Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

New Catholics welcomed by the Church: ‘the most appealing
thing about Catholicism is its commitment to truth and goodness’

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the March 20, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

“I think the Catholic Church, flawed human institution that it is, is where the best consistently overcomes the worst. I am grateful that the legacy of Vatican II makes the church a vital, organic institution in the twenty-first century. And I am energized by the idea of taking that richness and applying it to life in the outside world. The Catholicism that exists now in America is exciting and offers many means of living out my faith. For most people, the world is a difficult place in which to find the Kingdom of God, but I think Catholics are called to find it for themselves and others. We have the means.”

Left: Michael Staeheli and his granddaughter, Nellie. (IR photo courtesy of Michael Staeheli)

The speaker is Michael Staeheli, who will be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil liturgy at Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman. He is one of some 200 people throughout the Diocese of Spokane who will become Catholics at Easter liturgies this year. Each one has a unique story about how he or she came to the point of wanting to become Catholic, but they all share the same joy at the prospect of doing so.

Patricia Kienholz will be baptized at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in Spokane. She will come into the church along with her daughter and son.

Right: Patricia Kienholz. (IR photo courtesy of Patricia Kienholz)

“I visited the Cathedral to find out more about Catholicism,” she said. “I was conflicted, and at that time I thought I should go talk to a priest. I live in a loft downtown, so the Cathedral is my neighborhood parish…. I do feel a special connection with the Cathedral – because of the history and my family history downtown…. I spent much of my childhood downtown where my family owned a building.”

Don Morrison, who will be baptized at Spokane’s Assumption Parish, comes to the Catholic Church with a background in Tibetan Buddhism.

“I went to Gonzaga (University) in the early ’80s,” he said, “and I learned something about philosophy and the Church, but at the time I wasn’t motivated to choose a spiritual path. After eight years of steady practice and study in Tibetan Buddhism, I became dissatisfied with the relativism that is characteristic of American approaches to Buddhism, and I experienced general spiritual enervation. I started to use a Christian framework for meditation practices. After a time, I decided that I should take refuge in a Christian church…. I believe that tradition and a source of continuity is vital to religious practice. I believe that the Church founded by Christ is still his Church. I think that the results of centuries of debate over theological issues is at least as important as the personal opinion of my pastor, me, or my congregation.”

In Clarkston, Timothy Pearson will be baptized at Holy Family Parish’s Easter Vigil liturgy. Never having been baptized before, he says with a smile, “I’ll be getting the ‘full meal deal.’ My wife and children are Catholic, but I’m not doing this for my wife or my children, I’m doing it for myself. I found my spiritual home. Catholicism has the most consistent message about how we should conduct ourselves while on earth, and that is that we should be of service to the poor and the hungry. Also, when you take a look at what the Catholic Church has been through – and it’s still around and still growing!”

Left: Don and Sherry Morrison. (IR photo courtesy of Don Morrison)

Morrison said, “The faith community I have encountered is strong and committed. The structure provided by the church for following a Christian path as part of a community is a source of strength.”

Kienholz explained that, “Compared to some people my religious background was fairly extensive…. For me, the most appealing thing about Catholicism is its commitment to truth and goodness.”

Morrison said that he thought of becoming a Catholic “for decades, but in the last year or so I have realized that I need to be part of a church that speaks for all aspects of human experience and does it with intelligence and a feeling for beauty. Early last summer my wife and I visited St. Gertrude (Benedictine Monastery) in Cottonwood, Idaho, and I had a moment of clarity there and realized that my real home was in the Catholicism that had such a place for peace and joy.”

Pearson tells a true story that illustrates the difference even a chance encounter can make.

