On July 9, 2019, my parents celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary, and my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
I was in Washington, nearing the end of my internship with Catholic News Service. After dinner, I got a call from my mom. “Hey, Syd,” she said, her voice cracking.
Anxious, I asked if everything was OK. There was a long pause. Then, my dad spoke.
“Syd, Mom has developed a rare form of cancer called ampullary carcinoma.”
My mom was anemic, Dad said. The doctor found a tumor developing through a screening. Thankfully, the doctor caught it early, but Mom needed to start chemo ASAP because of how quickly the cancer can affect the digestive system.
I wasn’t prepared for what Dad said next.
“The Holy Spirit came to Mom the week or so before she got the diagnosis and revealed to her that she is going to go through something very difficult that will affect the family, but ultimately, she will conquer it.”
I experienced a wave of peace. Tears covered my face. I knew what Dad said was true. My mom is a strong, faith-filled woman, who has an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Dad ended the call with a prayer for strength and reassurance that Mom would combat this. I surrendered to the Holy Spirit that night and slept peacefully.
I was anxious to see my family after receiving the news. But I had to finish the final weeks of my internship before I could fly home for a few days and then return to the East Coast to begin graduate school in Maryland.
At CNS, I was working on a video project, filming Catholic sites in Washington including St. Augustine Catholic Church, known as the “mother church of Black Catholics in DC.”
Its heritage dates to 1858, and the community evolved from the efforts of dedicated, freed Black Catholics. The church sits on a prominent corner, a block away from the historic U Street corridor, a cultural epicenter of African American life in the first half of the 20th century.
As a Black Catholic, I was eager to visit and learn about the church and interview the pastor, Father Patrick Smith. Before interviewing him, I shot video footage of the church’s interior. It was quiet, and the sun beamed through the stained-glass windows.
A window on the left side of the church caught my eye. It depicted St. Monica looking at her son, St. Augustine, with loving eyes. Her left hand rested on his shoulder. I stared at the window for several minutes in awe.
St. Monica is the patron saint of motherhood, known for her resilience and dedication to prayer. I thought of Mom. Like St. Monica, my mom’s greatest desire is for me and my younger sister to follow Christ.
St. Augustine’s life-altering conversion inspired me. He was the oldest sibling like me. The window showed the humanity and love between mother and child. Although my mom wasn’t with me physically, I felt her spirit, pictured her touching my shoulder and saying, “Trust in God.” I had the urge to pray to the Holy Spirit.
“Holy Spirit, protect me, cover me and be with me always. During my weakest and scariest moments, help me to be comforted and rest fully in you.”
I felt an immediate calmness — this trip wasn’t coincidental. I received confirmation that Mom would win her battle with cancer. I came to St. Augustine as a visitor and returned that fall as a parishioner.
This year marks my third year at St. Augustine and two years of Mom being cancer-free. The Holy Spirit has become my confidant, too.
The St. Augustine community is refreshing. I feel like I belong, I’m heard and I matter, especially because it is predominantly Black. We gather in solidarity and gratitude for those who made it possible for us to worship together. My family visited this past Thanksgiving, and I took them to Mass to experience the joy I found at St. Augustine.
Father Patrick is a gifted homilist, and his sermons were a crucial part of my prayer life during the pandemic. Now, Mom is an avid listener of his homilies and shares them with her friends, who aren’t all Catholic but find truth and goodness in them. They’ve seen Mom at her weakest and, now, at her strongest because of her unceasing faith and prayers.
Thank you, God, for leading me to St. Augustine. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your ongoing guidance and reassurance.
(Sydney Clark, a New Orleans native, is a multimedia producer at the National Press Foundation and a freelancer based in the Washington area. Her work has been published in Catholic News Service, Global Sisters Report, America Magazine and more.)Tags: Black Catholics, Faith Formation