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‘It's always been the central point’

January 27, 2021

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of 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 Jonathan Monfiletto
Contributing Writer

PERU – One of the hardest things Pam Ballantine has ever had to do was tell her husband, Dan, who was stationed in Belgium with the military at the time, not to come home for a two-week break.

At the time, the Ballantines – who live in Peru and attend St. Augustine’s Church – had two children, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. Dan was often sent off on remote tours, and their 4-year-old son was having a rough time adjusting to his father being gone. Four months into the tour, Pam had just gotten the boy to the point where he was handling the situation better and sleeping in his own bed again.

“Dan wanted to come home for two weeks and then go back,” Pam said. “I had to tell Dan not to come home for those two weeks because it just would’ve gone back over again. That was very, very hard to do, telling him, ‘I love you dearly, but please don’t come home because we just got this little guy all squared away.’ … That was very hard, just praying what to do, what is the right thing to do.”

As a result of not taking the break, though, Dan got to return to the United States a month earlier than he would have had he come home in the middle of his tour.

And he came home with a surprise for Pam and their family.

While Pam grew up in a strong Catholic family that always went to church, Dan said it wasn’t until after he and Pam got married and he was stationed in Belgium without his family that he began to explore the Catholic faith and became a Catholic.

“It’s brought me so much closer to everything,” he said.

In fact, Dan purposely made his newfound faith a surprise to his family, having his sister help him gather the necessary paperwork to make his conversion official. Then, he called Pam on Easter Sunday.

“He kept saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got a big surprise for you for Easter, and I’m thinking, ‘If he runs up that Mastercard, I’m going to kill him,’” Pam said. “He called and said, ‘I’m a full-fledged Catholic.’ That was a big surprise.”

From that point on, the Ballantines shared their faith each other and with their children.

“It was just something that we did with our kids,” Pam said. “It wasn’t trying to fit Mass into our schedule. It was Mass, and we fit our schedule into that… If we traveled, we had to make sure we knew where there was a church to attend. The kids just knew that’s just what we did. They were altar servers and went to Catholic school. It’s just part of our lives.”

Pam herself worked for the church for more than 30 years, spending 21 years serving in one parish as the director of religious education and the pastoral associate and later retiring from service in the diocese.

It was her work as a pastoral associate that tested Pam’s faith, as she assisted with funerals and wakes. Some of those services involved teenagers and children from the church, including one who drowned and another who died of cancer.

“One of the hardest things is, being in one parish so long, I get to know these kids when they’re little up to their teen years,” she said. “I call them all my kids. That was the hard part, where I really leaned on my Jesus to get me through these tough times.”

Coming from a Catholic family, Pam said she made her faith her own once she got through college, “when you really have to take responsibility for your own faith,” and found strength in her own faith by surrounding herself with fellow believers.

“I hung out with people who had a faith in God, but also it seems God puts people in your life at a certain time when you need it the most,” she said.

With her Catholic friends and roommates, Pam was part of a folk music group during her college years and became involved in Church that way. Later, she and Dan met a priest – a newly ordained deacon at the time – who married them and baptized their children and became lifelong friends with the couple.

“We’ve just been friends forever,” Pam said. “He’s been a part of our family and not only he himself but also his family. He’s always been a big part of our lives.”

It is important to be a part of a faith community, the Ballantines said, and this is something they have practiced as they have shared their faith with the people around them.

Among their various volunteer work – Dan is active in the Knights of Columbus while Pam is active in the Catholic Daughters, and both assist around their church – Dan helps another man take Communion to people at two senior citizen homes in the area, typically every Thursday morning.

“We’d give Communion and go through a small service with them there,” he said. “I looked forward to those Thursdays, but right now with COVID, all of that has stopped. I can’t wait for it to get over so that we can go back there to the people. It meant so much to them, and it meant almost as much to me.”

When it comes to their prayer life, both said they enjoying making nature a part of their practice.

“I like the Rosary. There’s just something about it,” Dan said. “I can go outside and sit on our bench and say the Rosary and do the whole thing, and when I walk away I feel content.”

“It’s just getting grounded again,” Pam said, adding that she enjoys music and reading Scripture. “If you look at creation or the sunset, sometimes these sunsets are just so gorgeous. It just grabs you. It just kind of reminds you that there’s always something much greater than yourself or our earth today.”

For the Ballantines, their faith is what keeps them centered as individuals and as a couple.

“It’s always been the central point,” Pam said. “It’s always there. But especially during times like what’s going on now, I think that’s the calm part. It’s the kind of thing that calms me down and tries to refocus me because sometimes you can jump to one side or the other.”

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