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Story and photos by Darlene J.M. Dela Cruz
Hawaii Catholic Herald
At Easter Vigil liturgies around the diocese April 15, more than 200 catechumens will be baptized into the Catholic faith. Dozens of others who have been previously baptized will receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation, bringing them into "full communion" with the church.
The Island's Easter Vigil services are a joyous culmination not only of the Lenten season, but of the diverse faith journeys that led our local catechumens and elect to conversion.
Sacramental preparation through Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC) programs requires much prayer, study and self-reflection. The path to conversion, however, bears for our newest Catholics a fresh outpouring of God's grace.
Two catechumens shared with the Hawaii Catholic Herald their conversion stories. Jane Brown of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Honolulu and Sarah Taylor of St. Anthony Church in Kailua offer a glimpse of the dedication and inspiration found in the myriad experiences that bring people to Catholicism.
We extend our warmest blessings to our Island catechumens and elect.
As Dennis Muth, one of the RCIA coordinators at St. Anthony Church, Kailua, told the Herald, "It's really just the beginning for them, and this 'conversion' in a sense is a lifelong journey and should be filled with wonder and awe as they strive to learn more about themselves, their purpose in life, and our faith."
Sarah Taylor, 26, was born and raised in San Diego. She has a degree in business marketing. Taylor has been living and working in Hawaii for eight months, during which time she joined the RCIA program at St. Anthony Church in Kailua.
Taylor was raised in what she called "a non-denominational Christian faith." She said she didn't enjoy going to church as a child, and as she got older she never quite settled into the church routine.
"I never felt comfortable," she said. "I didn't want to be there."
As a teen, she fell away from religion altogether. Taylor said she had a negative impression of faith, which was shaped partly by her lukewarm personal experience and additionally by the negative notions of religion in today's society.
"Teenagers are more rebellious," she said. "They're like, 'I'm going to think deeply and be outside the box.' That's when I became kind of against going to church because I thought church is for people who can't think for themselves."
She hit a really hard time in her life when her father died. In college, she started partying a lot and seeking attention from guys. Taylor sees in retrospect that it was an unhealthy way of dealing with her father's death. At the time, however, that lifestyle seemed the path to confidence, popularity and success.
"It was a kind of camouflaged as free-spiritedness," she said. "You were winning at life. But it was inauthentic. I just got more and more anxious. Eventually it was too much."
Taylor said she hit "rock bottom" around age 23.
"I just felt lonely," she said. "And I was like, 'something's wrong.' I am experiencing all of these consequences from my actions, and I don't want my life to be like this."
"I didn't really have anything that I knew I could do," she added. "All I could do was pray."
She recalled going back to her church, getting on her knees and crying. Taylor described feeling a "wave of peace" that felt like a magic switch or something in me straightened out." In that moment, she desired to start fresh. Taylor reassessd her priorities and friendships - and her relationship with God.
"What made sense to make me happy, and to make me feel good, was in line with the words of God, " she said. "I told God, 'I obviously can't do this myself. I need you."'
Although Taylor felt positive about trying to change her life, she said "that peace that I felt almost gave me a sense of guilt." She was humbled by the love she felt from the Lord, even after she had rejected him and tried to get others to turn away from God as well.
"I don't deserve this love," she said. "But I'm going to do whatever I can to never forget this moment."
She met her now-boyfriend after learning to be more selective about her relationships. He's a devout Catholic, and the two have been open to experiencing each other's faiths.
They moved to Hawaii, and Taylor began considering conversion to Catholicism. The more she learned about the faith, the more she felt its impact on her life - angels, saints, sacraments, Mass and all.
"It's so beautiful," she said. "With the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother and everything, it's such a more full kind of experience."
She has attended a Basic Christian Community retreat, and has immersed herself in the faith formation activities and RCIA classes at St. Anthony, Kailua. She has appreciated the chance to grow alongside her fellow catechumens.
Julie Strivens, and RCIA coordinator at St. Anthony, said she has seen "the joy in Sarah's spirit as she has been growing closer to God."
"Sarah has an open heart to a deep relationship with God," Strivens said.
