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My Faith Story

Everyone has a story.

Read the individual stories of how each of our commission members became a follower of Christ, and how His loving, accepting embrace has supported and encouraged their missionary work.

Marissa Espinosa

Hello, my name is Marissa Espinosa, and I’m the town crier. No, really. I am. Apparently, I cry a LOT, for a lot of reasons. And I mean Ugly Cry.

It’s a “thing” now where I can’t even pray intentions or read the Gospel out loud. I cry at Mass or when I’m ministering the Eucharist. But one day when I told a church friend that I just can’t stop crying (this was after reading another version of my witness), she says to me, “Marissa, those are tears of joy!” And she was right, so very right. I cry from the sheer joy of having someone to turn to that gets me, of having this wonderful, beautiful, meaningful, spiritual, historical, complex faith, and from knowing that JC (as I affectionately call Jesus) has my back! Quite literally, because He’s been pushing me forward since 2007.


… is when the renewal of my faith began. Up until that year, things were okay, even though I went through some rough patches. I think of them of rough patches now but back then they were huge, nasty, mud filled bumps in the road. Know what I mean? By the time 2007 came around, life happened: I was raised in a good home with both parents; graduated high school; worked in the fashion industry; dated a family friend; got engaged and married that family friend; after 5 years he was unfaithful; I left; we divorced; my parents were going through the same thing; my ex-husband eventually had children; I never did. At some point, I wondered where was God. Where was he, because he wasn’t anywhere I could see. Then 2007 came around which meant I was finally able to attend a 27 hour Women’s Cornerstone retreat at my parish. I didn’t want to really be there but it was the big thing happening in the parish for a few years and everyone went to it. It was there that I was Renewed. It was there that I realized that... that, “thing” … that, “wanting more”… that, “I need more”… that, “there’s gotta be more than this”, I was missing, was God… Faith… Hope… (inner) Peace… Once I realized that and was open to it… to Him… in my life, things changed overnight. I went from wanting someone to love and respect me no matter what, to…… KNOWING THAT JESUS DID… HE DOES! And He always had, even during those nasty bumps in the road when I thought God had abandoned me.

Well. Things changed pretty quickly after that revelation. I joined team for the next year’s Cornerstone and it was there that I learned to pray and how to become a real, practicing Catholic. I became a Light and Inspiration to others. My renewal was oozing out of me. I smiled all the time. I was definitely crying all the time. I was caring all the time. I was understanding all the time. I was living my faith all the time. All the time. Even when my grandfather suddenly passed… all the time. I intended to go with him to hospice but he passed before that happened. I never went back to work because of the little nervous breakdown I had (at least that’s what I called it). I was out of work and living on commission checks and my tax return for three months; constantly praying to my grandmother, Mami, because she saved money, and to my grandfather, Papi, because he spent it, until I was called by the Archdiocese of Newark for an interview. Two weeks later, I was hired as the Administrative Assistant to the Vicar of Pastoral Life, Msgr Richard Arnhols. And I could not have asked for a better supervisor, especially since he was only in the office once a week, being a pastor of a large, thriving parish in Bergen County as well. My coworkers quickly became friends. Fast forward to 2009 when I enrolled as an undergraduate at the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange. In the Spring of 2018, I became a Senior and graduation is not far away. That light at the end of the tunnel everyone talks about FINALLY turned on and is getting brighter and brighter with every semester. I’m an active parishioner at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in River Edge, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, Co-Leader of their New Evangelization Ministry, and until recently spent three years on the Pastoral Council.

All of this could not have been possible if I had not allowed myself to open up, if I had not been searching for that “thing”. If I had known that all this wonderment was waiting for me, I would have opened up sooner. But that’s not how any of this works, is it?

