May 16, 2014

New Catholics share stories of journey to the faith

Verneta Marchant, center in the red shirt, listens as Conventual Franciscan Father Mark Weaver, pastor of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, addresses her and her fellow catechumens and candidates during the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on April 19. (Submitted photo)

Verneta Marchant, center in the red shirt, listens as Conventual Franciscan Father Mark Weaver, pastor of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, addresses her and her fellow catechumens and candidates during the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on April 19. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

As the Church marks the Resurrection of Christ at Easter, it also welcomes new members who enter into their own new life as Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis welcomed 986 souls into the full communion of the Church Easter weekend through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in parishes throughout central and southern Indiana. (Related: See a list of all our new Catholics)

Each new member brings a rich story of their call to Catholicism. Each bears the touch of God calling them closer to him in union with the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ.

Here are four of those special stories.

‘I felt like I had a big family’

Godparents agree to help raise their godchildren in the Catholic faith. In fulfilling this promise, Jake Skillman came to the faith himself.

Skillman, who was raised as a Protestant and studied at a Bible college, had a love for Christ that many Hispanic and Burmese parents witnessed as he taught their children at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis.

“They started asking me to be a godfather or sponsor for confirmation,” said the 39-year-old teacher. “I would say I’m not Catholic, but they knew I loved the Lord and am a believer.”

Since a non-Catholic godparent of a Catholic child is permissible as long as the other godparent is Catholic, Skillman agreed.

“I took them to Sunday school classes [in the parishes]. I talked with them about their faith,” he said. “If a question came up that I didn’t know the answer to, I would say I’m not sure, but I’ll look it up.

“The more I started studying, the more I got interested.”

The turning point came two years ago as one of his goddaughters prepared for her quincenera—her coming-of-age celebration as she turned 15.

In a talk with the priest who celebrated the quincenera Mass, Skillman revealed that he was Protestant.

“I told him my background. He said, ‘What’s important as a godfather is that you lead them to Christ. I don’t see why you can’t be that example.’

“He affirmed me and my faith. That right there was the water on the seed, and the seed was trying to help kids understand their faith. At the altar [during the quincenera Mass] I thought, ‘I want to be Catholic.’ ”

He started to ask his cradle Catholic co-worker, Alice Winslow, questions.

“She didn’t give ‘we’re better than non-Catholics’ answers,” said Skillman. “That drew me closer to the [Catholic] faith.”

When she took him to Mass at her parish, St. Pius X in Indianapolis, Skillman knew he was “home.”

“I grew up going to a Korean-American church,” he said. “I walked into the church, and there were all these faces of Burmese students that I taught. I felt at home. I felt like I had a big family.”

Skillman went through RCIA at St. Pius X with Winslow as his sponsor. He received the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist at the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on April 19.

Through the process, he’s grown closer to his Catholic, 17-year-old son, Pedro, a former godchild from Mexico whom he adopted when the boy was 9.

Pedro isn’t the only one Skillman has grown closer to.

“Going through this process has drawn me closer to the Lord,” he said. “God cares so much for my happiness he led me to where I am.”

‘How happy I am, how excited I am’

Ten years ago, James Foutz decided to see Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, despite hearing that it had “a Catholic slant.”

“I was raised Protestant,” he said. “ ‘Catholic’ was almost a bad word in our house when I was growing up.

“But I liked Mel Gibson and thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.”

The film left Foutz intrigued.

“The Passion history, speaking in Protestant terms, isn’t as real as what it is from The Passion of the Christ,” said Foutz. “The thing most striking about it was Mary, how they brought Christ off the crucifix and placed her shredded son in her lap, and she invited you in with her eyes. I’d never seen that in other renditions besides The Passion of the Christ.”

A year later, Foutz was working as a utility locator in central and southern Indiana. He noticed a Catholic church across the street.

“A little voice said, ‘Go in and get a rosary’,” he said. “I went in and someone was there. I talked to this guy about what was going on, how I had this deep desire to learn more about Catholicism, and how I was really wanting and needing a rosary.

“This was on St. Patrick’s Day. The guy looked around, and the only rosary they had was from Our Lady of Knock [an apparition that took place in Ireland].”

Through the course of the next several years, Foutz slowly continued his quest. He read pamphlets and books on Catholicism, watched Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) cable shows and “watched The Passion of the Christ about 12 more times,” he said.

Two years ago, Foutz decided he was ready to pursue RCIA at St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington. He was unable to complete the process due to a turnover in staff, but he finally fulfilled his desire to become Catholic this year at the church’s Easter Vigil on April 19.

He said his two daughters in college, both Christians, are happy for him and asking questions.

He welcomes their curiosity.

