopped Mary Lynn Burrows from making her confession.

Yet, since she was already inside the church, Burrows figured she shouldn’t turn back.

“I finally garnered enough courage to enter the room where confessions were heard,” she recalls.

“I uttered the words, ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 41 years since my last confession.’ ”

Taking a deep breath, Burrows wondered how the priest would react and what her lengthy penance would be.

“I will never forget the huge smile that came across his face when he told me, ‘Welcome back,’ ” she says. “I stumbled through my confession and forgot the Act of Contrition. He asked me if I wanted to be forgiven for all of my sins, and I emphatically said, ‘Yes—and for all the ones I can’t remember.’

“My penance was to say a prayer of thanksgiving for returning to the Church. When I left the room, I told him, ‘I will see you at Communion.’ ”

That 2009 moment between Burrows and Father Christopher Wadelton—then the recently-ordained associate pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis—became etched in her mind forever.

“Over the years when he gave me Communion, after my Amen, I always said, ‘Thank you, Father,’ and he still gave me his warm smile.”

A story marked by tragedy and love

Burrows smiles, too, whenever she recalls the “welcome home” she received after acknowledging that she had been away from the Church for 41 years.

Still, the homecoming is one part of the story. There is also the part about why she left the Church. Then there is the part about what finally led her back to the Church—a chapter marked by a love found later in life.

Burrows’ story of why she left the Church is one of a family fading away from its faith.

“I was raised in St. Andrew Parish [in Indianapolis] and attended school there through eighth grade,” recalls the 1969 graduate. “After eighth grade, we moved to the far east side of Indianapolis. I switched to the public school system. The good news was that I found I already knew the ninth-grade math, English and science from the wonderful education I received at St. Andrew’s. The bad news is we quit attending Mass.”

One of the few times that Burrows attended Mass in the next 30 years occurred after a family tragedy in 1995. Her brother, Frank Patrick “Pat” Fisse drowned in a kayaking accident. Their parents wanted a Catholic funeral for him. All that Burrows remembered about the Mass was that “a wonderful priest” celebrated it for her brother.

“It was such a numbing time,” she says.

A far more joyous time in her life led her to consider returning home to the Church.

‘An aha moment from God’

When she became romantically involved with Bob Burrows, he was already a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. He often attended daily Mass at the church and prayed the rosary.

“When we got married in 2008, Bob and I started going regularly to Mass with my mom,” she says. “It felt strange going back. It took me a couple of months to feel comfortable. The people there were so nice.”

In 2009, Msgr. Paul Koetter became pastor of Holy Spirit. At the same time, Burrows’ renewed involvement with the Church led her to rediscover her first connections with the Catholic faith—and a discovery that she calls an “aha moment from God.”

“Remembering my youth attending Catholic Church, I dug out my First Communion Prayer Book,” she says. “Stuck in it were the various holy cards I had collected over the years.”

Among those cards was the notation that Msgr. Koetter was the one who celebrated the funeral Mass for her brother. Until that moment, she hadn’t known the priest’s name.

“I just remember his well-thought-out homily of a man he did not know,” she recalls.

For her, it’s another smile-inducing part of a story she has told many people—a story marked by forgiveness, a homecoming, and love on many levels, including the love of God.

“Coming back, it’s like it was supposed to be,” she says. “When I met Bob, it was like God made it happen for a reason. One of the reasons, I think, was for me to come back to the Church.

“I feel like I’m home again.”

(Have you returned to the Church after being away from it for some time? If so, The Criterion would like to share your story of what led you to come back to the Church, and what it has meant to you. Please send your story to assistant editor John Shaughnessy by e-mail at jshaughnessy@archindy.org or by mail in care of The Criterion, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. Please include a daytime phone number where you can be reached.)


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