By Julie Beaulieu
Catholic Communications reporter
At almost age 3, my daughter, Viola, had not been to Six Flags New England yet. When I found out about Catholic Youth Day at Six Flags this summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity for her first experience.
Entering the park early, Viola was already in awe walking through and seeing all of the attractions. We both wore Mater Dolorosa T-shirts, since she will be starting preschool there in September. As we entered the picnic area for Mass, Viola felt right at home with our faith community. She recognized our crew from Catholic Communications, our parish family from St. Michael Cathedral in Springfield, and Bishop Mitchell Rozanski. She said to me during Mass, “I want to see Bishop Mitch.” I took Viola to the middle aisle and said, “There he is with the pink hat (referring to his zuchetto).” Viola replied, “Oh, he looks so cute.”
In his Homily, Bishop Mitch discussed the importance of play, relaxation, and recreational time. He said how it was important for the kids present to have fun before beginning a new school year. And, he added that adults need time to de-stress and relax as well. Viola enjoyed the music, and, even though we were not in a church building, she still was able to identify that we were, “in church.”
Viola said, “Mommy, I want to see Bishop Mitch,” and I replied, “We will, after Mass.” We waited in line with all of the children to shake the bishop’s hand and get our photo taken. Since I’ve known Bishop Mitch, he has been very kind and approachable to the youth of our diocese. This is very evident in events I have attended and events I have covered for Catholic Communications.
Next, we were able to go on the rides. Viola was very excited. Because of her petite size, she was still one inch short for the height requirement; therefore, I needed to sit with her on the rides. I didn’t mind at all.
Happily I recalled how each year I went to Six Flags as a youth with my family. At the time it was called Riverside. For more than 20 years, my father was a printer at Haino Business Forms in Springfield, and each year they had their summer picnic at Riverside. My older half-sister and I would look forward to that day all year.
Although it looks much different now, the Thunderbolt roller coaster still stands strong, and I recalled that the entrance to the picnic area was behind it. Each year, I sat with my mom for bingo, anxiously awaiting my twelfth birthday so I could play, while my dad had a beer and played horse shoes with his work buddies.
I remember the year I dropped my stuffed animal in a mud puddle in the parking lot and cried. And, I recall when my mom got her toe sliced open in the fun house. It was a good lesson about not wearing sandals to the park. Most of all, I remember when my dad won a giant poodle for me. Before I knew it, it was the summer of 1988, and my last trip to the shop picnic before turning 18.
When I heard my daughter’s laugh and saw her smile, I recalled how that amusement park is a place where families make happy memories, and now, on Catholic Youth Day, it is also a place where God is present, and memories are also made with parishes, Catholic schools, Catholic youth groups, and our faith community.