A Catholic Compliment

If example is life’s teacher, then my Mormon friends have taught me the commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:39.) I certainly must differ with those who say that Latter-day Saints and members of other denominations cannot share friendships.

If we are to treat others “as though they are Christ in person,” then many Latter-day Saints have lived this axiom of the Catholic Saint Benedict’s Hospital, in Ogden, Utah. Helping people brings strength and wisdom into our lives and alleviates a burden. I have seen warmth, patience, and Christian virtues exhibited by Mormons as they’ve reached out to me, a Catholic.

My story of living among the Mormons begins even before I was born. My grandparents and parents emigrated from Italy to Utah in 1950. Buying their first home in Ogden helped them develop a sense of worth in their souls. They now owned a home, and they longed to be Americans. However, because of religious differences, they were not close to their neighbors.

My birth two years later became a symbolic bridge between faiths. In the true pioneer spirit, our Mormon neighbors visited, offering congratulations. Walls of reserve were broken, and relationships that have lasted for many years began to form.

Our neighborhood was not the “potluck party” or “let’s go visiting” circuit. But in an emergency, everyone helped. When I was two years old, I locked myself in the bathroom. Grandma, terrified and hysterical, ran next door. A neighbor came to the rescue, removing the hinges on the bathroom door and finding me intact and without injury.

When Grandma sought naturalization, Mormon women neighbors stood stoically by her side, patiently teaching her the Pledge of Allegiance and drilling her on other questions. Grandma proudly passed her examination. Until she died years later, she reverently and fervently prayed for her tutors who had so kindly given of their time and love.

As I grew up, I found other Latter-day Saint friends. Working as a teenager in an ice-cream shop brought me into close contact with other employees there, all Latter-day Saints. They knew I was Catholic, I knew they were Mormon, and we were friends.

During my years of work, almost always a Latter-day Saint has assisted me in getting a job. Especially do I remember a supervisor who became a dear friend. Struggling with some difficult emotional challenges, I often despaired and felt overwhelmed. This young woman watched, prayed, listened, and talked with me, helping me develop self-esteem and confidence.

Not only in employment have I found a niche with Mormons. Mormons have welcomed me into organizations and activities and have encouraged my participation and involvement. The Mormons I have known give because they want to, not because a commandment dictates. To me, their actions have been priceless.

I continue to make new friends within the Mormon community. Mother and I recently took a tour to see the fall foliage of eastern Canada and the eastern United States coast. Participants in this excursion were mostly Latter-day Saint senior citizens. The vibrant colors and breathtaking scenery that we saw were reflected in the personalities of these people. We viewed several Catholic basilicas, and our new Mormon friends shared in appreciating their majesty. I fondly recall these friends because of their invigorating tales and their ability to make my mother and me feel welcome.

Mormons have played and continue to play a large role in my family. My two sisters are married to Mormon men. Their understanding, comfort, and humor have dried many a tear. Responding to an emergency or a daily need, they inspire and lead. We vacation together; we gather together for parties.

Recently, my mother and I met with some of our neighbors from times past. My childhood friends and I reminisced about playing at Liberty Park in Ogden, learning to play Monopoly, and sharing boyfriends. It was wonderful to enjoy the unconditional acceptance and love that we neighbors, Mormons, Catholics—friends—share.

[illustration] Illustrated by Keith Larson

Jean N. Tonti is an equipment technician and writer living in Ogden, Utah.