by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Each Saturday evening, Carla Dusil-Schuler gets her nine children dressed and bundled for the short walk from their home to Christ the King Church here.
Filling the cry room for evening Mass, they are a remarkably disciplined bunch.
They pray and sing together as Dusil-Schuler, with a baby in her arms and a toddler on her lap, keeps a watchful eye.
She has the mother’s stare down pat. There are only a few moments of restless fidgeting or restrained giggles.
It’s important for these siblings to be able to get through a Mass on their best behavior, because on Holy Saturday evening, they won’t be in the cry room anymore.
They’ll be up front and center as all nine are baptized into the Catholic faith.
A choice of their own
Though raised Catholic and an alumnus of Christ the King School, Dusil-Schuler was questioning her faith when she first started having children.
“I actually didn’t even go to church for many years,” she said.
She even chose not to baptize them as infants.
“I wanted them to decide when they got older what religion they wanted,” she said.
When it came time for school, Dusil-Schuler did enroll her children in her alma mater, where the oldest six are students today.
It didn’t take long for the faith-filled atmosphere of Christ the King to have an influence.
“I truly think kids at our school, in their everyday encounters, meet Christ,” said principal Cathy Fithian. “And they want to have him a part of their lives by the time they are here for a while.”
Father Mark Mertes, pastor of Christ the King, appreciates the school’s method of evangelization.
“What is important for me,” he said, “is that we who are teachers, students and parents practice our faith on a day-to-day basis.
“If we live with Christ’s love as our guide, people will notice and will want the joy we express in our everyday lives.”
By the time Dusil-Schuler’s oldest daughter was in fourth grade, she was “bugging” her mom to let her become Catholic.
Part of one body
“The kids have been relentless in asking their parents to be baptized,” said Fithian.
Though not Catholic himself, Dusil-Schuler’s husband, Matt, said he would support any decision she made about baptizing the children.
“They go to school and most of their friends are baptized already,” said Dusil-Schuler. “Unless they’re baptized Catholic, they can only do very certain things in the [school] Mass.
“They want to be like everyone else and participate.”
“All my friends except for one are Catholic,” said seventh-grader Clarrissa, who loves Bible parables and looks forward to being a reader at Mass.
Her older sister, Jewel, is in the eighth grade.
“I decided to become Catholic to better my understanding of God and to grow in my faith,” she said.
Jewel also looks forward to participating more fully in the Mass.
“I’ll be able to become a server,” she said. “I’ll be able to go up and, instead of receiving a blessing, I can receive holy Communion with everybody else.”
As Jewel prepares for her baptism, she’s also preparing for confirmation with her class. She credits her friends and teachers for helping her make the decision to become Catholic.
Christ in every subject
“When I was younger,” said Jewel, “my friends talked to me about how they go to church and what they believe in.
“And my teacher, Mrs. Tyrrell, she’s been a great influence. Any question I have about religion, she’ll answer it.”
Clarrissa has had a similar experience at Christ the King. She’s found that every subject being taught has faith as part of the lesson.
“They’re all really my religion teachers,” she said. “They all incorporate Catholic things into what they’re teaching.”
That’s the policy at Christ the King, said Fithian.
“We all attend School of Faith,” she said. “This is our fourth year. The archbishop requested that all the schools in the archdiocese be a part of that, and we are.
“I think our kids see Christ in every subject area, in every event we have. He is part of our everyday lives.”
As her children became more interested in becoming Catholic, Dusil-Schuler began a faith journey of her own.
“I had a friend who started talking to me about just going to church,” she said. “I actually went to quite a few different Christian churches.
“But the kids kept fighting me — ‘No, we should just go to Christ the King!’
“I started going there, and it became easier.”
A mother’s choice
Dusil-Schuler went along with her older children’s wish to be baptized and made that choice for her youngest children as well. She’s been attending religion classes to help prepare for her children’s baptisms.
“I’ve learned a lot from Father Mark,” she said.
Father Mertes has learned a few things, too, and believes that even longtime Catholics can be enriched by helping others grow in faith.
“The hunger others have to learn more about the faith I sometimes take for granted is a great inspiration to me,” he said. “We cradle Catholics can share in their joy and rededicate ourselves to living our faith fully.”
The faculty, staff and students at Christ the King live that philosophy. This Easter, 12 of their students, including Dusil-Schuler’s children, will join the Catholic Church.
A special wish
Clarrissa and Jewel said their friends are “really happy” about their baptism, and their grandparents are “excited.”
Before their daughter rejoined the church, Dusil-Schuler’s parents often took the children to Mass.
“They are excited,” she said of her parents. “They always wanted me to do this from the time I had my first child.”
But the post-baptism celebration may have to wait a day.
“That will be a hectic night with all nine of them baptized,” said Dusil-Schuler. “On Easter, we always go to my grandparents’ house, and so I’m sure we’ll have an extra celebration there.”
Father Mertes has a special wish for this newly baptized family.
“My hope for them,” he said, “is the same as Jesus’ hope for all of us.
“That they may have life and have it to the full!”