Living the Faith in My Corner of California

In the comments below, Manny invited me to say a few words about living as a faithful Catholic in the state of California. I’ll state up front that I’m not a political blogger, nor am I qualified to making sweeping defenses of every issue on the plate. But I can respond — at least from one mom’s perspective — to Manny’s question, “Is California as anti Catholic (or anti religious in general) as it seems?”

California is a big, diverse and beautiful melting pot of a state, just as in many ways our Church engenders those same qualities. I grew up in Southern California, educated at amazing Catholic schools in Orange County that were built by families who cared about passing along their faith to their children. After a stint at Notre Dame and graduate school at Vanderbilt University, my husband and I resettled in Los Angeles during his residency. When that training was finished, we moved to our home here in Fresno, which is situated in California’s Central Valley.

Since we’ve lived in Fresno for over eighteen years, I feel best equipped to share a bit on what it’s like to be Catholic in my part of the state. Admittedly, the Valley is likely more conservative politically than those who live north and south of us. I’d also call my home town very religious, although we have a diverse population of faith families sharing our community. The earliest records of the Diocese record the arrival of Blessed Junipero Serra and his companions in 1770. In the Jubilee year of 2000, the Diocese reported over 325,000 Catholics being served by 82 active priests. My home diocese stretches over multiple counties and encompasses a broad part of the center of our state.

I’ll share with you just a few thoughts on actively living out my faith in my home state:

  • Being Catholic in California means valuing the diversity of our population. In my home parish, I can attend Mass in a variety of languages (including Latin) and I count as friends folks from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This means learning in new and every evolving ways about the beauty of being one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
  • Being Catholic in California means having to actively teach my children (who have attended public high schools) about things I didn’t encounter until my college years. But honestly, I am sure that the same conversations are happening in homes all over the country as our youngsters encounter “adult” topics at an ever younger age. Since we’ve chosen an educational environment for our sons that exposes them to real world issues, it is our responsibility and duty to be constantly tuned in, discussing, and praying with and for them.
  • Being Catholic in California means being able to drive a stretch of highway that in fifteen minutes takes me from wealthy families living in million dollar mansions to migrant families living in shacks. Being Catholic here means not being able to turn a blind eye to the very real needs of the poor, and it means constantly challenging myself to look at how I can do more to love and serve them in my own little corner of the world.

Obviously, this list could go on and on. For the sake of conversation, I’d like to ask each of you what “Being Catholic” in your corner of the world looks like — what are the challenges you and your family face each day in living out your commitment to your faith?

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at

  • Lori Miller

    Being Catholic in Dallas-Fort Worth is similar yet different to your experience in California. DFW is a growing area with many people moving here from all over the country. My community, albeit conservative, is diverse in culture and religion. Although we have a strong Catholic population from a diverse cultural experience, there is also a strong Protestant population. I often joke with my friends that we live on the belt-buckle of the bible belt. And since I am a convert from the Southern Baptist faith, my experience as a Catholic in this community is rather interesting. My Protestant friends challenge me to know my faith on a deeper level. And in all of our conversations, we realize that we have more in common that we ever thought. Our faith communities often come together in prayer, worship and service projects that benefit the greater community. Being Catholic in DFW is a unique and rewarding experience that I hope many other communities share.

  • Lisa Hendey

    Lori, having visited and seen your vibrant DFW Catholic community first hand, I agree with you! I hope others will chime in and share the take as well!

  • Ryan Haber

    Being Catholic in Maryland, in the suburbs of the nation’s capital, means being connected to the first English-speaking Catholics to land in the New World and with new immigrants still learning to speak English in a new world. It means having the opportunity to meet every sort of person in between because Catholics come here from Pittsburgh and from Pakistan. It means going through the growing pains of learning how to welcome all the children of our mystical Mother, the Church. Being a Catholic here means that even if, like so many area residents, you are a transient, you are nonetheless at home.

    It means knowing that we, the Church, have been on this soil for longer than the United States, and not fearing about the transient politics we witness at first hand. It means learning how to articulate the Catholic faith without being strident or triumphalist, without being cowed or gulled by the powers of this world. Being Catholic here, so close to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, means getting to go to the amazing March for Life every single year for the expense and difficulty of a metro fare card. It means being part of a community that is very deliberately and consciously learning to explain our faith to the outside community within which we live. Catholics here have ample opportunities to do so as more and more parishes implement Bible studies, Catechism classes for adults, faith sharing groups, youth and young adult groups, and mothers and fathers groups geared toward helping them raise their children in our holy religion.

    Being Catholic in my neck of the woods means being blessed with an abundance of parishes, a wide range of Mass times any day of the week, and increasingly available confession schedules. It means being able to stop in at church to pray or hear Mass on your way to or from work. It means being able to stop in our gorgeous cathedral or the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception when spending the day downtown anyway. It means being a stone’s throw from the beautiful countryside where Mother Seton trod and which the Church still memorializes with shrines and chapels.

    Being a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is a grace built upon the first grace of being Catholic at all. I am unspeakably grateful for both and should be more than happy to assist anybody who would like to come and see.

  • lisahendey

    Ryan, I hereby volunteer to come check it out! Seriously, next time I am in DC I will get in touch for an insider’s tour and perspective. Thanks for sharing your lovely thoughts!

  • Peggy Bowes

    Being a Catholic in Mount Airy, North Carolina (also known as “Mayberry” because Andy Griffith grew up here) means being a very tiny minority. There are more registered Quakers than Catholics here! Since most people are Southern Baptists, I have been forced to really dive in to apologetics and to teach this important part of our faith to my children.

    As a Catholic author and writer, I am often asked pointed questions about my faith or am met with complete silence after answering questions about my profession. I am learning to answer in a gentle and non-confrontational way and have been able to teach many of my Baptist friends that we actually have a lot in common.

    An advantage of living in such a small Catholic community is that we all get to know each other. I have met some wonderful people, and the fact that we are a minority helps bring us closer together.

  • Manny

    Being Catholic in NYC is similar too. I actually enjoy being in California. It is diverse and large. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, it contains multitudes. I certainly didn’t mean to be offensive. I think I said it “seems” anti Catholic. ;)