May 9, 2014

Evangelization Supplement

Invitations to Mass, small church group bring woman back after 51 years

Mary Drake poses in front of a relief sculpture of the Last Supper at Prince of Peace Parish in Madison in this April 6 photo. Drake returned to the Church after 51 years, in part through the invitation of a friend to go to Mass and join a small church group. (Submitted photo)

Mary Drake poses in front of a relief sculpture of the Last Supper at Prince of Peace Parish in Madison in this April 6 photo. Drake returned to the Church after 51 years, in part through the invitation of a friend to go to Mass and join a small church group. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

One never knows the impact that can be made by sharing one’s faith.

Take Connie Rhoten, a convert to Catholicism, and Mary Drake, absent from the Church for 51 years, both members of Prince of Peach Parish in Madison.

While Rhoten said she “really didn’t do anything,” Drake gives Rhoten much of the credit for her return to the Catholic Church.

Raised in St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, Drake’s absence from the Church began when she married at the age of 18.

“My husband was going to another church,” she said. “I went to the church and didn’t like it, so I just stopped going.”

As time went on, Drake did attend other Protestant churches.

Gradually, she said, she began to feel “like something was missing.”

“I was hearing things [in these other churches] about the Catholic Church that I didn’t think were true, like that Catholics aren’t Christians,” Drake said. “But I’d been away for so long I thought, ‘Well, maybe they’re right.’ ”

She began to do some research. That’s when she said she started feeling some providential guidance.

“I think the Holy Spirit was speaking to me,” she said. “I started receiving all these signs pointing me back to the Church.”

There was the stranger at a wedding who told her about Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscovering Catholicism.

There was her introduction to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic cable network, which she found by accident when looking for an exercise program on television.

And then there was Rhoten.

“We met as literacy tutors at the public library,” Drake recalled. “We hit it off, and I found out she was a Catholic convert. It didn’t matter to me then.”

But the following year, in 2010, as Drake was learning more about the Catholic faith, she recalled Rhoten’s faith and invited her to lunch.

“I had a list of questions [about Catholicism],” said Drake. “Every question I had, she answered before I asked.”

Then Rhoten invited Drake to Mass at Most Sorrowful Mother of God Church in Vevay.

“It’s a small church, and I thought that would be a good idea,” said Rhoten. “It wouldn’t be as overwhelming for her as going to Prince of Peace, which is a larger parish.”

Drake went, and then took Rhoten up on her next invitation—to join her small church group through Prince of Peace Parish.

“They made me feel very welcome,” Drake said. “From the first meeting on, it’s like I felt at home with them. I’ve been in [the group] ever since.”

By December 2010, Drake knew she wanted to be back in the Church.

“I [wrote and] sent my story to [then-Prince of Peace pastor] Father John Meyer,” she said. Father Meyer is now pastor of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg.

“On Christmas Eve, almost 51 years to the day that I decided I didn’t need the Church anymore, I celebrated [the sacrament of] reconciliation and had my second first Communion.

“Father Meyer said, ‘You’ve just given yourself the best Christmas gift ever.’ And he was right,” Drake said.

“I was so excited when I got home, I had to call someone. So, of course, I called Connie.”

Rhoten can attest to Drake’s enthusiasm.

“When she came back to the Church, she came back!” said Rhoten. “She didn’t just sit and listen. She got involved.”

Drake now sings in the choir at Prince of Peace Parish and is active with the parish’s Catholics Coming Home program. She also helped organize the showing of Father Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” documentary series at her parish and the parish in Vevay.

“I hope I show in my actions how great the faith is,” said Drake. “I’m shy about approaching people, but I give my story if someone wants to listen.”

Rhoten may downplay her role in Drake’s return, but Drake said her willingness to listen, to answer and to invite was instrumental in her returning to the Church after 51 years.

“I knew this is where I belonged,” said Drake of her return. “I knew that this is what I was missing for all these years.” †

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