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April 12, 2009

Choosing to be Catholic

By Michelle Martin


Each year thousands of people in Cook and Lake counties make the decision to become members of the Catholic Church. They join people down through the centuries who have chosen to follow a faith presented by Jesus Christ. Conversion stories are often powerful — emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Given the rites of Christian initiation that conclude at the Easter vigil each year, we wanted to share some stories of conversion. May they remind us all of our need to continually grow in holiness and persevere in our journey to Jesus.

St. Vincent de Paul Parish in the Lincoln Park neighborhood has a large group of people entering the church this year — 22, said Mary McCain, who coordinates RCIA for the parish, and more than half of them were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil.

Among them was Steven Hall. A 21-year-old political science major at DePaul University.

Hall said that his parents aren’t religious, so they never had him baptized as a child, and when he became interested in religion, he was turned off by his grandparents’ fundamentalist evangelicalism, because of the way members of their church judged others, especially members of other Christian traditions. He also could not embrace their views on evolution, he said.

Hall continued looking for a good spiritual fit, trying and rejecting a liberal Lutheran congregation because of its pro-abortion leanings.

“My first experience attending a Catholic Mass was with a large number of my fraternity brothers at DePaul,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Up until this point, I had been shopping around for a church by myself, and I seldom saw a person my age when I attended service. Attending St. Vincent De- Paul’s Student Mass, however, opened my eyes to the number of young people who not only hung on to their faith in their college years, but actually took it seriously. It truly felt like a community.”

As he learned more about the faith, he found himself at home.

“I think its a matter of embracing and identifying the Catholic social teaching as the core values that I try to live my life by; and in that sense I would say that I have always been Catholic,” Hall wrote.

Some teachings, especially the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, did give him pause, he said.

“What helped me overcome it was a line written in David Currie’s book ‘Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic,’” he wrote “In the chapter concerning communion, he made a great philosophical argument which stated ‘what something is made of doesn’t make it what it is.’ That really got me thinking. Just because the Eucharist may be made of bread and wine, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be the blood and body of Christ.”

Also coming in

Joining him in full Communion with the church is Sarah Tupper, 27, who was baptized as a baby but never had any significant religious education.

Tupper, who was to receive her first Holy Communion and confirmation at the Easter vigil said she began to think seriously about being Catholic after seeing how much nourishment her then-boyfriend, now fiancé, got from his involvement at St. Vincent de Paul.

He was a lector and a extraordinary minister of Communion, and the parish was a big part of his life, she said. As their relationship became more serious, she thought about whether she should become part of the church.

“I felt like it was time to make a decision, to focus on starting our lives together on a really solid foundation,” she said.

So she met McCain and started RCIA. “I think it’s a unique experience doing it as an adult,” Tupper said. “I entered it not knowing if it was going to work out.”

Views changed

One of the strengths of the program at St. Vincent de Paul is that “they are very good at explaining the process” of why Catholics do things in certain ways. The parish also gives the Michigan native a sense of community within the city, she said.

Over the course of learning about the church, Tupper said, the way she saw it changed.

“I had the feeling that it was very exclusive,” she said. “And now I see that it is very inclusive.”

While Tupper plans to marry her Catholic boyfriend, she emphasizes that neither he nor his family pressured her into joining the church. But they are glad she is. His family planned to join hers at the Easter vigil to see her receive her sacraments.