Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Easter 2007 sees hundreds enter the Church in Eastern Washington
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the May 3, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
The 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, published by the National Council of Churches, says that, based on 2005 statistics, the Catholic Church is the fastest-growing church in the United States today. This year, “tens of thousands of people” in the U.S. became Catholics at the Easter Vigil liturgy, according to a media release from the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
And about 300 of those came into the Church in the Diocese of Spokane.
“We don’t have precise figures, because not all parishes report their numbers,” said Dominican Sister Judith Nilles, Bishop’s Secretary for Evangelization and Pastoral Assistant at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, where the Rite of Election is held.
The stories of those who entered the Catholic Church this year in the Diocese of Spokane are as unique as the individuals involved. A random selection, however, turned up neophyte Catholics happy to talk about embracing the Catholic faith.
Elena Allen, 25, was baptized at Spokane’s St. Aloysius Church. A self-employed skin care therapist who grew up as a Southern Baptist, she explains that she “was looking for more structure in my life. I already had a strong faith, and I was looking for a better way to express my faith. I started looking, and I went to St. Al’s, and I found home.”
Even though her husband was already Catholic, Allen says that her husband’s Catholicism had nothing to do with her decision to become Catholic. “I started my journey even before I started dating my husband,” she said. “I’m going to completely enjoy the structure (that comes with being Catholic) and being able to celebrate (religious) holidays with a better knowledge of why it is that we celebrate our faith the ways that we do.”
Allen says that she doesn’t expect to find anything internal to Catholicism particularly challenging, but she does expect to be challenged by reactions from non-Catholics to her being Catholic – “not from my family,” she said, “but from the public as a whole. Everybody always has those probing questions. Mostly people know about Catholicism from movies, so you get a lot of misconceptions about the Faith.”
Randy Wagner, 54, teaches in the Department of Music at Eastern Washington University, Cheney. He was born and raised a Seventh Day Adventist, and he was baptized this Easter at the Cathedral.
On a vacation in Europe in 2001, Wagner and his wife, Barbara, toured many of the churches in Italy. “We rented a car and checked out every church and chapel we saw,” he said, “and we were just amazed by the history of the Catholic Church in Italy.” When they returned, Barbara, who grew up Catholic, began studying icons, which led to a study of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and then a history of apostolic succession. “We started comparing Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and the essence for me was that I read the writings of the Desert Fathers, and that opened up a whole new world for me regarding what I would do with Protestantism.”
From there, he moved into the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, “the accounts that aren’t in the Bible, from people who lived during the Apostles’ time, and right after. That helped me to put in place the idea that I grew up with, that the church went underground after Christ and popped up again at the Protestant Reformation – this idea that the Catholic Church went apostate, and all of this.”
The couple began attending the Orthodox Church. They went to the Cathedral in spring of last year, “and as soon as I walked in I felt overwhelmed, in a good way. As I’ve come to learn, I really believe that it was the Real Presence,” he said.
One of the things he most respects about the Catholic Church “is that my Trinitarian baptism in the Adventist church was accepted as valid. I also want to say that I respect and value the way I was raised. That I am where I am now is partly because of the people that I grew up with and the faith that was there…. The Biblical solidity of the Catholic church is wonderful – 2,000 years of exegesis and heresy squashing!”
Baptized at Spokane’s St. Anthony Church was Clay Wisbey, who says that his mother was “very religious in a kind of nondenominational Christian way. It really surprised me to learn that I had never been baptized.”
Wisbey, 51, works at Kaiser Trentwood. He traces his interest in becoming Catholic to being married for many years to a Catholic. “Twenty-four years ago, I married a Catholic,” he said. “She never pushed the issue, but she had certain guidelines she wanted to live by…. I enjoyed going to Mass. I went all the time, long before I thought about becoming Catholic.”
Then one Sunday Clay stayed in the pew during Communion, as he always did. “I just stood out of the way and let everybody go by me,” he said, “and I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ So I went and talked to Father (Joe Hiên, pastor of St. Anthony Parish), and he got me on the right direction and into the RCIA program.”
Wisbey says that what he expects to enjoy most about being Catholic will be “the family involvement in it. It’s nice on a Sunday to get up as a family and go to Mass. It’s a time to relax and take a look at what’s going on around you.”
At the same time, he expects that everything about being Catholic will be a challenge. “It’s very difficult to live this way. The things that are in front of you are almost insurmountable sometimes, unless you have some sort of faith. Every day I say something, or do something, and I’ll think, ‘Crying out loud, why did I do that?’ So being Catholic hasn’t made life easier. It has made it more challenging.”