Realizing that there’s a greater plan for me, that I don’t have to plan or control “much”, helps navigate this life I have. Do I sometimes try to take control back? Absolutely. Who doesn’t? But then I remember where I was in 2007 and who I am in 2019 and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Mary Brown

This title truly intrigued me – Faith Story…I could elaborate on getting through the death of my mom (my best friend) at the age of 21, tell you of several car accidents, share details of experiencing being blinded in one eye for six months with a patch, provide details concerning stories of surgeries and/or my appendix bursting in the hospital and rehabilitation/nursing home for three weeks, however that was not what came to my mind…

What came to mind is that my Faith Story is just waking-up every morning and Thanking Jesus as I feel my senses working, opening my eyes, hearing the birds chirping, or the rain hitting the roof, or the sun blazing through the blinds.  It brings me to begin to pray my rosary – in fact, if I wake up in the middle of the night – it is Jesus – and a prayer of thanksgiving and/or praying more of my rosary.  You see – every day is a Faith Story.  Every day God is giving me another opportunity to do better, help more, be kinder, more generous, courageous, laugh and cry as needed, live as Jesus did.  Yes, throwing my legs out on the side of the bed and pushing myself up to stretch my arms up high and repeat, “Thank You Jesus, Praise You Jesus – This is the day the Lord has made let me be glad and rejoice in it.” – Is My Faith Story.

Now, please don’t let this sound as if I am not overwhelmingly grateful to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit with the intercession of our Blessed Mother for bringing me through all the various facets of life’s experiences and blessing me with countless events of joy, because I definitely know who I am, whose I am and that only for the Grace of God - am I still here.  However, I just want you to think, when you close your eyes at night where are you? ‘During Shakespeare and Cervantes’ time, sleep was likened to death, with body and mind falling into a deep stillness before resurrecting each new day.” (No coincidence the word “resurrecting” was use to describe waking-up from sleep.) Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., described sleep as - “Sleep is both a great escape and a gracious return.”

Furthermore, what makes me wake up, resurrects me, brings me to this gracious return to life and why is everything still working whether a little slower than before, but none the less working? Nothing, but the Grace of God to a brand-new day. 

So, I don’t just think of a Faith Story as being just that one incident in my life when God was miraculously there to save me, or bring me insurmountable joy – God is there every day, hour, minute, second – whether awake or asleep, in good health and not so good, when I am praising Him or too busy to praise – GOD IS THERE!  God is my Faith Story and my story gets better every day.  Alleluia.

Please take a moment right now and think of what God has done for you – just today alone.  How has God enriched your life’s Faith Story today?  We serve an Awesome God! Amen.

I remain, standing on God's Promises,

because the one who made the

promises is forever faithful.


"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not," (Galatians 6:9).

Susan Rich

Born in Boston, Massachusetts into a multi-generational catholic family, I was surrounded by family members who practically lived in the church.  St. Richard’s Church and Blessed Sacrament Convent, both located in Roxbury, MA, St. Brigid’s Church in Lexington, MA., and Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Osterville, MA, were the sites where some of my religious obligations were met.  It is to God to whom all gratitude is owed as the importance of always “Giving Back” had always been instilled throughout my life. My mother, a stay at home mom, and my father, a Union Executive, lovingly raised me and my three siblings in a home that stressed the importance of both loving and living Jesus. After relocating to Montclair and attending Catholic Schools, my faith journey began to unfold with many twists and turns. When I reflect upon my early attendance in Catholic schools, I simply recall a lonely experience as a young Black Catholic.  The lack of African Americans in the religious life as role models as well as the absence of other students of color were significant reminders of loneliness for the few African Americans attending catholic schools during that period. During high school, my journey as a black catholic became so impressionable that I attended a National Black Catholic Congress held at Loyola University in New Orleans, LA, as a Youth Presenter/Panelist.  I embraced this platform as a high school student and took this opportunity to shed light on both the racism and isolationism that black catholic students were experiencing in several catholic schools. I was happy to learn that recommendations addressing these concerns regarding African American students enrolled in catholic schools were later included in pastoral plans. It was during this time that my acquaintance with The Sisters of The Holy Family, a religious order of African American nuns began. Often prodded by some of the sisters to join their order, I was often enthusiastic to hear of their many works and travels. However, I knew that was not my calling.  I am so grateful to my parents and to the sisters who understood the loneliness that I had experienced. Yet the desire of my parents was for all of their children to learn about Christ and live a Christian life. That was far more important.  Today, as I reflect on those catholic school years, I am appreciative for the discipline and the religious education that I received and those experiences of loneliness are what also drew me closer to Christ and helped shape me into the strong woman that I am today.

