Reflections from recent converts: My first year as a Catholic
Each Lent, Catholics watch as hundreds of people go through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and join the Church at Easter. Last year, 949 people entered the Church at Easter in the Diocese of Charlotte – among 150,000 people nationwide. Each of these new Catholics has a unique story and a different reason for choosing the Catholic Church as their home.
What happens after they are baptized or brought into full communion with the Church at Easter, when their lives begin to blend with the lives of their fellow parishioners? The Catholic News Herald spoke with several people who joined the Church last Easter about their first year as Catholics:
THE BIGGEST CHANGE
Shaun Keady says the biggest change in his life on Easter morning was that "there wasn't a huge change." The morning after his baptism, Keady, now a new member of St. Ann Church in Charlotte, woke up and life seemed almost the same – but he understands that the grace of his newfound faith gives him strength to face "all the temptations and struggles that are still there. There's the realization – that God gives you opportunities to keep making more steps daily," he says.
"Becoming Catholic isn't just about changing the church you're in on Sunday, but changing your whole life!" says Ashley Faye Miller, a Belmont Abbey College student. Miller had "found herself" and the Catholic faith through a novena to St. Anthony of Padua, which led her to the Abbey.
"I had lost myself and was praying to him to help me find myself again," she says.
Miller hails the education she receives at Belmont Abbey College for forming her in her newfound faith. Fellow Abbey student Carly Kensinger also attributes Catholic education with her conversion. She had attended a Catholic high school in California and from there was recruited for Belmont Abbey's soccer team.
"I have many Catholic friends, and my sister had become Catholic. I went to Mass for at least a year before starting RCIA. Becoming Catholic, the biggest change was: I was able to finally be able to fully participate in Mass. That's probably the most exciting thing," Kensinger says.
"It has been one of the most peaceful and joyous years of my life!" exclaims Christie Dvorak from St. Ann Church, who entered the Church with her daughter.
Dvorak's daughter started coming home from school two years ago saying, "Mom, I want to become Catholic!" Raised Baptist, Dvorak began attending daily Mass when she would drop her off at school.
"Don't get me wrong, though; life stressors are as usual. I just feel more prepared to deal with things that come my way. I feel like I have direction and purpose for the first time."
"Catholic – now that's a good faith!" said Kelly Rusk's Baptist grandfather when Rusk broke the news of his conversion. For Rusk, this endorsement from the Baptist who had been "my spiritual rock and guide through life" confirmed his decision to enter the Church.
"My parents were happy and supportive," explains Mark Brown, UNC-Charlotte graduate student and member of St. Ann Church. He was raised Methodist, and his mother witnessed his conversion journey. She even helped it by "church shopping" with Brown during school breaks.
Miller was surprised when her mother attended the Easter Vigil. "My mom attended my baptism," she recalls. "She says she had never done anything so ritualistic, but she was so happy she came."
For Daniel Diaz, however, the affirmation came only from the new friends in his life like Father Richard DeClue. "I found myself alone and without friends for a long time. In fact, many people didn't believe me because of my past hatred for the Catholic Church. One frat brother even said, 'You're lying to me!' when I told him I was becoming Catholic!"
But Kensinger has had a different response from friends. "One of my favorite things is when a Catholic – whether practicing or not – hears that I became Catholic. They are so happy for me; there is an amazing sense of family from other Catholics – which was a nice welcome."
Adds fellow convert Lesha Sabio, "My circle of friends has always been a big group that included a few Catholics, lots of Protestants and some people who aren't particularly religious. But everyone was supportive of my decision to convert."
Sabio – who describes her first year as a Catholic as "wonderful!" – was married shortly after she entered the Church. She had grown up in a small community, attending the same Methodist church since she was born.
"We got married last July in a Catholic ceremony. Since we were both Catholic, we had the full nuptial Mass," she says proudly. She and her new husband Hernan now attend St. Leo the Great Church in Winston-Salem.
"I think it makes my relationship with my husband even better than it would be if I had remained Protestant," Sabio reflects. "To share our faith, worship together, be active in the Church and approach family and social issues from a common understanding of God's Word is very unifying."
Madeline Keeter also found that her wedding just a few months following her baptism was "everything I had imagined growing up. I have always been very faithful and knew I wanted my wedding in a church, and the Catholic ceremony was very meaningful," she says. Keeter was raised a Mormon and is the first person in her family to openly leave the Mormon religion.
Rusk, however, was married for nearly four years before his conversion.
"I love my wife, but I never considered her faith when we first married," he admits. "But when I felt God pulling me toward the faith, it made our marriage stronger."
For Angelina McArthur, a member of St. Michael Church in Gastonia, the greatest joy of entering the Church has been "supporting my husband, who is going through RCIA and will be confirmed this Easter."
"We are all attending Mass every Sunday. It enables us to focus on what is most important," she says. "I grew up in a family that attended church regularly. I always wanted to be Catholic."
TRADITION SOLID AS A ROCK
"As an individual, I can't possibly know everything there is to know," Kensinger admits. "It is comforting to have the Church because they know better as a whole. It is comforting to know you can't pick and choose what to believe," as she had been taught to do as a nondenominational Christian.
For Miller – who had been thinking about converting from a Pentecostal and Baptist background since she was a senior in high school – becoming Catholic has been important because "so many things in my life were transient, and I wanted the 'Peter Rock.' I was so confused and didn't like to hear one thing one weekend and then go to another church and learn something else the next weekend. I wanted something more solid, tradition, a foundation, more continuity."
Keady, raised Presbyterian and Wesleyan, says he had been "always very spiritual, and even found ways to go to church with friends in high school," but he began seeking answers to life's intellectual challenges about four years ago.
Keady laughs as he recalls how his journey to Catholicism began: A priest and some friends came into the bar where Keady worked. Keady peppered him with questions. "I guess the priest wanted to chill with his friends, so he said to me, 'Look, if you want to know more, you need to read St. Jerome.'"
Brown's conversion started with reading a classic work of fiction by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "Crime and Punishment." He then began to seek God more fervently.
"All my thoughts were confirmed and took shape in the Faith, where they had just been speculation," Brown explains. "Everything the Church taught was always in line with what I had always thought, even though I didn't know how to express it."
Diaz, on the other hand, says he first struggled to accept the Church's teachings, especially about the Blessed Mother. "I chose St. Thomas Aquinas as my patron because he also struggled with the teachings on the Immaculate Conception."
Diaz, currently a graduate student at Regent University in Virginia, calls his conversion an "intellectual pursuit" that he never expected to happen.
"There is so much to learn when you haven't grown up in the Church," adds McArthur. "I am constantly growing in that respect."
"Absolutely, without a doubt I have found home," Keady says. "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it. The Church's teachings aren't broken, so why would I want to go anywhere else? I just have to allow the Church's teachings to absorb into me."
— Mary B. Worthington, correspondent
Talk with a Catholic priest
Becoming a Catholic is a spiritual journey that each person must decide to make for themselves. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) is a process to help people grow in their relationship with God, become familiar with Catholic teachings and get involved with parish life. To learn more, talk to the pastor of the Catholic church nearest you.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy