by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It is said that time heals all wounds. But waiting is hard.
Life, and loss, has wounded Rebecca Laird of Topeka. But Laird has found hope, healing and joy in the Catholic faith, and she can hardly wait to become a part of it.
On April 11, she, along with Richard Marsh, will join the Catholic Church, becoming members of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in North Topeka.
Laird and Marsh represent two members of this year’s class of catechumens and candidates who participated in the Rite of Election on March 1 at Christ the King Church in southwest Topeka.
Usually celebrated in early Lent, the rite is one in which those wishing to be received into the Catholic faith — both those who have been baptized into other Christian traditions (candidates) and those who have never been baptized (catechumens) — stand in the presence of their sponsors, the archdiocesan faith community and the archbishop and express their desire to enter the full sacramental life of the church.
Two other celebrations were held — one on March 1 and another on March 5 — at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, and Prince of Peace Church in Olathe, respectively.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann presided over each of the celebrations.
Just two years ago, Laird found herself still grieving the loss of her father David. He had passed away in 2012 after a long illness.
That loss was compounded by the loss of her uncle and aunt, Don and Kay Laird, both of whom died within five years after her father’s passing. All three family members were Catholic.
Laird’s neighbor, Jolene File, was a member of Mother Teresa Parish.
“Jolene noticed my grief was more of a complicated grief,” said Laird.
“She was watching me through the years,” she continued, “and realized after about five years that I wasn’t healing.”
That’s when File decided to give Laird a nudge in the right direction.
Over a period of six months, Laird’s neighbor often mentioned Stephen Ministries to her.
“Finally, she left The Leaven in my mailbox,” Laird said. “There was an article about Stephen Ministries in it and I read that.”
The article featured a retired police officer who was part of Stephen Ministries, Laird recalled.
“I remember the article because my father worked for the police department,” she said. “That was my connection. That’s when I felt, ‘OK, this is something I need to do.’”
After reading the story, Laird called Mother Teresa Church and spoke with Mary Zachariasen, a member of the parish’s Stephen Ministries leadership team. To her surprise, she was quickly matched with a caregiver.
“I wasn’t a parishioner of the church. I wasn’t Catholic. I wasn’t even attending a church at the time,” Laird said. But she quickly bonded with her caregiver and is profoundly grateful for her help.
“She prayed for me. We prayed together,” she continued. “We are still meeting, actually. We’ve met every Tuesday. She never failed me.
“There was no push or anything from her at all to join RCIA.”
It wasn’t necessary.
“I feel like I’m a late bloomer to a lot of things in life, and I’ve learned the hard way on a lot of things,” Laird said. “But I just feel like this is where I was meant to be my whole life.”
Baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church, Laird said she went to church every Sunday and attended Sunday school, but did not learn about Jesus in the same way. Around her junior or senior year in high school, she stopped going to church altogether.
“I feel like that’s when everything in my life started going wrong,” she said.
Now that she’s returned to church, Laird said she can hardly contain her excitement about joining the Catholic faith and partaking of the Eucharist for the first time.
“I’m excited, of course, to accept the Eucharist for the first time,” she said. “I’m nervous that I’m going to cry. . . . I’m really excited for that.”
She recalls going to her father’s funeral — and not being able to receive Communion.
“I didn’t even go to his rosary because I didn’t know the rosary,” Laird said. “Those are regrets I have that are hard to accept.”
Although she knows she will not be able to see or hug her dad, uncle or aunt when she enters the church at the Easter Vigil, she has no doubt they will be with her in spirit.
Richard Marsh, likewise, said he thinks some of his family will be smiling upon him, too — especially his late wife Dorothy.
Marsh said his parents were “really good people who loved the Lord.”
Since one parent was Catholic and the other Methodist, he and his younger brother were raised in a Bible church.
“I was 11 years old when I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I kind of tried to live my life that way,” he said.
A career Army man, he flew helicopters for 39 years, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. He ended as a Medevac pilot in Kosovo.
Having met his wife in 1967 on a blind date, the two married in 1970 at Assumption Church in downtown Topeka.
In the beginning, the two raised their family (which eventually included nine kids) in the Catholic faith. But like Marsh’s parents, due to their differences, ended up raising their kids in a Bible church.
“I went, but it didn’t mean anything to me,” he said of the times he went to Mass with his wife early in their marriage.
In 2013, Marsh’s wife died of cancer. That’s when Marsh realized he had to reinvent himself.
Part of the reason he enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was to honor his wife’s memory.
“That’s part of it for sure,” he said.
When a friend joined the church a year or two ago, however, he encouraged Marsh to take another look at the Catholic faith.
“I really didn’t understand,” Marsh said. “But that’s the beauty of my friend, who told me I really needed to go and check this out.”
Eventually, Marsh enrolled in the RCIA program.
That’s where he’s learned about Mary, church history and the sacraments — especially the Eucharist.
“It’s really [Christ’s] body and blood. I can feel that, and I like that. I can understand why we’re kneeling,” said Marsh, knowing that he’s kneeling before the Lord.
“It all comes together, and it’s beautiful,” he added.