Years of searching, led her to the Catholic faith

When Christine Paine was 8, she took lessons in baton twirling at Christ the Redeemer Parish. One afternoon she broke away from the group and snuck inside. It was her first time in a Catholic church, and when she saw the red altar lamp, she realized immediately that she was in the presence of God.

It had a profound influence on her and marked the beginning of a life journey that would lead to the Catholic faith.

“I still remember seeing the red candle, and I was amazed that God was right there with me, and I was in awe,” she recalled.

Christine, who has been development director at Caroline House in Bridgeport since 2011, said, “The Church has given me a real conscience. It is perfect for me. Everything used to be gray, but I know now there are absolutes and that natural law is written on my heart.”

Caroline House, begun in 1995 by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, is committed to immigrant women and children and helps them reach their full potential by educating them in the English language and life skills.

Christine was raised Episcopalian and attended St. Andrew Church in Milford, which had been her father’s parish as a young man. From an early age, she was attracted to spirituality and religion. Her parents, Frank and Claudia Matthews, sent her to Catholic schools, beginning with St. Gabriel’s elementary school, where the sisters instilled a love of God and Our Lady in her.

“I remember walking into the church for the first time and turning around and seeing a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I cried,” she said. “I fell in love with the nuns, and I fit in because all my friends were Catholic.”

She also remembers standing in line to receive Communion at Mass, when a sister stopped her because she wasn’t Catholic. The incident upset her although she later realized it was the right thing to do.

When her parents suggested that she attend Lauralton Hall high school, she didn’t resist because her friends were going there. The Sisters of Mercy had a decisive effect on her. Years later, she named her fourth daughter “Madeline” in honor of the late dean of students, who was a tough but kind woman that Christine grew to love — although her adolescent antics often led to conflicts between the two of them.

“I was brutal to poor Sr. Madeline, so I guess there was some guilt on my part,” she says. “But she was a beautiful woman who dedicated her life to Christ, and I loved her.”

The Sisters of Mercy had an enduring influence on Christine and represented another step in her journey to the Catholic faith.

“I would spend a lot of time praying in the chapel,” she recalls. “I had an inner longing for something more. I had a wonderful family and went to good schools, but there was a holiness that I just couldn’t find.”

Even though she was immersed in the Catholic faith at Lauralton, she was fighting the call for her to convert. “I loved the Church but there were so many reasons I thought it was wrong,” she recalls. “As an adolescent, I would sing from the rooftops, ‘If only the Catholic Church would get it together!’”

About this time, she met her future husband, Frank Paine, at a school mixer. He went to West Haven High School and was a Catholic. Years later, they would marry in the chapel at Lauralton.

After graduating in 1988, she entered the University of Rhode Island, where she majored in marketing; however, college life dampened her spiritual enthusiasm.

“By now, my faith was non-existent,” she said. “My goal was to get rich and that was it. I wanted to be rich and popular so I joined a sorority,” she recalls. “I still felt a spiritual yearning, but to satisfy it, I started studying comparative religions and developing my own philosophy for the perfect faith, which I would preach it to anyone who would listen. God was cutting me a lot of slack.”

After graduating from college, she had several jobs, first with a computer firm and then a telecom company. Even though her career was successful, she was suffering from a longing that she couldn’t satisfy. She realizes now the longing was for Christ.

During those years, Christine looked for fulfillment in self-help programs, physical training and her group of friends, but nothing could supply what she needed spiritually. “At 23, I just felt empty,” she says. “In order to find any kind of happiness, I knew I had to convert.”

She eventually started to attend Mass at Church of St. Mary in New Haven.

“I loved the pageantry, and I loved the Mass. The mystery was dazzling to me,” she said. “And it’s still dazzling to me to know that Jesus Christ is truly present on the altar.”

Before her conversion, she joined the pro-life movement, which she believes was a gift from the Holy Spirit, because her group of Catholic friends kept pushing her toward the Church and asking, “Are you going to commit or not?”

“I was dancing around making a decision; I was attending Mass but not receiving Communion,” she said.

Finally, she decided to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, and in 1993 she received First Communion and Confirmation. She and Frank started dating again, and were married at Lauralton Hall in 1996.

They wanted to have children but Christine couldn’t get pregnant, so they began an intense appeal to Our Lady, and in 2000, they were blessed with twins, Katherine, who is now a student at the University of Connecticut, and Frankie, who is studying at Bowdoin College. In the years that followed, they had more four more children — Abigail, Madeline, Michael and Caroline. All six have received Catholic educations, and the Paine family attends Mass together, prays together and volunteers together.

“Part of their life has been to help people who are poor and have special needs,” she said. “Every service hour they’ve done has been at Caroline House.”

Caroline House, which is located at 574 Stillman Street in Bridgeport, educates and empowers underserved women and children. It offers a literacy program for the women and provides on-site care for their children. There are also lessons in computer skills, counseling, networking services, tutoring for children and citizenship classes. One of the major goals is to “break down the barriers of social and physical isolation that have kept low-income immigrant women from building better lives.”

“What differentiates Caroline House from other ESL programs is the welcoming and homelike environment we provide for our students,” she says. “Most importantly, we help our students create their own social network that can help them with jobs, childcare and friendship. I have witnessed true sisterhood that transcends cultural boundaries.”

Christine is known for her enthusiasm about her Catholic faith. “It is the most wonderful religion there is,” she says. “There are rules and beautiful devotions. There are steps I can follow that will help me and my family get to heaven. And when I ask God for forgiveness, he shows me his mercy all the time.”

She also has a very personal relationship with the Blessed Mother, whom she has held near to her heart every since the time as a child when she first saw her statue at St. Gabriel’s.

“When I ask her to help me, she always does, and I believe she led me to where I am today.”

By Joe Pisani