81-year-old becomes Catholic a few days before her death
By Jody Kerns
Special to The Witness
EDGEWOOD — June 12 wasn’t your typical Mass at the Edgewood Convalescent Home in Edgewood. On this day, residents from the nursing home gathered with members of St. Mark Parish to celebrate the sacraments of initiation with resident Charlene Culbertson. At the age of 81, Culbertson was brought into the Catholic faith in a beautiful and intimate ceremony, celebrated by Father John Haugen, pastor of the Emmaus Pastorate. For Haugen, this was a first.
“Looking at the faces of the wide-eyed residents, this once-in-a-lifetime celebration moved them as well,” said the priest.
Culbertson received instruction at a young age after marriage to her husband who was Catholic. Together, the Culbertsons were blessed with two children, a son and daughter. Tragedy struck, and they lost their infant son. Two years later, Culbertson again faced tragedy as she learned her husband was killed in a car accident. Life went on for Culbertson. She didn’t complete her path to become Catholic; though, she did feel it was important to continue to raise her daughter in the Catholic faith.
Culbertson’s daughter, Lynne, married John McGreal. Together, the McGreals had two children. Once more, the family would face loss when the McGreals lost an infant daughter. The losses in Culbertson’s life were great, but God provided her with the gift of her grandson, Lane McGreal.
Lane’s parents raised a faith-filled son who had a special relationship with his grandmother. Culbertson spent much time with her grandson, providing care for him when the McGreals were at work. As Lane grew older, she shared her love of horse husbandry with him. They spent much time together. The only thing missing was sharing of their faith.
As Culbertson began to age, Lane continued to share his faith with his grandmother through personal conversations, and, quietly, Lane and his mother “nudged” his grandmother to consider taking the next step in her faith journey. Eventually, Culbertson’s age and health problems began to take their toll. She became a resident of the Edgewood Convalescent Home. Lane didn’t give up on his grandmother, and the love between them came to fruition, as Culbertson made the decision to be baptized and received fully into the Catholic faith.
“This was so important to my Lane,” stated Culbertson. “He has taught me a lot about faith, and I wanted to do this for both of us.”
Immediately following the baptism, Culbertson smiled serenely and said aloud, “Oh, I feel so good. Thank you so much, Father!”
“This was one of the most profound moments I’ve witnessed in my years of ministry as a faith formation director,” stated Jody Kerns, director of religious education (DRE) at St. Mark Parish. “Those present all felt that moment and the impact it had on this elderly woman’s life.”
Following Mass, residents of the nursing home and members from the parish celebrated with Culbertson. She was in a state of pure joy and shared with those present how excited her family and grandson, Lane, would be. Lane couldn’t be present the day of his grandmother’s baptism but was excited to come home from his summer intern job to greet his grandmother and share this special moment.
The joy Lane was prepared to celebrate quickly turned to grief, as Culbertson’s health took a turn, and in less than 24 hours after his return home to his grandmother, she passed away, not even 72 hours after her reception into the Catholic Church.
“It certainly was a rare celebration. Her course of instruction many years ago was interrupted, and it wasn’t really until her grandson’s conversations that it was rekindled,” stated Father Haugen.
Culbertson’s last days were filled with pure grace and peace, in the sacraments. “Even though her faith life may have been missing God’s direct presence through the sacraments up until her full acceptance into the church, I truly believe she left us with a great example that the Spirit can move us at any age,” said her grandson, Lane.
If Culbertson were still here, there is no doubt she would also add that God gave her Lane and the love of a grandson that brought her to a deep transformation in her life.
Kerns is director of religious education at St. Mark Parish in Edgewood, part of the Emmaus Pastorate.
Charlene Culbertson is shown in a recent photo with her grandson, Lane McGreal, who inspired her on her journey of faith. She joined the Catholic Church during a Mass and ceremonies June 12 in Edgewood and died several days later. (Contributed photo)