by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It’s not every day a mother and daughter join the Catholic Church together — one for the first time; the other after a lapse of many years. But Kimberly and Kayleigh Smith, members of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish here, did just that last month.
On April 3, the Smiths became full-fledged members of the Catholic Church. And while the two women had different motivations for enrolling in the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program last fall, both were thrilled to have found their family in Christ.
Born in 1973, Kimberly’s faith journey has not been the traditional one. Baptized as an infant, Kimberly made her first Communion in the early 1980s. For the next four years, she participated in CCD classes along with her peers.
Around the time she was in the sixth grade, however, she moved in with her father. (Her parents had divorced when she was 5 years old.) Although her mother’s side of the family was Catholic, her dad was not.
“I moved in with my dad and had the Pentecostal exposure,” she said, adding he came from a long line of Pentecostal ministers.
In the early 1990s, when Kimberly was around 17, she returned to the Catholic tradition, but was never confirmed. And even though for the next 30 years she occasionally went to Mass with her aunt or parents, she never really immersed herself in her Catholic faith.
It was only when she and her husband divorced, that she began to realize how much she needed her Catholic faith.
“Up until he and I divorced about four years ago, I would go to church with my aunt . . . but I was not a heavily practicing Catholic,” she said.
But their separation changed all that.
“I relied heavily on my faith when we divorced,” confessed Kimberly.
This past fall, when her daughter Kayleigh decided to enroll in the RCIA program, the timing seemed right for her to return once and for all to her Catholic roots.
“When Kayleigh wanted to convert and be baptized and everything,” said Kimberly, “I just thought it was an awesome opportunity for me to go ahead and do my confirmation and renew my faith in the Catholic Church.”
At age 23, Kayleigh said being part of a church family is something she’s longed for nearly her entire life. Growing up, she recalls going to Mass with her maternal grandmother.
“We would occasionally go to church with them,” said Kayleigh. “I remember going to Midnight Mass, or if I would stay with my grandparents for a week, we would go to church then. But that’s pretty much all I had growing up, just going to church periodically.”
As she grew up, Kayleigh said she’d hear stories of other people’s church experiences. In time, she realized how much she longed for a church family, but more importantly, a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I’ve always wanted to have a faith,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have a relationship with God.”
Kayleigh said perhaps what finally convinced her to take the next step and enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults might surprise people. Currently enrolled at Washburn University, she is majoring in history. History, she said, is what led her to the Catholic Church.
“So, I’m studying all these religions (e.g., Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity), getting to know them, and I was like, ‘I want my own. I want to belong to a religion,’” she said. “I just felt like I needed to have that connection with God in my life.”
While Kayleigh was studying religions and occasionally going to Mass with family members, Kimberly, too, experienced similar feelings of disconnectedness, feelings which often returned when she sat in the pew at Mass during Communion.
Because she had made her first Communion, she said she knew what she was missing — the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
“I would go to Mass, not receive Communion and just feel empty,” she recalled.
Although it’s hard to say which woman was more excited that night, Kimberly had double the reason for joy.
“When I went back to Communion [and confession] again,” she said, “it was very fulfilling.”
Nonetheless, watching Kayleigh proved to be more of a highlight for her.
“I wasn’t scared or nervous because I had been [baptized as a baby] and raised Catholic for part of my life,” said Kimberly. “So, I was excited for myself, but [as a mother] I was even more excited for Kayleigh.”