Approaching baptism, Taylor said she is most nervous about "not being worthy of it." She certainly knows that is not true, though. When asked what she would tell others who are considering conversion, or young adults who are unsure about religion, she said the main thing to understand is that God welcomes everyone "with open arms."
"Regardless of whatever ideas you have about what the church is like, or what the culture tries to tell us about what the church is like, you're 100 percent welcome," Taylor said. "If you come, just come as you are."
RCIA coordinator Strivens said she would give Taylor the same blessing as she enters the Catholic faith at Easter Vigil.
"When you are baptized, our Lord is there with open arms to give his unconditional love to you, his child," Strivens said. "May you have peace in knowing that God is always with you, and no one can take him away."
Jane Brown, 65, met her husband LeRoy in Houston, Texas, in 1979. LeRoy, a devout Catholic, arrived dressed in a three-piece suit when he picked Jane up for their first blind date.
"He had just come from church," Jane recalled with a smile. "He has always been spiritual. His mom was very spiritual. They went to church ever single day."
Jane, who is Jewish, dated LeRoy for two years before the pair got married in a Catholic ceremony. They came to Hawaii for their honeymoon and moved here shortly afterward.
Since then, LeRoy has become quite active in the diocese. The Browns lived in Hawaii Kai for about three decades, and in that time LeRoy volunteered for various ministries and held leadership positions at Holy Trinity Church, their home parish. LeRoy also joined the Basic Christian Community, or BCC, in which he has given talks and assisted at numerous retreats.
Although she is Jewish, Jane said "it was never uncomfortable" to share in her husband's faith. She'd attend Mass with LeRoy "on special occasions and holidays," and they would regularly pray together at home. Jane said she has always been inspired by the way LeRoy lives out his walk with God.
"LeRoy is very true to his Christianity," Jane said. "I'm going to have to really work on getting up to his bar."
About five years ago, Jane was invited to attend a Basic Christian Community retreat. It was a powerful experience that she considers "the turning point in my spirituality."
"It was so emotional," she said. "I went and I just cried all weekend."
On the first night of that retreat, participants had an opportunity to go to confession. Jane had been a little wary about it because she didn't know what to do. LeRoy encouraged her to talk to diocesan vicar general Monsignor Gary Secor, who also serves as spiritual director for BCC and was one of the confessors that evening.
She told Monsignor Secor that she's Jewish, so she couldn't have a sacramental confession. Msgr. Secor nonetheless invited her to spend that time speaking with him about anything that was on her heart.
"I want to feel God," Jane recalled telling Msgr. Secor. "I'm asking for it everyday, and I just don't feel it."
She was impacted greatly when Msgr. Secor said to her, "Jane, do you think you're trying too hard? Just accept what you can't understand, accept what you can't see, and just let it happen."
"After that, I just kept praying to Jesus, 'open my heart, I want to feel your love," Jane said.
Following the retreat, Jane considered converting to Catholicism. Then, she and LeRoy a couple of years ago went through what she described as "a rocky period" in their marriage.
"During that year, I just started praying a lot harder," she said. "I kind of think I made a deal with God. I said, 'God if you could heal our marriage, I will follow you till the day I die. I will commit myself a hundred percent."
"It all worked," Jane added.
That "rock bottom" time, as she calls it, sparked her to finally join the RCIA program at Holy Trinity parish last September. She and LeRoy moved from Hawaii Kai into metro Honolulu in December, so Jane has continued her RCIA studies at Sts. Peter and Paul Church. She will be baptized there at Easter Vigil.
Her husband LeRoy is her sponsor for the sacraments. They have been attending the RCIA classes together, and both have gained much from the sessions.
"It's been an interesting journey, " Jane said. "I thought I knew a lot about the Catholic religion because I'm married to LeRoy, but then LeRoy explained to me that he learned so much in the RCIA program. He was happy he went."
"I think that anybody that makes a commitment to convert to another religion needs to understand the basics of the religion and the roots of the religion," she added. "You need your foundation to grow into being stronger in any faith."
Sitting in their apartment a few weeks away from her baptism, Jane said she has already invited "everybody I know" to celebrate with her at Easter Vigil.
"I'm really excited to be able to receive the sacraments," she said. "I think that's what really makes the difference between Catholics and everyone else - the sacraments."
"Seriously, how can I not be excited, right?"