by Monte Mace
OVERLAND PARK — Betty and Brian Hurt held hands during the entire Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class Feb. 9 at Queen of the Holy Rosary parish here and listened intently as pastor Father Pete O’Sullivan explained the Catholic traditions of Lenten fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
The Hurts aren’t newlyweds — they’ve been married four years — but hold hands each session because the class means a lot to them.
“This class is important to us because we have a one-, and a three-year-old who are also being baptized this Easter,” said Betty, who is converting to Catholicism with Brian as her sponsor.
“We are making a commitment to God to raise them Catholic and we take this class very seriously for the sake of our future,” she said. “I was raised Mormon and something just never felt complete. My husband was Catholic, and I started attending Mass and found the peace that I have been missing.”
The Hurts are among 15 class members at Queen of the Holy Rosary and about 450 throughout the archdiocese who are attending RCIA classes this year. After finishing the class, both the catechumens (those who have never been baptized) and the candidates (those who have been baptized in another Christian faith) will enter the church at Easter. Queen of the Holy Rosary class members took part in the Rite of Election Feb. 22 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Leawood. Other rites of election were held at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, on Feb. 22, and at Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Topeka on March 1.
Betty’s reason for joining the church — marrying a Catholic — is a common reason for people to take RCIA classes.
“One of the most expressed reasons individuals will attend the RCIA is because they have been led to consider Catholicism — and possibly becoming Catholic themselves — by the example of another Catholic, whether it be a spouse, a friend or colleague, or someone they have come to know through a parish community,” said Michael Podrebarac, archdiocesan consultant for liturgy and sacramental life. “This, to me, is evangelization at work in its finest form.”
Podrebarac said many of those converting to Catholicism have overcome hesitation, doubt and even the opposition of family members or friends. That should lead practicing Catholics to a much greater appreciation of what is often taken for granted — the gift of faith.
Another couple attending the RCIA class at Queen of the Holy Rosary is Matthew and Jennifer Varon. Jennifer is joining the church and Matthew is her sponsor. They’ve been married two-and- a-half years and have an 8-month-old baby, Eleanor. They bring the baby to class.
“I was raised Baptist and once Eleanor was born, we decided that it was important for Matt and me to practice the same religion so that we could attend services as a family,” said Jennifer. Although we grew up in different churches, religion and church attendance were at the core of both of our childhoods and we wanted Eleanor to have that as well.”
“I particularly like the history and tradition of the Catholic Church,” she said.
Father O’Sullivan presents the RCIA materials in a conversational manner and uses lots of stories to illustrate. He said he does that so people feel comfortable, not pressured, and can apply the religious principles to their everyday lives. But he makes sure to cover key points of the faith.
“If you’re going to enter the church, be a good Catholic,” he said. “Don’t join just to join. I’ve had some RCIA members over the years go through the class and at the end say, ‘I don’t think I’m ready.’”
Betty Hurt likes that approach.
“One thing I like is how Father O’Sullivan is a person like all of us,” she said. “He talks to us like we are equals and does not give the impression that he is perfect.”
Having a daughter who is becoming Catholic spurred Bonnie Hitchcock into taking the same class as her daughter at Queen of the Holy Rosary.
“I grew up in the Nazarene faith,” she said. “My inspiration in becoming a Catholic was the thought of my daughter’s children going to Catholic school and being good Catholics and I wanted them to know that I took interest in them and their thoughts.”
Her daughter Merritt will marry Kevin Arnhold at Queen of the Holy Rosary on Oct. 3 this year.
“I am in the RCIA class because I met and fell in love with a Catholic,” said Merritt. “It is important to both of us that I become Catholic so that we have unity in our marriage and that we raise our future children in the Catholic Church.
“Kevin’s faith was one of the things that attracted me to him right off the bat. It’s hard to find that anymore.”