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‘I can’t imagine not being Catholic’

March 11, 2020

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in what’s planned to be an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff writer

MALONE – “I see my life up until recently in the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:7),” relates Dave Petrelli. “I could well be like one of the seeds that fell among the thorns. While I was choked initially, it appears that I grew up taller than the thorns around me and started to see the light.”

The comparison unfolds as Petrelli shares details of his faith journey. His dad was Baptist, and his mom was (nominally) Catholic; the family “attended a few Baptist services here and there.” Yet during his middle school years, Petrelli recalls with gratitude, his mom did make sure that he received First Communion and confirmation. He continued attending Mass during high school, and later with his fiancée, Kellie.

Soon, though, the young man was off to the Army Reserves.

“It was a challenging time to be away from Kellie, while I was dealing with Army psychology and basic training,” he said. “It was a bad experience, and if there were any Catholics around, I didn’t know it. I fell away from my faith.”

Then, amid marriage, college, and careers, faith stayed in the background.

But children changed everything. As the couple’s three daughters (now ages 11-23) came along, so did questions about baptism, First Communion, and of course, school.

“I count myself blessed that my wonderful and beautiful wife had a much better formation and foundation in our faith than I had,” Petrelli said. “Having attended Bishop Smith School, she really wanted our daughters in Catholic school. Once our daughters were at Holy Family School, and receiving the sacraments, Kellie nudged me back toward the Church 10 or so years ago. In hindsight, I can also see that the Holy Spirit and my guardian angel were always there to guide me, tugging at my heart.”

According to Petrelli, “The changes in my journey since coming back to God have been really dramatic and happened as quickly as I fell away. I started to thirst for truth, and now really wanted to know all I could about God and our Catholic faith, history and tradition. It was through all of this that I truly realized I could actually have and develop a relationship with Jesus. When I started to put God first in my life and gave myself to God, I began to hear the Holy Spirit communicating back to me. Reconnecting with the sacramental life of the Church began a journey that has really gathered steam over the past seven years.”

Soon Petrelli discovered Lighthouse Catholic Media. The company’s CDs/MP3s became constant companions as he commuted to various sites for his work as a vocational counselor with ACESS-VR.

“These really helped me to learn and live my faith, since they feed both the head and the heart,” he said. “Formation for Ministry was another way God helped me to overcome my poor catechesis and poor formation. The program was wonderful, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the faith.” [Petrelli was commissioned as a lay minister at the Cathedral in Jul 2019.] “Also, I had gotten to know Father Joe Giroux, who was pastor at St. André Bessette, and Father Scott Belina, who was parochial vicar. Both are very good and knowledgeable priests, who helped me so much; they must have answered thousands of questions for me!”

But the influence of these priests reached well beyond answering Petrelli’s questions about the faith. They invited him to experience elements of Church life of which he had been previously unaware.

“When Father Joe encouraged me to be a part of André’s Brothers, a men’s group he was starting, I did not know what to expect,” Petrelli said. “But it was a pivotal time for me, and André’s Brothers has really helped me to go much deeper in faith. I had never heard guys singing, and the first time I did, my head whipped around and I stared in shock! Even more amazing was being introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours. I truly had no clue about the Liturgy of the Hours, but now, praying the Hours is a very important and blessed part of my day.”

Around the same time, Petrelli discovered the beauty and power of Eucharistic Adoration.

“I guess I was one of those Catholics who did not believe in the Real Presence,” he explains. “But there is a definite Presence in the Tabernacle, and in the Monstrance, and I do not want to miss Adoration opportunities. To have Jesus so near is amazing, and now I am able to meet him there and to receive him at Mass every day.”
Petrelli is likewise grateful for what he calls “building experiences,” such as Exodus 90 with Father Joe.

“This encourages you to know yourself and to become more of what God wants you to be,” Petrelli said. “The discipline I found most challenging was the kind of music I enjoyed: listening with faith led me from the ‘80s rock I was used to, toward Christian music. Paying attention to what goes into my mind has been life changing. Recently I made a Cursillo, which was quite an experience of brotherhood.It was very helpful to me as I continue to work on my relationship with God and to share the tremendous love and graces he has given me.”

In fact, sharing God’s goodness has been important for Petrelli ever since he re-discovered his faith – beginning with his own family.

“Now our faith is central to our family life, and we have sought out like-minded people,” he said. “We attend Sunday Mass together, discuss our faith together, and attend Christian music concerts together! I even started attending the March for Life with my daughter each January to stand for life, the top human rights cause of our time.”

A member of the Knights of Columbus as well as André’s Brothers, Petrelli serves St. André Bessette parish as a lector and Eucharistic minister and teaches the 5th/6th grade class in the religious education program.

Faith changes everything, as Petrelli affirms.

“All the difficulties that came in the past still come, but now my perspective is so different,” he said. “Jesus suffered for me, so I can and should suffer with him sometimes. Today I can’t imagine not being Catholic. Now that I know the truth and have given myself to Christ, I have to live what I believe.”

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