WILMINGTON — Nicole Hudson was born into “a big Irish Catholic family,” and although she has been around the church her entire life, it is only this year that she is formally joining the faith. In a way, you could say she’s seen the light. Literally.
Hudson’s sight returned over the past several months after numerous surgeries, and it was only in January that it really started to clear up in her left eye. Her nearly four-year vision loss was caused by diabetic retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels in the retina. She drove herself to the doctor in March 2010 and had to call someone for a ride home. The doctor told her that her previous life was gone.
“My first thought was why would God do this to me? What did I do wrong?” Hudson said recently.
She had been laid off from her job of 20 years at a local grocery store about six months before her wedding. Then she lost her sight three months before she was to be married.
Hudson, 40, would continue to pray as she went about her gardening or other tasks around her house, and as she adapted to her new reality, the disappointment in God gave way to acceptance and a change in attitude.
“I guess I blamed God at first,” she said. “But then I thought this is happening for a reason. God must have some other path he wants me to take. Maybe it was becoming more sensitive to people with disabilities. I just believe in my heart that God was pointing me in some direction I was not aware of yet.”
The truth is that she had been moving in that direction her entire life. Last fall, she decided to make it official, starting Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. And at the Easter Vigil on April 19, Hudson will be baptized and confirmed and receive her first Communion.
What people thought
Her mother had divorced before Hudson was born and believed that made her daughter ineligible to receive the any of the sacraments.
“We’re talking 40 years ago,” Hudson said recently. “That’s what people thought, I guess.”
That did not keep Hudson away from Catholicism. She attended kindergarten at St. Anthony of Padua School, then St. Ann’s School from fifth through eighth grade. Her mother and stepfather transferred her to St. Ann’s from public school in part to escape bullying from schoolmates. Hudson was influenced by the move.
“I had more self-confidence. The church and the school itself did a lot for me,” she said. “Up until that point, I was getting bullied. I got in fights all the time. Going to St. Ann’s, the uniform brought everybody to the same level. Nobody was making fun of other people’s pants. I blossomed at St. Ann’s.”
She recalled the late Msgr. Patrick Brady, who was pastor there, showing confidence in her. He asked Hudson why she never took Communion. She said she had never been baptized.
“He said, ‘I’ll baptize you,’” she said. “But I was like, ‘Nah.’ I was 14, I was too cool for that. Now, looking back, I should have taken that opportunity. But then I wouldn’t be learning what I’m learning now. Everything happens for a reason.”
Hudson went through her 20s and 30s thinking she was too busy to join the church. She was very close to an aunt, Mary Cunningham, a devout Catholic who died in December 2012. Hudson lost her sight before Cunningham died, and every time the two got together, her aunt said she was praying for her.
“Pretty much on her deathbed, I went over to her and touched her hand, and she said, “Everything’s going to be OK. Don’t worry, be happy.’ And she started singing ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ Then she died three days after Christmas,” said Hudson, who lives near St. Ann’s Church with her husband, Alan.
By that time Hudson had new doctors, and seven surgeries later, she is able to see, and drive, despite limited vision in her right eye. She sees this as a sign.
“I figured, I feel like God wanted me to do something. I don’t know what it is yet, but for me to be closer to God, to get that message, I should become baptized,” she said.
Patricia Walker, the director of religious education at St. Ann’s, said she believes Husdon’s family background and Catholic school education “helped the seeds of faith take root.” She is impressed by Hudson’s outlook.
“She arrived at RCIA while working through a very difficult time in her life,” Walker said. “I was immediately struck by her optimism and deep gratitude despite the obstacles that she has encountered.”
Hudson said she enjoys learning about the things she heard as a child and believes she understands it better now. She knew when to kneel and what prayers to say, but everything was done by memorization. She never really put any thought into her action.
“Now as a grownup, learning about the Bible, and learning about the Catholic religion, things make more sense,” she said. “Being baptized, I feel like it will make me a solid member of the community that I’ve always been a part of, if that makes sense.”
One of the things Hudson likes about Catholicism is its ability to endure for centuries despite all of the persecution and turmoil it has gone through. The faith is a survivor, much like herself.
“Why not Catholic? It’s what I know.”
A longer version of this article appears at www.thedialog.org.