Loved Ones Away from the Church? – A Holy Week Intention

Loved Ones Away from the Church? – A Holy Week Intention April 1, 2015
Names of loved ones I have been given by readers of The Prodigal You Love.
I keep them in prayer every day…

Do friendly atheists exist?

Simple answer: they do.

I was one.

Harry Shaughnessy is also one.

Harry was raised Catholic. He and his wife were married in the Church, attended Mass and sent their children to Catholic school. But Harry and his wife, Charlotte, eventually realized that they did not really believe.

So, they rejected their faith, became atheists and decided to raise their children without faith. They now top their Christmas tree with the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Harry has started a weekly Sunday gathering called Secular Together, a secular substitute for church services.

I recently read an article about the Shaughnessy family and while I found it all fascinating, my interest was especially peaked by the mentions of Harry’s parents, Jim and Marjorie Shaughnessy, who are faithful Catholics. Jim and Marjorie declined to be interviewed for the article, but they did send a short statement:

“It is not out of animus toward Harry or anything he is involved in that we are not interested in being part of your article, but rather out of respect for him and the rest of the family and a hope for open (and uncontaminated) discussion about it sometime in the future, should Harry choose to.”

That statement touched me. As did Harry’s remarks throughout the article that indicated that while he has become a strident atheist, he still cares about what his parents think.

One example brought back so many memories from when I was an atheist:

His parents change the subject whenever Harry’s atheist activism is mentioned, which saddens their son.

“I’m doing what they taught me to do,” he complains, “just without the dogma.”

I remember feeling similar frustrations. I once asked my parents if it would be possible to have conversations without mentioning God. My dad looked at me baffled and pained and said, “But he is the foundation of our lives Theresa.”

I can relate to Harry’s feelings of losing his grounding with his parents. When faith is the foundation of a person’s life it is impossible to maintain the same kind of intimacy with loved ones when they reject it. This is a sad truth and one that is, in a way, insurmountable. When a loved one does not share our faith, it naturally limits intimacy on a deep and fundamental level.

What pain.

For Harry and for his parents.

I have been around the country giving talks about my book The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. In every place I have been, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Florida, the sentiments are the same.

People are in pain.

When I first started talking to people about my book I had the inspiration to ask for their loved ones’ names so I could keep them in prayer. Pretty soon I had piles of scrap paper with names of loved ones. Some were written with eyes full of tears.

This Holy Week, I am going to transfer these names to a notebook. As I write, I am going to keep each person deeply in my prayers and I have asked my sisters in the Daughters of St. Paul to keep this intention close to their hearts this week. I invite you to join us in this prayer.

Please comment with the names of your loved ones who are away from the Church (first names only). If you are away from the Church and it causes the people you love pain, comment with your name, we can keep you in our prayers as well if you would like.

Please join the Daughters of St. Paul in prayer, especially during this holy time, for all relationships that are affected when people leave the Church, and for all those we love who have left the Church:

Prayer to Jesus

Jesus, sometimes I feel such sadness when I see my loved ones reject your presence in the Church. I long for them to see, to understand, and to delight in your Presence in the Eucharist. I desire the same joy and grace for them that I have found in the sacraments.

Yet, for reasons I cannot understand, my loved ones do not accept your presence in the Church. This causes me great suffering, but I know that it causes you greater suffering. Despite the pain that I feel, I am grateful for my suffering, which I know is a participation in your love for humanity, in your thirst for souls. In faith, I join the suffering I feel to the suffering that you experienced on the cross. On the cross you bore the rejection of all sinners, including me. I undergo this suffering willingly, knowing that I cause you suffering with my own sin and rejection of you in my own life. I offer this sacrifice up to you with joy and with love, knowing that you will use my sacrifice for great good.

                                                                   – From the appendix of The Prodigal You Love

May your Holy Week be blessed.

Also, if anyone knows Jim and Marjorie Shaughnessy, please message me. I would like to send them a free copy of my book. (Update:  Someone sent me their contact info, a book is on its way!)



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  • Kathryn Coe

    Thank you, Sr. Theresa for this. I clicked on a blog yesterday thinking from the headline that it was going to be a conversion story. It wasn’t. It was just complaining that atheists are hostile to Christians. And the comments just regurgitated the complaint along with some pretty ugly name calling. I thought that if I were an atheist scrolling through those comments, I’d be hostile too. Thank you for showing that there is a better way. much love to you. – Kathryn


    Please pray for Catherine and Andy, my daughter and son-in-law. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth

    Vince and also my brother Paul.

  • Margaret Rose Realy

    Linda, Christal, and Mary. All fallen away, all kind women, all in need of grace.

  • Michelle.

    Jill, Ralf, Jeremy, Chris, Joan

  • Michael

    Over 5,100 parents responded to the Strong Catholic Families survey asking what they most wanted to hear from the Church/church leaders.
    The results highlight two specific messages that were clear preferences and also
    indicated that leaders and parents did not always agree on what were the most
    important messages for parents. See the results at:

  • Wally Noon

    For Easter, why don’t you check out the Catholic Womanpriest worship center nearest you, maybe a Quaker or Unitarian service? See where the people who are never coming back have gone.

    • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

      Never coming back? If you read Sr Theresa’s book, you would know that she went to Quaker meetings for a while before returning to the Catholic Church.

      • Justin

        Ditto. Still love the Quakers- but it didn’t keep me out of the Church!

  • Randy Burbach

    I’m friendly, I’m an atheist. QED

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      I don’t need any evidence, I know lots of friendly atheists, but I am glad to meet another Randy 🙂

  • Pam Manners

    My daughter, Kate. Thanks so much, Sr. Theresa. <3

  • dylinn25

    Thank you for your prayers! Tyler, Laura, Mary, Kyle, Traci, Lydia and Andrew

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    Will join in prayer for all of these persons. The upcoming Year of Mercy will be a propitious time…

  • Justin

    Some words of encouragement for families, especially parents: my mother was a deeply devout woman, an amazing witness of faith, the adopted “Mom” of all of my friends with struggles, deeply charitable- you know the type! And yet, I became an atheist in my late teen years (out of Methodism, which I don’t think I ever *really* believed), which was devastating to her. Through my entire adult life up to her death I was a dedicated atheist, which I know caused her extreme pain. Moreover, I know she frequently blamed herself, concerned that she had done something which “lost” me. Now, four years after she passed, I’m preparing to fully join the church on Saturday. I mourn that I cannot share it with her, but everything she did, the entire life in Christ she lived informed and shaped me, and helped bring me to this point (and improved me even in my years without faith). Seeds can take a long time to germinate, sometimes even until after the planter is long gone- but trees frequently outlive the planter! I hope this helps someone struggling this year- I will be praying with you.

    • Mary Petnel

      Thank you for this. I was not as devout when I was raising my daughter – so she has fallen away. I have been back for 10 years and I blame myself for not “doing right by her” even though I sent her to Catholic School and attended Mass – I was nominal in my heart. I offer every Eucharist for her conversion and for God to send her a good Catholic husband if it be His holy will. I may not live to see it, as your beloved mom did not live to see your conversion, but I know my prayers are not lost.

  • Dani MarieBernadette D’Angelo

    This was an awesome article Sister Theresa <3 Please add Donamaria, Jennifer, Andy, Jackie and Bobby to your list that need prayer and thank you for your prayers.

  • Diane Beattie

    Thanks for a beautiful article, please pray for Angela and Juan….and I will pray this week for all mentioned here.

  • idaloren

    Please pray for Ina, Raul and Louis. Thank you!

  • Please pray for Peter, Susannah, Benjamin, Daniel, Leah, Jamie, Alex, Maddy, Diane, David, Jeremy, Jonathan, Kathy, and Geoff. God bless!

  • Holy Wannabe

    Please pray for Emily, Joe, Ann, John, Joshua, Teresa, Sarah, Rebecca and Cathy. Thank you so much!!

  • captcrisis

    Most self declared atheists aren’t really atheists. They simply have rejected a particular form of theism.

  • Hesychast

    Great post – thank you!

  • Laura

    Please pray for my dear friends Fran and Allie. Thank you!

  • Bob Bolondz

    Many of us agnostics/atheists will be wishing you good folks will be able to break free of your superstitions this year. Your prayers are neither necessary or effective. However, thanks for the thought. Peace out.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Bob, you wish for us what you think is best, just as we pray for you for what we believe is best. Thomas Aquinas said that love is to “will the good of the other.” Only one of us is right, but at least we are both trying to will (but not force upon others) what we see to be the good of the other.

  • Michelle


  • Mary Petnel

    Christina – Marie – Noelle, Kerri and Shaina