It’s my church too

My church too

Aileen Carlin Giannelli died on September 8.

By itself, that’s probably not something most readers are interested in.

Statistically, perhaps as many as 46,000 American Catholics died in September, and I am sure any reader of these words can name at least one of them.

But this particular American Catholic was my wife’s mother and my good friend.

Aileen was one of six children born to a Brooklyn schoolteacher and the son of a New York City police captain who, after a stint on the New York stage and declining an invitation to join the Mercury Theatre of Orson Welles and John Houseman, himself joined the NYPD, later working as a court attorney.

Coming from a family of cops, actors, lawyers, teachers, and proud Irish know-it-alls, Aileen made an unusual choice when she entered a Maryknoll convent after graduating high school.

She eventually left the convent, once telling me that she felt like she might do more good as a layperson.

But she remained close to Maryknoll spiritually and vocationally.

She did plenty.

Aileen taught first in the Paterson, New Jersey public schools, then in a series of Catholic grammar and high schools before becoming a Catholic school principal in 1997.

At 60, she earned a Ph.D. in church leadership from Fordham, and her final professional years were spent as an adjunct professor there in the Graduate School of Religious Education.

Along the way, she had a long, happy marriage, raised two children, adored four grandchildren, and her generosity sustained family, friends, neighborhood children, her parish, and a variety of outreach ministries.

Serving others humbly until the last 17 days of her life, her rest now is well earned.

Like me, my wife was a teenager during the 1980s.

One Sunday, after a few weeks of watching her mom come home from Mass a little exasperated with the direction the church had begun taking in those days, my wife asked an innocent question: “If the church upsets you so much, why do you keep going back?”

Aileen told her daughter, simply and without rancor, “It’s my church, too, and I’m not leaving.”

That conversation stayed with my wife.

As the crisis in the church continues to unfold, I am thinking about it, too.

The pews were emptying even before the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the McCarrick revelations, and Archbishop Viganò’s testimony.

We have been through Boston.

We have seen consumerism and materialism eat into the church’s grip on Catholics’ imaginations. Polarization has taken a terrible toll.

Still, what we are living through now feels like something different. Continue reading

  • Steven P. Millies is associate professor of public theology and director of The Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
  • Image: Things not seen radio.
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