Coming Home for Easter
Two Couples Find Joy Entering the Church
On April 4, during Easter vigil Masses, thousands of catechumens and candidates will be entering the Catholic Church.
An estimated 1,828 will be welcomed in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 1,956 in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, 1,135 in the Archdiocese of New York and 800 more in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Celia Donlon is numbered among the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults’ candidates in the Archdiocese of New York. This Easter, she will enter fully into the sacramental life at the Church of St. Michael in New York — the parish of renowned theologian Father George William Rutler — along with 14 other new parishioners.
She credits her husband, Paul, for sharing the faith, as well as EWTN’s Catholics Come Home series — hosted by Tom Peterson, president and founder of VirtueMedia, Inc. and Catholics Come Home, Inc. — and Catholics Come Home’s “evangomercials” as the inspiration for her conversion.
As Paul, a baptized Catholic, was making his own journey back to the Catholic Church, he would share facts and aspects of Catholicism with Celia, who was raised in the United Methodist Church. His talking about Catholicism motivated Celia to begin reading about the faith, watching EWTN and attending Mass with Paul.
Until recently, Paul had not been attending Mass regularly. He had drifted away from the Catholic Church sometime during his college years. “Frankly, the reason was just pure laziness on my part,” he told the Register. “It started by missing Sunday Mass once in a while, until, finally, not going at all — and certainly not going to confession. I had become a Christmas-and-Easter Catholic, at best.”
Seeing Catholics Come Home’s program and evangomercials encouraged the Donlons to start thinking more seriously about Catholicism. As Celia told the Register: “One night we saw one of the evangomercials, and I was in tears, not even being a Catholic yet. We started seeing more of them, and every time I watched them, I was deeply moved. At the same time, we were watching the Catholics Come Home series on EWTN. I went on the CCH website, which was very informative, and bought Tom Peterson’s Catholics Come Home book.”
Paul added that seeing the evangomercial about confession, as well as the prayers of his devout parents, were factors that led him to seek the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time in many years in December 2014.
The Donlons say this is an especially joyful time for them. “I’m excited to be entering the Church this Easter, to receive the Eucharist and to begin a new, amazing life within the Church,” Celia said.
“Being able to worthily receive Christ in the holy Eucharist at each Mass is amazing beyond words,” added Paul. “Having a better understanding of the Catholic faith gives me such a tremendous sense of pride as well. I am learning more and more each day. Finally, having Celia join the Church has been a blessing as well. To see her joy as she learns the faith has inspired me to be a better Catholic and person each day.”
Their story is heartening to Catholics Come Home’s Peterson: “Listen, love and invite them. People want authentic witnesses,” he told the Register. “Ninety percent of Catholics Come Home returnees said they came home because they were invited.”
Michael and Charleen Civiello, from Boise, Idaho, credit Pope Francis and the example of their two Catholic grandchildren for bringing them to the Catholic Church.
Charleen, 73, who was raised Lutheran, is one of the 70 catechumens and candidates at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian, Idaho. Her husband, Michael, 72, a “revert” to the faith, will be her sponsor. Another small miracle, considering Michael left the Catholic Church in 1964 — despite church involvement as an altar boy, organist and choir member and having attended Catholic school through sixth grade.
Throughout their married life, the couple attended a number of Protestant churches, including Baptist, nondenominational and Presbyterian.
“I was a church musician, and I played in all the major denominations,” Michael told the Register.
Dissatisfied, the couple stopped attending church services for two years.
It was the papal election in 2013 that nudged the Civiellos to take a closer look at the Catholic Church.
“We were very impressed with Pope Francis. We thought, ‘Maybe we should go and check out the Catholic Church,’” Charleen recalled.
Her interest in the Catholic Church had already been percolating — though she hadn’t mentioned it to her husband — because of the witness of their grandchildren. Their son, who lives in California, joined the Church 20 years ago. He and his wife have been raising their two children in the faith.
“I had been watching our granddaughter, who’s nearly 13, and our grandson, 8, all through the years. The way they behave, the way they pray, their devotion and their whole demeanor really impressed me. They have been one of the biggest influences for my wanting to find out about the Catholic Church,” she said.
After Pope Francis became pope, Michael decided to attend a returning Catholics’ class at Holy Apostles, and Charleen joined him. “I never felt really at home at any of the Protestant churches, but when we walked into Holy Apostles for the first time, I thought, ‘Wow.’ After the class, I knew that I wanted to know more,” Charleen said.
Michael returned to the sacraments in November 2014, and Charleen started RCIA classes in June. “We look forward to getting up and going to Mass on Sundays rather than saying, ‘I have to go to church,’” she said. “You go into the Catholic Church, and the people are reverent and praying; it’s a different feeling — one of peace.”
This response is just what Father Leonard MacMillan, the pastor, feels blessed to witness.
Holy Apostles (Easter vigil 2011 shown in provided photo), in the Diocese of Boise — an estimated number of Catholics entering for 2015 is not on record for the diocese — is one of the leading parishes in the state, as well as the United States, for having large RCIA numbers.
From 2010-2014, the parish averaged 114 RCIA participants.
This Easter, Father MacMillan is overjoyed to be welcoming 70 new Catholics into the fold.
“This is a smaller than usual number, but I think it’s still pretty amazing,” he told the Register. “It’s incredibly joyful and a sign of the presence of God.”
Father MacMillan says people have called his parish to find out how they are able to attract so many people. “Hospitality and a sense of community that really draws people in” is key, he said.
When one individual asked to see the RCIA syllabus, he recalled, “I was a little disheartened. It’s not the syllabus that attracts people; it’s the community and the life in our parish. Those searching don’t know the syllabus when they’re not Catholic. All they know is that there’s a mystery here, and they feel welcomed.”
Lori Hadacek Chaplin
writes from Idaho.
Visit CatholicsComeHome.org for more information and to view “evangomercials.”
- April 5-18, 2015