Every year, scores of people make the decision to enter the Catholic Church prayerfully or, if already baptized, to receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and confirmation for the first time.
They do so through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
For three couples, it was a combination of friends, family, spiritual reading and intellectual questioning, plus prayer and reflection, that brought them into the Catholic Church.
Natalie and Joshua Becker
The Catholic intellectual tradition and friends at the University of Dallas first drew Joshua Becker and his wife Natalie to the Catholic Church and later to RCIA.
“I was raised Episcopal Anglican,” says Joshua. “I didn’t want to marry a Catholic. So I went off campus and met my wife … who was evangelical.”
“I started having what I call ‘Catholic thought’ — reading and growing through the classic Western Catholic tradition books — and began to see “the virtue and the intellectual truth in the Catholic faith.
“By senior year, it made me uncomfortable, but I still didn’t want to become Catholic,” he says. Deciding to get married, Joshua held on to his growing “Catholic thought”; but he didn’t tell his wife. “I didn’t know how to do that without compromising our relationship,” he says.
The couple began to invite their university friends over for wine and discussion. “I’d never experienced such charitable conversations about faith until I had those friends in my life,” says Joshua.
Joshua wanted to become a Catholic, but didn’t want a mixed-faith family. One day, he got up the nerve to ask Natalie, “What is it about Catholicism that you disagree with?”
“She swallowed hard and told me, ‘Nothing, I agree with everything,’” he says, recalling his surprise. It turned out that Natalie had been taking in the discussions with their friends, as well, and had started reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
They began attending Mass together, moved to Connecticut for a law firm internship and met a couple who directed them to the Dominican priests at St. Mary Parish in New Haven, specifically Father Elias Henritzy.
When Father Elias discovered that they had attended Mass together for three years, he invited them to attend RCIA sessions.
“It was fantastic,” says Joshua about the formation. “I sort of dreaded going because I had heard so many horror stories about RICA,” he laughed. But Father Elias quashed those fears.
“It was so amazing to attend a class with someone who was so charitable and caring at the same time … not tiptoeing around the faith of the Church,” says Joshua. “To this day, he remains part of our family, and baptized our oldest daughter Catherine.”
Joshua reflected that “all of the myths” about the Catholic Church were dispelled during his phases of conversion, from worship of Mary and the misunderstanding of papal authority to scandal in the Church.
He notes that while his conversion was an assimilation of experiences over eight years, his devotion to Mary was the most helpful. “I couldn’t have crossed the threshold without that assistance,” says the father of three children, who received his first Eucharist and was confirmed with Natalie at the 2015 Easter Vigil.
Kay and Justin Szarabajka
Even Kay and Justin Szarabajka could not have imagined the trajectory that God placed them on 10 years ago in their conversion to Catholicism and eventually RCIA classes with Father Robert Beloin at Yale University’s St. Thomas More Chapel in New Haven.
“Before our conversion, we were complete atheists,” says Kay, who works as a producer at the Yale Repertory Theatre; her husband is a writer.
“My husband identified as a spiritual and intellectual thinker. And I was raised in a very strong humanist tradition with a classical education at the University of Chicago,” says Kay. She noted that her father was an atheist and her mother an agnostic who, she said, believed in “total faith in the power of the individual.”
“I believed in almost nothing,” Kay continued. “I wasn’t raised with any kind of religious life. If anything, I was anti-authority, anti-religion and anti-God.”
A turning point was the example of friends who served as mentors and guides and introduced them to “what a life of faith might look like” and invited them to Mass. Also spiritually life-changing were retreats they took separately at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass.
“God put his hands on my shoulder and just reoriented me,” says Kay.
A watershed moment was deciding to marry after a 10-year relationship. It stirred deep questions: “Who is uniting us in marriage? To whom do we give the authority to bind us together? What is this bond of being married and committed to one another all about?”
“Those questions were really a big part of what was leading us in the direction of the Church,” says Kay.
By the time they began RCIA, “We had already gone through the gate. So (RCIA) was an exploration,” she reflected.
She noted that before RCIA, “I thought the totality of the faith was one of rules; and I really didn’t know what people meant when they said, ‘I believe in God.’ I thought it was some fictional, agreed-upon lunacy,” Kay says.
“What was shocking about the (RCIA) process was that it was not didactic,” she recalled. “It was conversation and questions in a small group” with Father Beloin for nine months. “I still feel close to those people,” she said.
After entering the Church at Easter 2009, they were married the same year, and also welcomed their first child, who was baptized in the Church. “I call it a year of miracles,” she said.
Today, both Kay and her husband serve as catechists in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program at St. Mary Parish in New Haven.
“Being in a position as a catechist has enriched conversations in my family,” said the mother of two. “We are so devoted to the liturgical rhythms of the Church; and now we have the tools that help us enter into conversation.”
Lourdes Sabé and Elliott Horch
For Elliott Horch, his wife Lourdes Sabé and her family steered him to the Catholic Church and RCIA at the St. Thomas More Chapel at Yale University.
“She’s a cradle Catholic who comes from a very Catholic family in Barcelona, Spain,” says Elliott, who is a professor in the Physics Department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. “I grew up in the Lutheran tradition in Ohio.”
During their engagement, they lived near Mystic, where they went through marriage preparation and connected with a group of Catholic friends. In 2004, they were married in Barcelona at a Mass officiated at by both of her brothers, who are Catholic priests and who were able to obtain a dispensation from their bishop so Elliott could receive Communion with her family.
After moving to New Haven, they looked for a church. Because Lourdes teaches in the Spanish Department at Yale, they found the Catholic Center at Yale,” says Elliott. “Once we met with Father [Beloin], that was it,” he noted. “We found our home there and I went through RCIA.
“I can’t express how important and meaningful it was for me to go through RCIA with the group I was in — seven people from college age to their early 60s,” says Elliott. “We had many discussions where everyone participated, and I consider myself to be a lifelong friend to many of them.
“When we were about to finish the process, I felt a deeper connection with Christ,” he recalled. “It was also very meaningful that my wife was my sponsor. And my friends from Mystic were there [for the 2015 Easter Vigil at which he entered the Church]; so it was also meaningful to see their faces in the congregation.”
Since then, Elliott has served as a sponsor for another RCIA candidate. And, as an “astronomer by trade,” he also has spoken at Theology on Tap gatherings for Catholic young adults, where he has talked about his career choice and how it meshes faith with science.
He also observed that the example of Lourdes’s brothers broke some myths for him. “Her two brothers are very different people, but they both decided to be priests.” Her younger brother serves as a diocesan priest and her older brother serves as a missionary priest in Africa.
“As a Lutheran, I thought that the Catholic faith was monolithic; but what I’ve realized because of them is that the Catholic faith is very diverse,” he says.
“I hope to continue to have a home in the Church,” Elliott continued. “I think, as Catholics, when we want to feel our faith come alive, we simply need to go out into the world and try our best to live out our faith.
“As a couple, it’s been very important for me to come into the Catholic faith and have the chance to take Communion together,” he reflected. “For us, that unity extends to other people and beyond. It was a great experience and the right thing for us.”