“I want to ask you a question — Is it all right to smile in church?”
That is how, at the close of Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Clinton, Father Michael Sequeira would begin a story of his close friend and companion—a black cat he named Roman Catholic. His congregations would hear of the life, adventures, musings, and lessons learned from his beloved, sassy cat. And they would broadly smile their “Amens.”
So it was for most of the more than twenty-five years that Father Michael was pastor of St. Mary’s, a trilingual parish church hosting American, Brazilian, and Hispanic communities. To be able to effectively serve Hispanic parishioners, Father traveled to several Central and South American countries to learn not just the language, but more importantly, the culture of the countries represented. After that, he traveled to Brazil to learn the Portuguese language and culture. And then, in order that all might have an opportunity to hear Mass, he celebrated seven Masses every weekend—five in English and one each in Spanish and Portuguese.
While on one of his language-learning trips—to Cusco, Peru—he witnessed particularly acute poverty and destitution and was asked if he could bring some of his parishioners to work with the needy. Father Michael solicited volunteers from among not only his own congregants, but from all three of Connecticut’s Catholic dioceses, and over the next five years arranged and laboriously guided two hundred volunteers on a total of six two-week trips to Cusco to work among the poor—orphans, children abandoned in the streets, children abused by parents, children in hospitals. Housed in modest accommodations, he and his volunteers taught English, built homes and nurtured the children with attention, food, games, grooming, and with their caring presence. And they themselves learned first-hand to more fully appreciate and give thanks for their own abundant blessings.
Growing up in a small village in Southern India, Father Michael’s family had grown rice. As a child, he witnessed how animals were necessary for life there—as beasts of burden used to cultivate fields, and needed for food. He came to see God’s creatures, both wild and domestic, through eyes of gentleness and compassion. And so it was that when, much later, a lost cat came into his life in Clinton, Father Michael and the rescued cat mutually agreed to a trial living arrangement. It soon came to the realization of everyone who knew Father Michael and his cat, that it was Roman Catholic who rescued Father and not the other way around. The church sacristan, Lena, believed that God sent the headstrong cat to Father to help him retain his perspective and sense of humor. In any case, Roman Catholic and Father Michael’s sometimes conflicting needs coalesced into a relationship of devotion to each other and to the parishioners of their flock.
Now in retirement, Father Michael is busy as ever. He ministered to the Hispanic community at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hamden, Connecticut, and takes Masses in the towns surrounding Clinton. Roman Catholic’s spirit remains alive as Father Michael tells of the life lessons of this precious God-sent creature. And now he has written them into a charming collection called Stories of an Outstanding Cat.
In his distinctive narrative voice and in his banter with Roman Catholic, Father Michael tells of their unique relationship in short vignettes full of love and humor, compassion and hope—precious commodities much needed in our topsy-turvy world. These delightful Stories of an Outstanding Cat are uplifting and spiritual; they will resonate with readers of all ages and generations, who will easily identify with the joy that our furry or feathered friends bring into our lives.
The illustrator: Stories of an Outstanding Cat has been creatively and humorously illustrated by Dianne Coyle, whose sensitivity and love for all of God’s creatures shines through. Dianne and her papillon (a dog, not a butterfly) live in Madison, Connecticut.