As I said, my name is Jim Croteau, I was born in January, 1949, the second of ten children. Yes, by many standards, that's a large family. As kids, we didn't know any better, we thought 5 and 5 was just right. Growing up in a Catholic family had some wonderful lasting effects, but I did't realize what power my mom's prayers and all those first fridays and first saturdays had until many years later.
The 'boom' years were a great time to grow up. Many people don't believe me when I talk about there being 98 kids in my first grade classroom, and the anecdotes are many. (e.g. If you go to a Catholic school, do you pledge... and to the reCatholic for which it stands? And, we realy did think it was "Hail Mary full of grapes".)
The Catholic part of the education I got was too easily put aside once the sixties caught up with me in the seventies. I got into astrology, tarot cards, pyramid power, and a host of other things, and it all served to water down what I believed. I still thought of myself as Catholic, and I would say so if asked, but I didn't go to church, and I suspected that the Vatican was hiding the truth about reincarnation because they didn't think the masses were ready for it.
To make a long story short, I got married too young and divorced soon after. Lived the free life for a while, then got married again at city hall. Although it wasn't a marriage made in heaven, we did produce four wonderfull boys, before divorce hit again.
I took it very hard. I love the kids. I loved her. I didn't want the divorce, but the more I looked for a way to reconcile, the more resolute she became to separate. As I thought about the pros and cons of driving into a bridge support - i.e. insurance would pay, and I wouldn't have to suffer anymore - my mom's prayers for us kids pulled me up in a powerfull way.
I was reading a book on Medjugorje she had given me, and at times I scoffed that it couldn't be real, because I knew better. I had a secret knowledge of the real workings of the universe; the laws of karma, reincarnation, reaching perfection after many lives. It just didn't jive with the call to repentance in the book, the ominous warnings of the held-back hand of God's wrath. But more than that, it didn't jive with the descriptions of God's actions in peoples lives. That kind of love didn't make sense in my "impending divorce" life.
At one point I closed the book, sobbing over another "miracle", and asked "God, is this real? I need to know what this is all about". I went to sleep shortly thereafter, and when I woke up, He had left no doubts in my mind! It was as if I had been deluged in faith. I started buying books and watching EWTN, relearning my faith. It began to be clear that I had to get to Medjugorje; not to prove anything, but to say thank you to Mary for leading me back to her Son.
Medjugorje... In 1992, civil war was raging in the former Yugoslavia. Yet, I had to go. As I searched for a group that was still offering pilgrimages, I began to loose heart. The State Department had issued travel warnings for the area, and a lot of the Marian Centers that sprang up anew in the 80's had suspended operations. Finally, the Chicago Marian Center offered a pilgrimage in December. A lot of people were warning me against it, but I really felt called, and knew that I would be safe.
I didn't "see" any of the miracles that are commonly reported, but I wasn't looking for them. I could feel the miracle of conversion deepening in my heart. Everything about the time there in that little grouping of villages was peaceful. Yes, occasionally you could hear mortar fire in the distance, and you knew there was a war going on just a few miles away, it couldn't shatter the peace that pervaded Medjugorje.
Back home, I got back to the business of rebuilding my life. The divorce was finalized in Jan. of '95, after two and a half years of attempts at reconciliation, "living in the basement", annulment of my first marriage, living with my sister, living with my brother, living in my own place, etc, ad nauseum. As these arrangements progressed, I was reading a lot, listening to tapes, watching EWTN, and in general trying to inform my mind about the Church that my heart had grown to love. It was during this period that I began writing my newsletter.
Ten years latter, I'm married again, my 2 oldest sons have gone from elementary school to "the Silent Service" in the Navy, and I'm still in love with Christ and the Church he founded almost 2000 years ago.