April 24, 2020

‘It felt powerful’

Adopted sisters become sisters in Christ through sacraments of initiation

Father Christopher Wadelton, sacramental minister of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh, prepares Gracie, left, Shelby, Emma and Sophia Higdon for the sacrament of baptism on Nov. 24, 2019, in Holy Trinity Church. (Submitted photo)

Father Christopher Wadelton, sacramental minister of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh, prepares Gracie, left, Shelby, Emma and Sophia Higdon for the sacrament of baptism on Nov. 24, 2019, in Holy Trinity Church. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

As churches remained closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Easter was bittersweet for Catholics across the country.

Perhaps none felt the loss more than the catechumens and candidates who eagerly anticipated being received into the full communion of the Church on Easter weekend.

But different circumstances can lead to people being welcomed into the Church throughout the year.

Say, for instance, four sisters want to be formed in the faith and receive the sacraments together. Four adopted teenage sisters. Of their own desire with no pushing from their parents.

Such was the case on Nov. 24, 2019, when the Higdon girls—Gracie, 17, Emma, 16, Sophia, 14 and Shelby, 13—received their baptism, first Communion and confirmation during a special Mass at Holy Trinity Church in Edinburgh.

They are the granddaughters of Larry and Amy Higdon, members of the parish who adopted the girls in 2011.

“I was overwhelmed,” says Larry of watching his daughters receive the sacraments of initiation. “It’s a memory I’ll cherish all my life.”

‘I wanted to be closer to God’

The Higdons were not going to Mass at the time they adopted their granddaughters.

But for some reason, says Larry, the girls wanted to be part of a faith community. So the sisters attended services and joined a youth group at a small church in Fairfield where the family lives.

Before long, the girls’ desire to go to church inspired Larry.

“I told Amy, ‘We all need to go to church together,” he recalls. “I wanted to go to Holy Trinity where I was raised.”

The girls liked the parish and the parishioners. Gracie describes the congregation as “small, and the people are very nice.”

It was around the time the family started going to Holy Trinity that Larry became ill and was no longer able to work or be active as he had been before.

“My dad was getting sick and school was horrible,” Sophia, then age 10, recalls. “But I kept turning to God every time something bad would happen. He never let me go. There were nights I cried myself to sleep, but he would always be there with me.”

The sisters were soon attending religious education class at Holy Trinity on Sundays and getting involved with the parish’s youth group and other activities.

But despite their involvement and the warm welcome they received, the girls still had a nagging feeling of not entirely belonging.

“I wanted to be closer to God and the people in my church, but felt like I couldn’t because I wasn’t Catholic,” says Shelby.

Emma agrees.

“I just felt I would feel better about joining activities and youth group and helping at the church if I were Catholic,” she says.

Then one day last year, Larry and Amy asked the girls a question: Did they want to be baptized and become Catholic?

“That was a mind-blower to me,” says Sophia. “I said, ‘I can be baptized? I thought I was too old!’ ”

The three younger girls “couldn’t wait” to start taking Rite of Christian Initiation for Children (RCIC) classes and receive their sacraments, says Larry.

But Gracie “was reluctant,” he recalls. She wanted to receive the sacraments, but because of her shyness “she didn’t want to get baptized in front of other people.”

So a special Mass was arranged for the girls and four siblings of another family who participated in RCIC with them. The two families would form a small, intimate group to witness the youths as they received the sacraments of initiation. Gracie agreed to the arrangement.

‘It felt powerful’

The Mass was scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24—and word of the liturgy spread.

“Everyone [in the parish] knows the girls’ story and got attached to the girls and wanted to be there,” says Larry.

“We told Gracie it was just going to be us and a few others, and the whole Church showed up,” adds Amy. “Gracie looked at me and I said, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK.’

“But I kept my eyes on her the whole time. I could hear in my head, ‘Aaand we have a runner!’ But everything went well, and the girls were all happy in the end.”

Gracie wasn’t alone in feeling nervous at the sight of the full church.

“I looked out at all the people and was scared,” admits Sophia. “But I realized that’s my Church family and they don’t criticize or judge, and they all love me. … It felt powerful.”

Each of the girls cited receiving the sacrament of confirmation as the most memorable part of the Mass. They had enjoyed researching meaningful patron saints during RCIC.

Emma chose St. Nicholas “because his feast day is on my birthday,” and Shelby, who likes helping blind students at her school, selected St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind and visually impaired.

But Sophia struggled to find a saint who “interested” her.

“We had cards with saints,” she recalls of her RCIC classes. “I read through over a dozen. I couldn’t find one I was interested in.

“Then I came to St. Monica. She lived a rough life. But everything she went through, she never gave up on God and turned to him and kept her faith, and that’s how she got through life. She was always happy because she always had God with her. She inspired me.”

‘God in my heart’

Looking back, Sophia says the day she was welcomed into the full communion of the Church “was awesome.” As the family drove to a restaurant for a celebratory meal after the Mass, “I was sobbing so much that Dad had to pull [the car] over and tell me it was OK because God was with me. I knew that—I was just overwhelmed with so many feelings.”

Gone now are the feelings the girls had of not fully belonging.

“I feel like I’m part of the [parish] more,” says Emma. “I feel more comfortable talking with other Catholics. I like joining in activities and feeling like I belong.”

Gracie says it’s “nice” being Catholic because “I have God in my heart,” while Shelby feels more comfortable “talking with people in my church and asking them questions about [the faith].”

And the girls give back to their faith community as well, says Larry.

“Anytime the parish needs help, the girls will do it—shovel snow, clean, you name it,” he says. “They’re very involved for their ages.”

Even the closing of churches to help stop the spread of the coronavirus so soon after receiving their sacraments has not lessened the girls’ faith. They watch Mass with their parents on Sunday mornings. On Sunday evenings, they pray the rosary as a family while on FaceTime with a relative.

Still, says Sophia, “I’ve cried because I love my church and getting to see everybody there. I love to help people. It’s just not the same, not going to church anymore.”

Despite the church’s temporary closure, she has still found a way to help her fellow parishioners. Deacon Russell Woodard, Holy Trinity’s parish life coordinator, dropped off at the Higdon house the parish’s palms that would have been used during the Palm Sunday Mass.

“I’m making crosses out of them to hand out to everyone when we can go back to church,” says Sophia. “I’ve already made 400 so far.”

Even though she can’t worship at Mass in person for the time being, “It’s nice being Catholic,” says Sophia. “I feel more loved than I did before. I feel like I have God and Jesus in my life more now than before.”

For Larry, having his daughters choose to become Catholic “meant the world to me. It was one of happiest days of my life to watch all four of them get baptized. It’s a memory I’ll cherish all my life.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!