Taylor Sawyer-James was already thinking about becoming
Catholic. She just needed an invitation.
One day in August, while working her customer relations job at AT&T, she struck up a conversation with a man wearing a Knights of Columbus jacket. They got to talking about different parishes around St. Louis, and the man’s wife mentioned that St. Mary Magdalen in south St. Louis had a great community.
That Sunday, she went to Mass at St. Mary Magdalen. During the end-of-Mass announcements, pastor Father Brian Fallon invited the parish to the first BARCIA gathering the next night — and he extended another invitation, too.
“He said, ‘If you’re interested in becoming Catholic, let me know, let’s go grab a coffee, let’s talk about it,’” Sawyer-James said. “I had been to maybe 15 churches before, and that invitation to become Catholic wasn’t said. I found it really heartening, because I had already felt like I might want to become Catholic, but I just didn’t know how to do it.”
Attending a talk at a bar seemed like an easy first step, so Sawyer-James climbed the steps to the second floor of The Golden Hoosier on south Kingshighway the next evening for BARCIA. The talk was on community, and she was hooked.
“I was so excited afterward — I talked to Father about RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) the same night,” Sawyer-James said. “We set up a meeting for the very next Wednesday.”
Forming community over cocktails
It’s pronounced “bar-see-eye-aye.” Like RCIA, but for everyone. And at a bar.
Father Fallon and pastoral associate Jen Ryan started BARCIA in August 2021 to provide a space for Magdalen parishioners and anyone else interested in talking about faith to gather in a relaxed, informal setting.
“We’re able to gather people together in a non-liturgical context to be able to talk about faith and just trying to be better people and grow closer to Jesus — and to have some community while we’re doing it,” Father Fallon said.
The idea is similar to a Theology on Tap, but BARCIA is open to all adults, not just the “young adult” age group, and the speakers stay the same. Father Fallon and Ryan plan the nights and give the talks every month, allowing them to be tailored specifically to the needs of the community. There’s also time built-in for asking questions, table discussions and plenty of socializing.
The evenings, held at 7:30 p.m. every second Monday of the month just up the street from the parish at The Golden Hoosier, serve two evangelization purposes. First, BARCIA draws in non-parishioners — or even non-Catholics — who may not be comfortable coming to Mass yet.
“I think part of what we need to do as a community of believers, as Catholics, is to be more welcoming to people who maybe haven’t been part of a parish community before or don’t really know what Catholicism is,” Father Fallon said. “The more we can create opportunities for people outside of Mass, then perhaps people will feel more comfortable worshipping with us at Mass.”
Second, the casual gatherings provide a space for regular parish attendees to dive deeper into faith topics and build community with their fellow parishioners, new and old, outside the parish walls.
“A lot of times, our experience of faith community is going to Mass, maybe going to donut Sunday,” Father Fallon said. “But other than that, it just kind of stays on the weekend. And our hope as a parish is to create opportunities where people can gather and really journey in faith together.”
On March 14, the bar was packed to discuss the “dark night of the soul.” Past topics include true intimacy; preparing for the holiday season; perspectives from the priest’s confessional and the counselor’s chair; and “why your faith life stinks.” The topics are wide-ranging for a reason, Ryan said.
“It shows that we are real people, and we come together to talk about all sorts of things,” she said. “We’re not just Catholic on Sundays, in the pews — we’re Catholic everywhere we go.”
Susan and Alan Jankowski have been part of St. Mary Magdalen Parish for about 13 years. While they’ve been involved in several different ministries of the parish over the years, BARCIA has been a great way to continue to get to know the expanding faith community, they said.
“For me, it’s about getting together with our community and learning more about people or meeting new people,” said Susan Jankowski.
“(I enjoy) meeting new parishioners and also digging a little deeper in our spiritual life, and finding a different setting to talk about our faith,” Alan Jankowski added.
Growing closer to God, together
As Sawyer-James moves through the RCIA program, preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation this Easter, she already feels like part of the St. Mary Magdalen community because of welcoming opportunities like BARCIA.
“It really helped solidify in my mind that I’m part of the parish and I’m part of the community,” she said. “It’s a kind of community that’s hard to find.”
She’s glad to know that her community will continue to walk alongside her — or sit next to her on a barstool — and help her deepen her faith after her formal RCIA meetings conclude.
“I think it’s really great because even when RCIA ends for me, I still have this outlet to help me grow in my faith and learn more,” Sawyer-James said. “Because that’s one thing that I don’t want to lose — because once I’m Catholic, I can receive the Eucharist, but my learning isn’t done, and God’s not done trying to speak to me outside of the normal structure of Mass on Sunday.”
Ryan hopes that BARCIA can continue to be an opening for people to be drawn deeper into their faith and the life of the Church.
“They’ll try one thing, and they’ll think, oh, I can give the next thing a shot,” Ryan said. “The real hope is that we’re seeing all these people who are normal and fun and also have a relationship with God, and they’re willing to give that relationship room to grow. And God does all the rest.”
What: A talk on a faith topic, discussion and social time
When: 7:30 p.m., the second Monday of every month
Where: The Golden Hoosier, 3707 S. Kingshighway Blvd. (second floor)
Learn more about St. Mary Magdalen Parish at www.magdalen.org, or follow the parish on Facebook and Instagram @magdalensoha.
>> Know someone who’s interested in becoming Catholic?
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the Catholic Church’s program for adults interested in being baptized or adults who have already been baptized and want to receive the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation.
Catechumens receive the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and first Communion — during the Easter Vigil, having prepared for reception into the Church through RCIA. Candidates, who are already baptized, also go through the preparation program to receive confirmation and first Communion to enter into full communion with the Church.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about becoming Catholic, contact your parish office or pastor to start that conversation.
Read more about becoming Catholic from the Archdiocese of St. Louis: www.archstl.org/ join-the-church
Read more about RCIA from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: https://stlreview.com/3JylAq9