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7/22/2017 9:33:00 AM
A quest for gratification
A woman shares her dramatic story in our Why I'm Catholic series
Courtesy Meagan MontanariMeagan Montanari transformed her life after she became Catholic, leaving drugs behind and attending college, planning for a career and raising her two children.
Courtesy Meagan Montanari
Meagan Montanari transformed her life after she became Catholic, leaving drugs behind and attending college, planning for a career and raising her two children.

Meagan Montanari, right, once an atheist and drug addict, and her friend Marie Barzen take to the streets to share the transformative love of God with others.
Meagan Montanari, right, once an atheist and drug addict, and her friend Marie Barzen take to the streets to share the transformative love of God with others.
Meagan Montanari searched for something. Something to fulfill her. Something to make her happy. And two years ago she found it: the Eucharist and the Catholic Church. Still, her body displays the scars from 15 years spent searching.

“They’re reminders,” she says. “Because I have to remind myself that, ‘Yeah, you were homeless, you were walking into the methadone clinic every morning.’ It was bad.”

Montanari, 32, had loving parents. Both were college educated. At 13 years of age, Montanari says she became involved with the wrong group of friends. She started using drugs and partying.

Struggles with mental illness resulted in almost daily self-mutilation, and Montanari was institutionalized after various suicide attempts beginning at age 13.
“That’s kind of where I was at the majority of my life — in a place of torment,” she says.

Montanari is a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Northeast Portland, where she attends daily Mass and regular confession.

“I just love being in a church,” she says. But this love-struck woman did not grow up in a religious family. She was never taken to a church and she was a self-described atheist.

In her early 20s, Montanari’s mother had what they believed to be a vision of an angel telling her that her daughter would be OK and repeating the word Pentecost. The young woman came to believe in God but had no idea where to find him nor his name. And she carried on living her life in what she calls a self-absorbed way, dependent on drugs.

“Eventually it starts to snowball. Instead of you being able to control it, all of a sudden you realize that you have to have it. You’re addicted and it has control over you.”

Montanari found herself homeless in San Francisco, sleeping on cardboard boxes. She didn’t even feel human.

“People won’t look you in the eyes. People are repulsed by you. They walk to the other side of the street, just to not walk by you.”

And then she got pregnant. She is mother to three children, though only her youngest two live with her. Her eldest, the son born when she was homeless, was put up for adoption.

Montanari entered a methadone program. She used the treatment for five years as a legal means to get high. She had a daughter who was taken by child protection services and adopted by her parents. The consequences started to get worse and worse, she says.

“I sold to support my drug habit, as many addicts do. And I ended up a convicted felon a couple of times. I spent time in jail.”

Then Montanari became pregnant a third time with her now 2-year-old son. She asked God to reveal himself to her.

“I was seven months pregnant and I knew that they were going to take this baby from me too, and I just couldn’t bear to lose a third child. I guess that’s what it took for me to realize that I needed help and that I really had a problem.”

Montanari found a place in the Queen of Peace Shelter for pregnant women in San Francisco. The shelter, run by the Missionaries of Charity, presented her with a new perspective.

“I recognized, first of all, that they were genuine and they were authentic. And there was no need for them to exaggerate anything.”

Montanari prayed with the religious sisters daily. The life of the sisters was confusing to her. They were so happy but had taken a vow of poverty. Montanari had a secular worldview, demanding material things to deliver happiness. But the sisters displayed something different.

“I remember saying to a sister, ‘I don’t know what you have, but whatever you have I want it.’”

She asked about the Catholic Church and entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults while going through a residential recovery program at the Epiphany Center with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. It was here that she had her youngest son. She graduated from the yearlong program and was accepted into the church in 2015.

Montanari’s life transformed. After being overweight for much of her life, she lost 90 pounds. After chain-smoking for 15 years, she quit. After taking anti-depressants, she got off of them. After years of using drugs, she graduated from the drug treatment program and hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since. She has no desire to.

“I was receiving Communion and I started to notice that I was thinking differently about things and I wasn’t so self-absorbed. I wasn’t just thinking about myself. I started worrying about other people.”

Montanari says she is completely different than she used to be. She’s going to college and raising her two young children. She will be studying theology and psychology at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio next summer. She wants to learn to read Latin chant and describes her excitement about attending the Sacred Liturgy Conference this year. She regularly joins street evangelizers to share God’s love with others. And she marched with hundreds of other devout locals on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. She says the Eucharist is the only explanation for the change.

“The Eucharist is real. It’s really Jesus truly present,” she insists. “Because if you’d known me then and you know me now — I mean two years is not a really long time. ... And there’s no way I could have done these things on my own. I mean there’s no way. I tried for years.

“Nothing worked, of course, because I was longing for the one thing that my soul was desperate for. And that was Jesus.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org





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