The Faith of Our Fathers

This week we recognize the irreplaceable role of  fatherhood, a vocation to which all men are called. Pope Francis reminds us: “It is a term dearer than any other to us Christians because it is the name by which Jesus taught us to call God: father.”

By: Kevin Bohli

A Swiss study [1] that was performed in 1994 made some very significant connections between the faith life of fathers and the faith lives of their children.

father and son

Here is a summary:

  • When a mother and father attend church regularly:
    • 33% of their children will end up attending church regularly
    • 25% of their children will end up not attending at all
  • When a mother attends church regularly, but the father does not attend church at all:
    • 2% of their children will end up attending church regularly
    • 60% of their children will end up not attending at all
  • When a father attends church regularly, but the mother does not attend church at all:
    • 44% of their children will end up attending church regularly
    • 34% of their children will end up not attending at all

Furthermore, the study found:

  • If the mother is the first to become a Christian in a household, there is a 17% probability that everyone in the household will follow.
  • If the father is the first to become a Christian in a household, there is a 93% probability that everyone in the household will follow.

While there is surely a difference between a study in Switzerland in 1994 and the reality in the United States in 2015, this study points to something that I have long felt in my own life…that I am a Catholic today because my father led me here.

I have clear memories of waking up early every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember and going to Mass at Saint John Catholic Church in Westminster with my dad. He preferred the quiet 7 a.m. Mass and we sat in the same pew every week. The only time we did not go there was when we were on vacation in Ocean City and attended at Saint Luke Catholic Church instead. I don’t ever remember missing a single week. Ever. I can’t say I was particularly engaged in my faith, but I enjoyed the time with my dad, and it placed me in a routine that I wanted to continue once I was out on my own.

My father made sure that I participated in religious education from Kindergarten all the way into high school. I am sure that those wonderful teachers taught me well, but unfortunately I have very few memories of those classes.

That said, one time when I was perhaps in fifth or sixth grade, my father recognized that I was not really praying after receiving Communion. I have an amazingly clear and distinct memory of my father leaning over during Mass and whispering to me a short lesson about how we should say a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus in our quiet time after returning to our pew. It was no more than 30 seconds, but I can remember that moment like it was yesterday and it has stuck with me for 30+ years.

Mothers obviously also play a huge role in our faith lives, and I don’t mean to diminish that at all. I am sure that the faith of my mother and their marriage played a big part in supporting the faith life of my father. However, the study above is clear about the impact that fathers in particular have on their kids when it comes to passing on the faith.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday, perhaps it would be good to reflect on the role that your father played in your faith life. If your father did not pass the faith on to you, then say a prayer for him today that he would come to know Jesus in his life. If he has already passed away, then pray for the repose of his soul. If your father did attempt to pass the faith on to you, what better way to say “thank you” to your father than to get to Mass this Sunday and say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of him and the gift of faith?


[1] “The demographic characteristics of the linguistic and religious groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. It appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000.

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