“A lot of people don’t understand the huge pull and desire to have the Eucharist, and belong to the Church that Christ established,” he said.

“You have no idea how happy I am, how excited I am to be receiving the Eucharist. The sacraments, to me, are very dear.”

Foutz noted that there seem to be “a lot of Protestants coming into the Church. The Lord has been calling them for a reason.

“If the Lord can pull someone that was at one point as anti-Catholic and so set in his ways as I was, no matter how wrong, and set him on fire for his Church, then hold on—there’s a whole lot coming!”

‘I wish I’d been raised Catholic’

For Verneta Marchant, the journey to the Catholic faith started 69 years ago, when the 75-year-old woman was just 6 years old.

“My dad was raised Catholic, but he was not a practicing Catholic,” she recalled. “He was going to go back to the Church. I remember being at the rectory in Paris [Illinois] with my mom and dad, and they met with this one priest, Father Nolan.”

Sadly, her father died the next year before coming back to the Church.

“Over the years, I would always say I wish I’d been raised Catholic,” she said. “I felt at home there.

“But since I didn’t go to Catholic school, I just figured it’d be too hard to join the Church.”

Throughout her life, Marchant attended Methodist churches since she had been baptized in that tradition.

“I would go to church and think, ‘OK, this is good that I’m going to church.’ But I felt nothing,” she admitted.

“A year ago on Good Friday, I went to St. Mary’s [Parish in Paris, Ill.] and spoke to [the priest] to see if he could find out anything about that priest, Father Nolan. I talked with him for about an hour.

“I left and I got in my car, and all of a sudden I felt like I was embraced in the love of God,” she said.

“All these years [going to Methodist churches] I would think, ‘Please God, let me feel something.’ And this feeling [in the car] was so powerful. That was just an awe-inspiring day. It was like God was saying, ‘Now you’re on your way home.’ ”

“Home” became St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, where Marchant was received into the full communion of the Church during the Easter Vigil on April 19.

She was drawn to the parish by a member of Compassionate Friends, a support group for those suffering from the death of a child.

Marchant has lost two of her three children—a son to a motorcycle accident and a daughter to suicide.

“At RCIA, they took us into church and did the Stations of the Cross,” she recalled. “I teared up because Mary, she went through so much pain watching her son die. I just had this feeling that Mary knows how I feel.”

That connection led Marchant to choose Mary as her confirmation name.

“My life has been this journey moving toward this thing I’d always wished for.

“Before, I just went to church and that was it. But I want to participate in different things now,” said Marchant, who volunteers at the Catholic Charities food pantry in Terre Haute.

“It’s an awe-inspiring thing that I am here, that I’ve finally started this journey.”

‘We’re home now’

What started as a calling for Dave Adams also became the passion of his wife, Jan.

A lifelong Protestant, Dave’s journey to Catholicism began in 1991 among the Trappist monks at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky.

That was the first year he and other members of his men’s group went there for a silent retreat weekend.

“I’ve gone every year since then except one,” he said.

He and Jan continued going to Protestant churches until three years ago when they moved to Danville.

“I asked God to lead us to where he wanted us to go,” Jan recalled. “But there was no church we felt a desire to visit.”

“It was a dry time in the desert,” Dave added.

Meanwhile, as he attended Mass on his yearly retreats at the abbey and developed a friendship with a Trappist monk, he slowly but surely felt a call to become Catholic.

“He came home one day last year, and said he’d talked to the priest [at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Danville],” said Jan. “I wondered what had taken him so long. I’d known for a long time his heart was for the Church.”

It was fear of Jan’s response that had held him back, Dave said.

Neither he nor Jan could have imagined the full outcome of her response.

“When he told me [about his decision], I wondered, ‘What’s this going to do to our marriage?’

“I decided to go with him [to RCIA] because I wanted to know what he knew. At the first meeting I told everyone, ‘I’m just here to support Dave.’

“It was maybe by the third class that I realized [the journey] was not just about him, but also about me,” said Jan.

As for her concerns for their marriage, Jan needn’t have worried.

“There’s nothing better than to share a love of God,” she said. “It was unexpected how much deeper our relationship is and how much closer we are, and we didn’t even know we could be [closer].”

Lent was a particularly special time for Dave and Jan.

“In the Protestant Church, they have Palm Sunday and Easter, but that’s it,” Dave explained.

“I’d never lived or experienced or felt [Lent and Easter],” Jan said. “[Non-Catholics] are so cheated, and they don’t even know it.”

Dave recalled something he said to Jan when he spoke to her of his desire to become Catholic.

“I told her, ‘I need to go home,’ ” he said.

Now Jan is the one who says with joy, “We’re home now.” †

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