Carol Migliore considers her immaculately kept Chalmette home to be a sacred space, particularly the large living area – once the site of her ailing mother-in-law’s makeshift bedroom.
Migliore sang “When You’re Smiling” to her mother-in-law on the night before she died, and watched as her beloved “Momma Ro” received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick in the airy room.
“She passed in my arms,” recounted Migliore, 61. “As she passed, God, Jesus and her (late) husband were in this house to take her home.”
Suddenly filled with a sense of her own mortality, Migliore, an occasional Mass attendee who also prayed novenas to St. Therese of Lisieux, decided it was high time she got confirmed. Her husband of 45 years, Gary Migliore Sr., a retired stevedore, already had been confirmed as a sixth grader.
“We’re getting older, and I want to be with God and my husband when I pass away because I just love him so much,” said Migliore, describing the state of mind that prompted her to pursue confirmation.
Still, embarrassed about going through the traditional channels of RCIA because of her age, Migliore went to the home of Mark Shiffer, the eighth- and ninth-grade catechism teacher in her home parish of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Chalmette, and the former CCD teacher of her grandson, Santo Chagnard. She left the absent Shiffer a note: Was there any way he could prepare her for confirmation in her own home?
“If somebody’s gonna walk a quarter of a mile down the street, knock on your door, and say, ‘I really want to go through this process,’ what do you expect me to do? Of course I’m gonna see if it’s possible,” said Shiffer, who had never been asked to teach home lessons in his 25 years as a parish catechist. He contacted his parochial vicar, Father Salvador Galvez, and his pastor, Father Danilo Digal, to see if the archdiocese permitted confirmands to receive religious instruction in the home under special circumstances. Much to Shiffer’s surprise, the unusual request was given the green light within a day or two.
“Their message was, ‘Yes, everyone is entitled to get the information (to prepare them for the sacraments),” said Shiffer, who began holding the weekly two-hour classes in the Migliores’ home last July, in advance of Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s Oct. 16 confirmation Mass.
Class size mushrooms
But Shiffer’s biggest surprise came when he arrived to teach the first session: Not only did Carol Migliore want to be confirmed, seven other family members desired the sacramental preparation: Migliore’s daughter, Sherie, 42; sons Gary Jr., 40, and Roy, 39; Gary’s wife Stacey, 33; two grandchildren – Michael Chagnard, 23, and Santo Chagnard, 18; and Michael’s girlfriend, Brittany Catania, 20. Carol and Gary Migliore’s 11 other grandchildren, who are not of confirmation age, also flitted in and out of the classes.
“I have never seen the Holy Spirit so alive and well in a whole family,” Shiffer notes. “They have two big sofas in their living room – they would be filled and kids would be overflowing onto the staircase (during class time),” he said.
“Every time I showed up there was a minimum of 12 to 15 people in the room,” he adds. “They had the entire family there, front and center.”
The home-schooled confirmands – part of the group of 53 Our Lady of Prompt Succor parishioners who were anointed with chrism by Archbishop Gregory Aymond – gathered in the Migliores’ living room Oct. 27 to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving. Hanging prominently behind the home altar were two white gowns, symbolic of the white garments worn at Baptism.
“Christ is here today in this holy Eucharist,” noted the Mass’ celebrant, Father Galvez in his homily. “Every time you receive Jesus (in the Eucharist), it will inflame your hearts with the same passion, with the same flame that you felt that day when the hands of the bishop anointed your head with oil,” he said.
Home as church
Home Masses such as these, followed by a blessing of the house by the priestly celebrant, are part of a wider Our Lady of Prompt Succor initiative to reinvigorate parish life. Since announcing the opportunity last May, Father Digal and Father Galvez have said Mass in about 10 homes.
Following the Oct. 27 home Mass, Shiffer said Carol Migliore’s humble request for religious formation had uplifted his own faith.
“The Holy Spirit is alive and well in Chalmette,” Shiffer said. “Rarely do you see people who are so caught up in wanting to improve themselves religiously – who will take the time to run somebody down that they don’t know so well and ask for instruction, and then get the whole family to show up on time,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a family chomping at the bit to move themselves along further spiritually.”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.