By Joe Pisani, Catholic News Service
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. | When Christine Paine was 8, she took lessons in baton twirling at Christ the Redeemer Parish. One afternoon she broke away from the group and sneaked inside, her first in a Catholic church. Seeing the red altar lamp, she immediately realized she was in the presence of God.
It profoundly influenced her and marked the beginning of a life journey that would lead to the Catholic faith.
“I still remember seeing the red candle, and I was amazed that God was right there with me, and I was in awe,” she recalled.
“The church has given me a real conscience. It is perfect for me. Everything used to be gray, but I know now there are absolutes and that natural law is written on my heart,” said Paine, development director at Caroline House in Bridgeport.
Caroline House, begun in 1995 by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, is committed to serving immigrant women and children by helping them integrate into American life by teaching English and important life skills.
Paine’s journey to the Catholic Church unfolded over years. She was raised Episcopalian and from an early age, she was attracted to spirituality and religion. She attended Catholic schools, beginning with St. Gabriel School, where the sisters instilled a love of God and Mary.
“I remember walking into the church for the first time and turning around and seeing a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I cried,” she said. “I fell in love with the nuns, and I fit in because all my friends were Catholic.”
When her parents suggested that she attend Lauralton Hall, a high school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy, she didn’t resist because her friends were going there. The sisters had an enduring influence on Paine, marking another step in her journey to the Catholic faith.
“I would spend a lot of time praying in the chapel,” she recalled. “I had an inner longing for something more. I had a wonderful family and went to good schools, but there was a holiness that I just couldn’t find.”
Even though she was immersed in the Catholic faith at Lauralton, she was fighting the call to enter the church. “I loved the church, but there were so many reasons I thought it was wrong,” she said. “As an adolescent, I would sing from the rooftops, ‘If only the Catholic Church would get it together!'”
About that time, she met her future husband, Frank Paine. He went to West Haven High School and was a Catholic. Years later, they would marry in the chapel at Lauralton.
After graduating in 1988, she entered the University of Rhode Island. However, college life dampened her spiritual enthusiasm. She said her faith became “non-existent.”
After graduating from college, she held several jobs and while her career was successful, she was suffering from a longing that she couldn’t satisfy. She realizes now the longing was for Jesus.
“At 23, I just felt empty,” she said. “In order to find any kind of happiness, I knew I had to convert.”
She eventually started attending Mass at Church of St. Mary in New Haven.
“I loved the pageantry, and I loved the Mass. The mystery was dazzling to me,” she said. “And it’s still dazzling to me to know that Jesus Christ is truly present on the altar.”
Before becoming Catholic, Paine joined the pro-life movement, which she believes was a gift from the Holy Spirit. Her group of Catholic friends kept pushing her toward the church, asking, “Are you going to commit or not?”
“I was dancing around making a decision; I was attending Mass but not receiving Communion,” she said.
Finally, she decided to become Catholic and in 1993, she received first Communion and confirmation. She and Frank started dating again and were married in 1996.
They wanted to have children, but Christine could not get pregnant, so they began an intense appeal to Mary. In 2000 they were blessed with twins, Katherine and Frankie. They had more four more children: Abigail, Madeline, Michael and Caroline. The Paine family attends Mass together, prays together and volunteers together.
“Part of their life has been to help people who are poor and have special needs,” she said. “Every service hour they’ve done has been at Caroline House.”
Caroline House ministers with immigrant women and children. Women can enter a literacy program and onsite care is provided for their children. There also are lessons in computer skills, counseling, networking services, tutoring for children and citizenship classes, all with the goal to “break down the barriers of social and physical isolation that have kept low-income immigrant women from building better lives.”
Paine is known for her enthusiasm about her Catholic faith. “It is the most wonderful religion there is,” she said. “There are rules and beautiful devotions. There are steps I can follow that will help me and my family get to heaven. And when I ask God for forgiveness, he shows me his mercy all the time.”
She also has a very personal relationship with the Mary, whom she has held near to her heart ever since seeing the statue at St. Gabriel.
“When I ask her to help me, she always does, and I believe she led me to where I am today.”
Pisani writes for the Fairfield County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport.