Sunday Assembly

Cedar Rapids parish welcomes seven into the Catholic Church

Makes adaptations in light of COVID-19

By Michelle Tressel

Special to The Witness

CEDAR RAPIDS — At the heart of the rhythm within a parish is the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time. In addition to liturgical celebrations, many preparations and events in the life of a parish are tied to the liturgical year. One example is the preparation of individuals to be received into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil.  Because of the pandemic, at St. Jude parish in Cedar Rapids, many aspects of parish life were changed.  The typical rhythm of preparing and bringing candidates and catechumens into the church was impacted and so were their journeys of faith.


Candidates and catechumens entered the church at two separate Masses June 24 and 26 at St. Jude Parish in Cedar Rapids. One of the two groups is shown during the sacrament of confirmation. (Contributed photo)

The seven adults who had been journeying for many months to make a commitment of faith to Christ in the Catholic Church were eagerly awaiting Easter Vigil when they would receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Candidates are people who have been baptized, but have not yet received other sacraments of initiation and are coming into full communion with the church. Catechumens are new Catholics entering the church who have never been baptized. What seemed to be unimaginable happened: twenty-five days before Triduum, all public celebrations of Mass were canceled in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

Not only did the candidates and catechumens learn that Easter is unmovable because of the sacramentality of time, but they also experienced it first-hand.  They were assured it was not a question of “if they will receive the sacraments” but “when”.

For Ben Rote, those promises were reassuring and yet didn’t make the waiting any easier as he was so eager to receive all the sacraments.  Annette Goede commented that the delay, “didn’t change how I felt spiritually.”

Altered Wedding Plans

Mamie Weaver-Dietrich and Sean Dietrich are married in March at St. Jude Church. (Contributed photo)

During this time of waiting, one unexpected turn of events stands out. Months before Mamie Weaver started RCIA in fall 2019, Mamie, her fiancée, Sean Dietrich, and their young child had been attending weekly Mass at St. Jude.  Even though Father Mark Murphy, pastor of the parish, wished for Sean and Mamie to be married in the church, the young couple decided to proceed with the March 20 wedding date they had been planning for some time. They decided to have a Catholic marriage at a different time.  To that end, they participated in and completed marriage preparation at St. Jude Church before the middle of March, being accompanied by the parish community. However, none of the other requirements such as obtaining a copy of Sean’s baptismal certificate had been started.

During his work with Weaver and Dietrich, Father Murphy learned that Mamie worked at the care center where his Dad had been a resident.  Father Murphy said, “I always want to bring people into the church, but I felt a special connection to this couple.”  Because of the relationship Father Murphy had built with the couple, it was natural for Dietrich to reach out to Father Murphy when their wedding and reception venue shut down due to COVID-19.

It was March 16 and the couple still wished to be married on March 20.  Without hesitation, Father Murphy said, “We need to make this work.”

And that is what happened.  The parish secretary from Holy Family Church in Reinbeck responded immediately to Father Murphy’s request to send Dietrich’s baptism certificate. Dietrich’s grandmother and Mamie’s friend testified to their freedom to marry.  Sister Maureen McPartland, O.P., a canon lawyer who is Director of the Office of the Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, expedited the dispensation for a Catholic to marry a non-baptized person.

Within days, Father Murphy informed the couple they could be married at St. Jude Church on March 20.

It was a very special and bittersweet wedding day.  The wedding, originally planned for more than 200 people, had 8 people in attendance. There was no reception following the wedding. Mamie recalls that it was a very emotional day.  She said, “Forever and always, I will be so appreciative of how it turned out to be.”  She continued, “My faith deepened and my relationship with the church continues to grow.  This is the right one (Church).”

 Welcome to the Church

Christopher Burhite and Mamie Weaver-Dietrich are shown during the June 26 Mass where they joined the church. To Weaver-Dietrich’s left is her sponsor. Attendees wore masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Contributed photo)
Father Mark Murphy places holy oil on the head of Christopher Burhite during his confirmation June 26. Brian McGhee places his hand ion Burhite’s shoulder. (Contributed photo)

After Archbishop Michael Jackels announced the public celebration of Masses could resume, Father Murphy, the parish staff, candidates and catechumens were eager to schedule the reception of the sacraments of initiation.  In order to accommodate schedules, two ritual Masses for baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist were scheduled on June 24 and 26.  One of the Masses was livestreamed for those members of Christopher Burhite’s family who could not attend. Although the number of people in the assembly was small, the joy was unmistakable.

Nancy Mitchell, who had been searching for a church for several years and decided she wanted to become Catholic after being invited to attend Mass with a friend, described her confirmation as “a real moment.” Nancy, whose daughter was present for her confirmation and first Eucharist, is grateful to know she is so welcomed in the church and in the parish.

Annette Goede said, “I was excited, relieved, a bit emotional — oh, and tired as my son was there and was a bit rambunctious.”

COVID-19 changed and continues to change many aspects of parish life.  One thing COVID-19 cannot do is take away the uplifting, joyful and welcoming feelings felt by the candidates and catechumens as they grow in their commitment of faith to Christ in the Catholic Church.

Tressel is pastoral associate and liturgy director at St. Jude Parish in Cedar Rapids.

Cover photo: Mamie Weaver-Dietrich, a convert to Catholicism, received several sacraments June 26 in Cedar Rapids. In the photo, Father Mark Murphy baptizes Weaver-Dietrich during a Mass that day. (Photo provided by St. Jude Parish)