His conversion has been “a long, long road, and I’m glad that I (became Catholic). I’m glad that I’ve gotten to that point.”
Mark and Sandy Nelson
In Colville, Mark Nelson, an accountant, was baptized at the Easter Vigil at Immaculate Conception Church, and he didn’t have to travel far from home. He and his wife, Sandy, live right across the street from the church.
“I was pretty much agnostic,” Mark said. “My parents brought me up in the Congregational Church, but it didn’t really stick. My wife is a cradle Catholic. She had not been practicing since we were married, which is 34 years, and she began going back to the Church, and then I began feeling a hole, as if something was missing. I had a couple of bad experiences trying to go to some Protestant churches, and I had essentially given up on it. Then I decided to go to church with my wife, and I went for about two years before I went through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).”
Nelson says that he feels “really comfortable in the church, and I feel very welcome there. I find myself looking forward to going to Mass every Sunday, and sometimes I go during the middle of the week.”
The most challenging part of being Catholic, he said with a delighted laugh, will “probably be Confession” (the Sacrament of Reconciliation). “I’m pretty new at being Catholic right now, but the experience of being baptized, and confirmed, and receiving my first Communion was just a wonderful experience. I really look forward to the Eucharist, and I enjoy the Church, I really do.”
Spokane’s St. Aloysius Church was the site of Tom Goodner’s baptism. Goodner, 50, works for Group Health Cooperative. He describes his prior religious history as “Christian-based but nondenominational and not really attending church on a regular basis.”
For several years, Goodner “shopped around,” attending various churches, “not really finding a home.” Then, with a friend – who later became his fiancée – he began attending Mass at St. Aloysius. “I feel like I found a home” there, he said. “To be honest, going to other churches … it seemed to me like every time there was a communion service I never really had the sense that it was anything more than symbolic. It wasn’t really very heartfelt. And when I went to the Catholic Church, after all the years that I felt that I was Christian at heart, this was the first time that I had the feeling that this was not just symbolic, that this was real, that the Eucharist was real. It just floored me, and I had never felt that before in my life. It’s wonderful!”
With regard to his baptism, Goodner recalls being touched in a special way even apart from the liturgy itself. “As we were all going off to various parts of the church to get out of our (dripping wet) brown robes and get into different clothes and a white robe, seeing wet footprints from my fellow newly baptized, leading off down the stairwell, was a profound thing. That just really made me appreciate what a journey this has been and what a fresh start this is.”
Becoming Catholic was a family affair for Jackie Martin, 53; her husband, Steve Martin, 54; and their married daughter, Krystal Colwell, 25. Jackie works in the Education Office of the Diocese of Spokane, and she says that it was the caring and compassion of Catholics that first attracted her to the church.
“Before we even moved (to Spokane) from Sacramento, our daughter-in-law (Rachel Martin) is office assistant at the cathedral, and Father Steve (Dublinski, Cathedral rector) heard about us from her. He graciously offered the apartment behind the Cathedral for us to live in for a few months while our house was being built. That was a year ago last September. I felt from the beginning that that was very unusual.”
Martin had been baptized in the Church of Christ about 20 years ago, though her husband and daughter had not been baptized. “We’ve always had our strong beliefs, and through the years I’ve gone to different Protestant churches, but I’ve never found where I felt like I belonged until I came here. That (feeling) grew, and I started going to (Mass) with Rachel.” Jackie, Steve, and Krystal came into the church at Spokane’s Assumption Parish.
Entering the Church in Walla Walla’s St. Patrick Church was Holly Robertson, 20, a student at Walla Walla Community College.
“I wasn’t raised going to church at all,” she said, “but I considered myself to be Christian. I had been to other Christian churches, but it just wasn’t the feeling that I got when I went to a Catholic church. I went with one of my friends who’s Catholic, in Yakima. In our RCIA program, our teacher teaches philosophy at Whitman College, and he has lots of knowledge about pretty much everything. All the members of the parish were very active and welcoming. My sponsor really went out of her way to welcome me into the church. I like the Mass, of course, and the gathering of the people, just the feeling of it. It feels right to be there. The Catholic Church was about the last church that I went to because, like on television, it looked so complicated. It was very intimidating for me, looking at it from the outside, but as soon as I got there I felt like it was silly of me to think that.”
Tracy Jones also was baptized at St. Patrick Church, Walla Walla.
“The RCIA has been a wonderful experience. It’s been very enlightening and educational,” he said.
“What is there not to enjoy about being Catholic?” he asks. “I mean honestly, there is really no down side to it.”