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Sarah and Ryan Wolfram and their children, Annabel, 10, Theo, 5, and Layla, 7, attended Mass on March 17 at St. Theodore Church in Flint Hill. The family will be entering into the Catholic Church this Easter.
Sarah and Ryan Wolfram and their children, Annabel, 10, Theo, 5, and Layla, 7, attended Mass on March 17 at St. Theodore Church in Flint Hill. The family will be entering into the Catholic Church this Easter.
Photo Credit: Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. for the St. Louis Review

Finding faith as a family

Drawn to the faith they discovered through St. Theodore School, family of five prepares to enter the Church together at Easter

The Wolfram family is preparing the enter the Church the same way they found their faith — together.

The Wolfram family spoke with Deacon Tim Dallas after they attended Mass on March 17 at St. Theodore Church in Flint Hill.
Photo Credits: Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. for the St. Louis Review
Sarah was baptized Methodist. Ryan was raised without a consistent faith life. They were married in a Methodist church and had been attending a nondenominational Christian church with their children for a few years.

“We’d been to multiple churches, and we always just kind of felt like something was missing for us, like we could never really connect the dots,” Sarah said. “There was a missing piece.”

So last year, when the family’s neighbors invited them to an open house at St. Theodore School in Flint Hill, they figured it couldn’t hurt.

St. Theodore director of family catechesis Katie Maxwell gave Ryan the tour. “Everything about it, I fell in love — the character values, the virtues on the walls,” he said. “…But the Catholic religion, before all of this, was intimidating to me. I was like, ‘Do you accept outsiders?’”

Maxwell answered all his questions and assured him that his children would fit in just fine at St. Theodore. Ryan went home and told Sarah, “I think we should send our kids here.”

It was a hard decision to pull their kids out of their public school, where they were established and had friends, Sarah said. “But I also knew that I wanted more for them in terms of school, their education, their faith. So I felt like we had a calling to do it, and we went for it.”

A little more than a year later, Ryan, Sarah and their three children — Annabel, 10, Layla, 7, and Theo, 5 — anticipate being received into the Church at the Easter Vigil alongside 15 others at St. Theodore Parish.

A family journey

It started with the questions.

Not long after the school year began, the Wolfram children started coming home wanting to know more about what they experienced at St. Theodore. They were going to Mass twice a week, participating in monthly eucharistic adoration, praying in the classroom and exploring faith topics in religion class.

Naturally, Ryan and Sarah wanted to be able to talk to their kids about what they were learning. So they started seeking answers. Maxwell had mentioned to Ryan that Christian initiation classes were a great opportunity to learn more about the faith, he remembered.

“I was doing a bunch of Google searching, trying to figure this stuff out,” Ryan said. “And I finally talked to Sarah and said, we need to learn more — let’s go to this RCIA program. And that’s where it exploded for us.”

Their children had already started to express the desire to be baptized and practice the Catholic faith alongside the rest of the St. Theodore community. As Ryan and Sarah learned about the history of the Church, going back to Jesus and the apostles; the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; and the universal Church community, they decided they wanted to become Catholic, too.

St. Theodore pastor Father Henry Purcell sat down with the whole family to talk to them about Christian initiation and what it meant. “It was really important — he took the time to make sure we understood what we were going through and that we were devoted to it,” Ryan said.

Ryan and Sarah have been receiving formation through Christian initiation classes, and their children receive formation at school. But even though the formal instruction takes place separately, the whole family walks together as they learn more and grow in faith. The family began attending Sunday Mass together, and Ryan and Sarah make it to all-school Masses when they can. They share what they’re learning about different parts of the faith around the dinner table.

“We’re all in it together, and we’re all learning from each other,” Sarah said. “I learn stuff from them, and vice versa. This morning at breakfast, Layla asked why we weren’t praying before we eat our meal. Just little things like that — they remind me of things we should be doing, or things they do at school that we could be doing at home.”

Sarah and Ryan Wolfram and their children, Annabel, Layla and Theo, will be received into the Catholic Church this Easter. On March 17, they attended Mass at St. Theodore Church in Flint Hill for the third scrutiny in the Christian initiation process.
Photo Credits: Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. for the St. Louis Review
Sometimes when Ryan is struggling to understand a theological concept or Church practice, he just has to ask his kids. “They’ll come home and explain it to me at a third-grade level, and I’m like, ‘OK, now I get it,’” he said. “We’re legitimately learning together and utilizing each other for support.”

Religion class is a favorite subject for Annabel, 10. “I’ve learned so much about the story of Jesus dying on the cross for us, and learning about ways to go to heaven,” she said.

Annabel, Layla and Theo attended Totus Tuus, a weeklong summer program led by young adult missionaries, to meet some of their new classmates before the school year began. “This year, I’ve made a bunch of friends,” Annabel said. “And they’re super encouraging about me getting baptized. They are so excited for me.”

Maxwell, the director of family catechesis, has seen the powerful way that a child’s relationship with Jesus impacts the parents more than once.

“Kids have that natural inquisitive way at their young age to go home and ask mom or dad, and then for mom and dad to come back to the church or the school, looking for more resources to unpack what their child brought home,” she said.

In her work with families, her first principle is: Don’t make any assumptions. “A lot of times in ministry or evangelization, we can create events with certain Catholic terms that we’re used to, and that’s not necessarily reaching people who wouldn’t know otherwise, or it can be intimidating,” she said. “So it looks like going back to square one with every single thing we do.”

For example, “If it’s May crowning in the month of May, instead of just inviting people to a May crowning or telling the second-grade families you’ve got to be here with first Communion clothes on, it’s taking a step back and saying: How can we really get them engaged in what we’re celebrating? How can we really introduce them to Mary?” she said.

She and the rest of the parish and school staff are there to support parents, the primary educators of faith for their children, Maxwell said.

“We’re really trying to emphasize that everything is through the family,” she said. “The parish is just a family of families.”

The missing piece

At the Easter Vigil, Ryan will receive baptism, first Communion and confirmation. Sarah, already baptized in the Methodist church, will receive Communion and confirmation. All three children will be baptized, and Annabel will receive Communion. (Layla will receive first Communion with the rest of her second-grade class later this spring; Theo has a couple more years to wait.)

“Receiving the Eucharist as a family is going to be really special, I think,” Sarah said.

Annabel is also looking forward to her first reconciliation. “You get forgiven from your sins, and you feel really good after that,” she said. “At least, my friends say they feel really good after confession, and they’re always smiling.”

And the neighbors who invited them to the school open house? They’re serving as sponsors for several of the Wolframs.

“It’s been a journey for all five of us,” Ryan said.

“It feels right for us. This is the missing piece,” Sarah added.

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