May 11, 2012

New Catholics’ journeys of faith join the past to the present

Franciscan Father Humbert Moster anoints Samantha Weiler during a Rite of Baptism that took place during an April 7 Easter Vigil Mass at St. Peter Church in Franklin County. Father Humbert is the sacramental minister for the Batesville Deanery faith community. (Submitted photo)

Franciscan Father Humbert Moster anoints Samantha Weiler during a Rite of Baptism that took place during an April 7 Easter Vigil Mass at St. Peter Church in Franklin County. Father Humbert is the sacramental minister for the Batesville Deanery faith community. (Submitted photo) Click for a larger version.

By Sean Gallagher

Nearly 1,000 people were received into the full communion of the Church in parishes across the archdiocese during Easter Vigils celebrated on April 7.

Every one of the 959 individuals could tell a story of how God’s grace led them along their own unique path to embrace the Catholic faith and make it their own. (Related: Welcome, new Catholics!)

They are stories of people discovering the joy and power of the faith, and seeking to share it with their children.

They are stories of long and winding journeys which ended up, in a mysterious way, back where they began.

And, in the end, they are stories from the past showing their power to touch hearts here and now.

A story generations in the making

Seven generations of the Weiler family have worshipped at St. Peter Parish in Franklin County. Conrad Weiler was a charter member of the Batesville Deanery faith community that was founded in 1833.

He helped build its current church in 1853. Since that time, members of every generation of Weilers have gone to the church to be baptized, confess their sins for the first time, receive their first Communion, be confirmed, profess vows of marriage and be buried from it.

Samantha Weiler was welcomed into this long line of Catholics in her husband Jacob’s family when she was baptized, confirmed and received her first Communion during St. Peter’s Easter Vigil on April 7.

“It gives me some meaning about what family is and how God is the center of our lives,” said Samantha about the Weiler family’s roots in the parish. “I feel more connected with them and the Church.”

Samantha was born into a family whose story differed in many ways from the Weilers. She wasn’t raised in any faith community. And when she was 9, she and her younger sister had to be raised by an uncle and aunt after her parents were unable to care for them.

“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices through life,” Samantha said. “I know I’m only 31, but it was rough. It’s made me grow up a lot.”

She has appreciated sharing the life of her husband’s family during the 10 years since their wedding.

“They’re always there for you,” Samantha said. “They’d give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. We always help each other out.”

Jacob’s work schedule makes it difficult for him to volunteer in the religious education program at St. Peter in which their children participate. So he has been thankful for the efforts that she has made through the years to pass on the Catholic faith to them, even before she was received into the Church.

“She’s been a big help for me,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

He is also grateful for Samantha’s choice to join him and their children in the Catholic faith that he received from his ancestors.

“I do believe that it’s brought us a lot closer,” Jacob said. “It helps her to understand why our family is so close. It’s another way for us to be together as a family and to do things as a family.”

When it came time for her to be baptized during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter, Samantha was a little nervous.

“It was fun, but it was kind of nerve-racking at the same time,” she said. “Everyone was staring at me.”

But she was glad to be received into the Church, knowing that it would help her pass on the gift of faith to her children.

“I think it will help them to be better people,” Samantha said. “That’s what I want for them. I think every parent wants a better life for their children. And I think the Church … [makes] families stronger.”

Renewing a Catholic connection

John and Janis Bishop were born into families that had connections to the Catholic Church.

Although John’s father was Catholic, John was not baptized as an infant. When his father died when he was 5, John was not subsequently raised in any faith community.

Janis’ parents had been raised as Catholics, but stopped practicing their faith when they became adults. As a result, she wasn’t raised in any faith community either.

As he grew up, John felt that something was missing in his life, and embarked on a wide-ranging spiritual journey. At different times, he looked into Buddhism and Judaism.

His journey took on greater intensity a couple of years ago after he suffered two heart attacks at age 39.

Last year, his quest took a turn that surprised him when he and Janis looked into enrolling their son, Blake, at St. Anthony School in Clarksville as a second grader.

At first, he said that the fact that the school was rooted in the Catholic faith was unimportant to him. He and Janis simply saw it as a place for Blake to receive a good education.

“It was just a really nice school,” John said. “I wanted him to have a better education, and I thought that a Catholic education [would be good]. It felt right from the minute that we got there.”

Since Blake would learn about the Catholic faith at St. Anthony, John and Janis decided that it was also important for them to learn about it.

“We took an educational approach to it,” John said. “We tried to learn what it was [about the faith] that our son was going to learn in this school. And in doing so, we ended up finding our spiritual home.”

He and Janis participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at St. Anthony of Padua Parish. While in it, John began reading Scripture regularly, including the readings for daily Mass.

He believes that his journey of faith is, “without a doubt,” like the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). Like the younger son in that story, John went far away from the faith tradition of his father, only to return to it when he was in need of help.

“It’s all so mind-blowing, you know,” John said. “It really is.”

Janis said that her family’s encounter with the Catholic faith, when John’s health has been so fragile, has been a great gift.

“I find peace in it,” she said. “I think that is the only way to explain it. Since our family has started this journey, it has taken stresses away from me, and I know it has from him as well.”

For his part, Blake, who said he was “happy and glad” to see his family baptized, likes being a student at St. Anthony School.

“It has a lot of good things,” he said. “I get to learn new things every day.”

John is happy to be a member of the Catholic Church. And although his health condition prevents him from taking part in the life of the Church as much as he would like, he still has plans to put his faith into action by trying to help maintain St. Anthony Parish’s cemetery.

“It’s caring for those who have passed,” John said. “Their souls are being cared for by God. And I’d like to take care of their physical remains. They were loyal followers of Christ. And they deserve to be well taken care of.” †

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