As a black catholic, my faith was further strengthened as other black catholic role models began to emerge and I was able to witness their involvement in the church along with the Massachusetts Commission on Human Rights.  I now began to see the role that one’s faith plays in everyday life.  Growing up during the desegregation of schools, I was able to see first- hand, Black Catholics steadfast in their faith working with Cardinal Humberto Medeiros to formulate policy to avoid “white flight” from public schools to catholic schools which would prevent the successful integration of Boston Public Schools.  I was proud to model my aunt, Dr. Patricia Goler, Chairwoman for Massachusetts Commission of Human Rights, who remained steadfast in her faith while firmly standing up for what was right. My faith journey continued as I later attended Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA, and received a Bachelor’s degree in education. It was at “BC” where my interest in working with youth grew stronger and would soon place me to intern and later work in Boston’s first Magnet School which was a system devised to desegregate Boston’s public schools.  I was now taking full advantage of the opportunity that was never afforded me while in catholic schools. I could now be the role model for young African American students.  I knew that God’s plan was to place me in this situation so that I could serve these children with the hope of imparting knowledge but to also instill in them that they can become successful and productive adults. This was such a part of my faith journey!

 As my faith journey continued, I always found happiness in some form of service. I love to perform service in my parish, in schools, in hospitals…….just helping others! Over the last few years, I was happy to serve as a volunteer at World Meeting of Families 2015 in Philadelphia, Pa. This past summer of 2018, I was extremely grateful to Xavier University’s Institute of Black Catholic Studies for allowing me to be a recipient of a scholarship to attend their wonderful institute.  It was Xavier’s Institute of Black Catholic Studies which provided redirection on what is most important as a Black Catholic.  As my faith journey continues as a Black Catholic, I realize that there is no E-ZPass even in the church, as there will be plenty of roadblocks and other detours which will confront me.  However, I can provide true testimony that upon my return from Xavier University, I am more determined to strengthen my relationship with Christ and to embrace the rest of my faith journey by LOVING AND LIVING FOR JESUS CHRIST!

Tracy Ricciardi

As you now know from reading my bio – I grew up in Short Hills, NJ.  What you don’t know is - I was baptized into the Presbyterian Church - (now this is where it gets complicated, so grab a seat!).  You see my mother was a cradle catholic who married and divorced young.  My father, who was never baptized, had also been married and divorced with two children.  This was 1960 and well, as I said, it was complicated.  So basically I was a non-practicing Presbyterian who grew up with a Christmas tree and plenty of presents, and an Easter basket full of chocolate goodies – but who rarely saw the inside of a church except for the occasional family wedding or funeral (my mother’s Irish-catholic side).  My mother would have loved to have raised me in her faith, but again (say it with me) - it was complicated.  Short Hills in the 1960’s/70’s was full of big catholic families, and as it happens my two best friends were products of that phenomenon.  I remember that the mother of one of these friends was a daily communicant.  I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I do know that she possessed a grace and peace that I was drawn to and that I knew one day, somehow, I wanted to have. 

Flash-forward a decade and I was dating and then got engaged to a cradle catholic from an Italian-American family from Brooklyn.  We wanted our marriage to be recognized by the Catholic Church, so we went through Pre-Cana, but got married in the local Episcopal Church (this part was also a bit complicated).  We had decided we wanted to have our future children baptized – for some reason this seemed important to me though I didn’t understand why.  Since I have no idea what Presbyterians believe or do, the Catholic Church seemed like the most practical option.  Ken however never asked or suggested that I become Catholic and I never really considered it.

When I became pregnant with our son Kevin I suggested to Ken that we start going to Mass (guess I wanted to get a jump on the whole faith thing).  We started attending a church in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan.  I don’t even remember the name of the parish or much about attending Mass there – except for this one Sunday when I was there alone while Ken was home in bed.  Suddenly a quiet voice kind of rolled over me, and I knew, God was calling me to His Church.  I went home and told Ken I wanted to become Catholic – and my journey began.  I was too late to start the Diocesan RCIA program but found a lovely older priest who agreed to prepare me for the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation.  I was welcomed into the Church in July of 1992, seven months pregnant with Kevin.  But there is SO much more to this story – so stay tuned!

Sidebar:  No one was happier to hear my news then my mother Jane.  Certainly it was the answer to her prayers.  Years later, after I had gone full-on Catholic everything, I remember her saying to me “I always hoped you would become Catholic, just not that Catholic”! 

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