Entering God’s house with open hearts

Rite of Election, Call to Continuing Conversion ceremonies are big steps for new Catholics 

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

WATERLOO — Stephanie Dowd wasn’t raised in any religion. She found herself stepping foot in a Catholic Church for the first time in her 20s thanks to the invitation of friends.

“I started going to their childrens’ graduation Mass or first Holy Communion Mass,” recalled Dowd. “I just felt completely out of my element.”

The Waterloo-resident works in the business of Tim and Wendy Funk, a Catholic couple who belong to St. Edward Parish in Waterloo. The young woman became friends with the Funks and was intrigued by the role faith plays in the family’s life. Gradually, the 29-year-old began her own spiritual journey after the Funks piqued her curiosity.

“(Religion) wasn’t something I talked about with anyone growing up because it was a taboo subject,” said Dowd. “(When I first became interested in Christianity), I ended up going to different churches, including non-denominational churches.”

Eventually, she began to feel more comfortable with Catholicism.

“I really enjoyed Mass,” said Dowd, explaining that it gave her a feeling of newfound peace. “I ended up going every week.”

By the fall of 2015, Dowd was also attending parish-sponsored events in the Waterloo area to find out more about the church. At the suggestion of Tim and Wendy, she began the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This process for those who wish to become Catholic involves a series of classes and other faith formation activities.

“I’m really glad I went into RCIA, even though I wasn’t 100 percent sure about it at the time I started,” said Dowd.

She moved forward at her own pace in what she described as a pressure-free environment until she decided to become a “catechumen,” someone who has never been baptized, but wishes to join the church. Both catechumens and “candidates” — people who have been baptized into Christianity, but have not received any of the other Sacraments of Initiation — enter the church every year during the Easter Vigil Mass, which takes place on Holy Saturday.

This year Dowd will be among 53 catechumens from parishes around the Archdiocese of Dubuque who are becoming Catholics. Archdiocesan-wide, the church is also welcoming 99 candidates. An important step for these people on their way into the church is the Rite of Election for catechumens and Call to Continuing Conversion for candidates. Both of these ceremonies take place around the same time each year in dioceses around the world. Locally, these events were scheduled this year for Feb. 13 at St. Edward Parish and Feb. 14 at St. Raphael Cathedral in Dubuque.

Unfortunately, the ceremonies in Dubuque were canceled due to a snow storm, but the Waterloo events went on as planned. Led by Archbishop Michael Jackels, the ceremonies began at 10 a.m. with Scripture readings, prayers and petitions similar to a regular Mass. After the homily, however, the archbishop doesn’t begin the liturgy of the Eucharist. Instead, all catechumens are called forward with their godparents to sign the “Book of the Elect” with the archbishop, signifying their intention to join the church. The archbishop then says: “I now declare you to be members of the Elect of the Archdiocese of Dubuque to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil.”

Candidates are then called to stand in the center aisle of the church with their sponsors while the archbishop asks a series of questions of the group and then prays for the candidates. Afterwards, everyone greets Archbishop Jackels.

“It’s always beautiful and it’s definitely one of the most formative moments of the RCIA process,” said Ellen Voegele, RCIA coordinator for the Waterloo parishes. “I got to be up front and watch the catechumens sign the book. It’s sort of like an engagement before a marriage. This is really that moment of engagement.”

Being among people at the same place in their spiritual journey for the ceremonies was a positive experience, according to Dowd.

“It really was prayerful,” added archdiocesan worship office director Peggy Lovrien, who also attended the Waterloo ceremonies. “Meeting the archbishop means a lot to (the catechumens and candidates) because he’s a symbol of the universal church.”

With the Rite of Election still fresh in her mind, Dowd is looking forward to being baptized, receiving the Eucharist, and being confirmed at the Vigil on April 26.

“I’m just so excited,” she said. “I can’t wait.”

Dowd believes her conversion is a blessing.

“I know this is cliché, but something was missing in my life,” she said. “I was trying to find that joy and happiness all over the place and it just wasn’t there. Part of me wishes I had found the church earlier in my life, but I’m grateful this is happening to me as an adult because I can appreciate it more now.”

Photo: (l to r) Godparents Wendy and Tim Funk stand with Stephanie Dowd, a catechumen who they helped introduce to the church, as they pose with Archbishop Michael Jackels in Waterloo Feb. 13.

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