“I had been thinking and feeling about becoming Catholic for quite a long time,” he said, “without saying anything about it, even to my wife. Two years ago, we were at an event in Lewiston (Idaho), and we ran into some people with whom we had a casual acquaintance, and that was only because we attended the same Mass on Sundays... We said, ‘Hello,’ and whatnot, and we were walking around at this event – it was a silent auction – and somehow the topic of Catholicism came up, and I told the gentleman I was conversing with that I wasn’t Catholic, and he said, ‘No way….’ I had been involved with the parish and helped out in various ways, so he was surprised. He said, ‘Well, if you ever decide to join, I’d be happy to be your sponsor.’”

For all this to happen, Pearson said, “I felt like there was movement by the Holy Spirit to put it all into place. Then when our new pastor, Father (Thomas) Connolly came in, and he found out I wasn’t Catholic, he said, ‘Well, I’m going to be praying for you,’ and he said, ‘We’d love to see you at RCIA.’ He invited, he didn’t pressure me, he invited, and I think it was the invitations I received from these two men that helped me decide that this was the right time, and this was the right thing to do.”

All those becoming Catholic this Easter have been through a parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, and while the specific content of the program varies somewhat from parish to parish, the basic structure and purpose of the RCIA is the same: to introduce the person to the Catholic Faith and help each one make an informed, mature decision about becoming a member of the oldest institution in the western world, the Roman Catholic Church.

“We start the (RCIA) classes,” Morrison said, “with an open and personal discussion of the (Lectionary) readings for the day. I have learned a great deal about other people’s perceptions of faith, their hardships, and how faith informs and invigorates so many people’s lives. This is balanced with detailed discussions of history and doctrine. The leaders of the program do an excellent job of combining the personal with the intellectual.”

“(The RCIA) helped me to understand the reasons the church does what it does,” Pearson said. “I’ve come to an understanding that I need to have my faith and not my desire for facts determine my spiritual journey. There are things I don’t understand, mysteries I don’t understand. I mean, how can you conceptualize the Trinity? .... But I don’t question the Trinity. When it came to questions of saints, Purgatory, Mary, all these things that kept me from getting all the way into the water, so to speak – I needed to not worry about perceptions I had. I had to be willing to take a closer look.”

Kienholz’s favorite part of the RCIA was “having an opportunity to discuss issues candidly and without hostility that are often accompanied by a lot of heated debate. My sponsor, who went through RCIA a few years ago, is a math professor from Notre Dame. She reads plenty about Catholicism and has a great respect for the faith. She was a great resource! I enjoy the people in my RCIA group because they are serious and all have something different to contribute.”

“(The RCIA) is a long process,” Staeheli said, “but it builds an understanding of the many areas of the Catholic Church, brick by brick, until you have a feeling of readiness that wouldn’t have been there in the beginning. I appreciate the frankness with which our leader, Mary Johnson, has dealt with the participants in discussing the problem areas and concerns. Also, the readings have been comprehensive and, for the most part, fascinating.”

Each of the individuals interviewed believes that becoming Catholic will have a significant impact on their everyday lives. “In my work (for example),” said Staeheli, “I have an opportunity to help ease the burden of others, encourage them when they are down, and offer support when it’s needed. So far, I don’t think anyone at work who isn’t also a member of Sacred Heart (Parish) even knows that I am becoming Catholic. But I do hope they feel the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me from time to time.”

Pearson looks forward to “the unity and wholeness (that me becoming Catholic) will bring to our family; that’s very important to me. But I also look forward to being a part of the whole (parish) community. It’s very strange to never receive the Eucharist. That’s going to be really important to me. Also, when it comes to my daily work, I know there is more that I can do. Some people ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ I turn that around and ask, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ I am not Christ. Christ was God manifest on earth. I’m not. So I ask, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ And I’m thinking Jesus would have me do more for the poor and the hungry.”

“Being ‘Catholic’ can be a label,” Kienholz said. “What one believes is what matters to me and how one backs that up with action. They go together. Who knows what being Catholic will do for me? My interest is what I, as a Catholic, will do for others.”

Said Morrison, “This is all still unfolding, but I believe that a supportive community and attention to prayer is leading me to make better, less selfish choices in all areas of my life.”

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