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Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski addressed the group of candidates during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion service on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. More than 500 people are planning to enter the Church at Easter in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski addressed the group of candidates during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion service on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. More than 500 people are planning to enter the Church at Easter in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

‘The Church truly at work’: More than 500 candidates and catechumens prepare to be received into the Church at Easter

Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is one of the final steps of journey to full communion with the Church

Catechumen Haylee Southard of Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park attended the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion Feb. 18 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim
Haylee Southard’s joy is unmistakable as she speaks about her upcoming baptism at Easter.

“I’m going to be slam-dunked in the water!” she said enthusiastically.

Southard, who grew up without any religion and is now going through formation at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park, is among more than 500 people around the archdiocese intending to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year. That number includes catechumens, who are unbaptized individuals like Southard who will receive the three sacraments of initiation: baptism, first Communion and confirmation; and candidates, who have already been baptized and will receive confirmation and first Communion to enter into full communion with the Church.

This year, the archdiocese totals 521 catechumens and candidates, according to the Office of Christian Initiation. That’s up from 452 last year — about a 15% increase.

On Feb. 17-18, the men, women and children preparing to be received into the Church celebrated one of the final stages of their journey at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion formally confirms the catechumens’ and candidates’ readiness for the sacraments. During the rite, parish coordinators of Christian initiation approach the sanctuary and read the names of catechumens and candidates, calling them forward to be presented to the archbishop. Each also displays their Book of the Elect, which lists the catechumens’ names. (Because of their baptism, candidates are already considered members of the elect.)

Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski told those gathered that the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is his favorite of all the liturgical celebrations he presides over.

“It’s my favorite because it’s the Church truly at work,” Archbishop Rozanski said during his homily. “Someone has witnessed to you the love of the Lord Jesus.”

Each of us is part of the ongoing plan of salvation history, receiving God’s grace and responding by bringing others to Him, the archbishop said.

Parish administrators from various parishes held up their Book of the Elect during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion service on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The names of the catechumens are listed in the book and presented before Archbishop Rozanski.
Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.
“These Easter sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist promise to us the fullness of life in Jesus and call forth from us the ability to use that grace that’s poured upon us to live a life of witness, to say that what God has done for us, we, too, must live that call for each other,” he said.

Eric and Cassidy Bellville are among 20 candidates and catechumens from Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka. The couple recently moved to the Eureka area from rural Oklahoma with their 15-month-old son, Archer. Eric’s mother encouraged them to check out the parish, noting that they’d be in good company at the 9:30 a.m. Mass, which is typically full of children.

After Archer’s birth, the couple was already thinking more about the role faith would play in their family life. “So we went a few times, and we just fell in love with the church,” Cassidy said. “…I feel like everyone at Most Sacred Heart is kind of like family, and we just wanted to be a part of it.”

Cassidy will receive all three sacraments of initiation at Easter, and Eric will be confirmed. (Archer has already been baptized.) The family is looking forward to sharing the same faith, Eric said, and “going forward, learning with the Word of God — not just with each other, but passing it on to our son and teaching him right from wrong.”

The welcome that the Bellville family felt at Most Sacred Heart is one of the parish’s biggest focuses, said pastor Father Joe Kempf. It means “meeting people right where they are, welcoming them and loving them. And then, of course, we invite them deeper, as God tugs on their hearts,” Father Kempf said.

While the catechumens and candidates found Most Sacred Heart in various ways, they were invited by parishioners to learn more about the Church through open Christian initiation sessions, said Melinda Kruper, lay pastoral associate.

The Christian initiation team will frequently introduce themselves to new faces after Mass, Kruper said. “Then it might be, ‘Do you want to come to a Bible study with me?’ and then from there, it’s, ‘Come join us on Thursday nights to just learn who we are,’” she said.

Also among the parishes participating in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion was St. Louis University High School, which this year began hosting its own formation for students who want to join the Church.

Kasey Statzel, center, a candidate from Our Lady Parish in Festus, attended the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. With Kasey were Marty Lynn, left, and Dealonna Statzel, Kasey’s mother.
Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Last year, a student approached teacher and Jesuit regent Justin Kelley, SJ, and asked how to become Catholic.

“In years past, what we’ve had to do is say, ‘OK, what’s your zip code?’ and then we’ll assign you to the nearest parish,” Kelley said. “But what I sensed is their understanding of the Church, their Catholic world, is St. Louis University High. The Catholics they know, the Catholics they interact with, what they know about Catholicism, is the school … so this is where they should be fostered and nourished in that desire.”

With the approval of Archbishop Rozanski and help from Joe Milner, director of the archdiocesan Office of Christian Initiation, Kelley formed the school’s first Christian initiation group. Eight students are in formation to receive sacraments of initiation at an all-school Mass in April.

The group meets once a week to discuss the tenets of the faith, filling in anything not yet learned in school theology courses. Each student has chosen a faculty or staff member to be his sponsor. “The accompaniment is not only for checking in and answering questions, but also modeling prayer, going to Mass with them, being there for them along the process,” Kelley said.

Connor McCoy, a junior at SLUH, was raised without any religion. He became interested in the faith through hearing his classmates talk about it — even simple things like planning their social activities around Mass on Sunday — and witnessing his teachers, “some of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” make daily Mass a priority.

“Since freshman year, joining the SLUH community, it was something I was interested in,” Connor said. “And this year in particular, that next step felt right.” Kate Toussaint, SLUH Spanish teacher and parishioner at St. Margaret of Scotland, is serving as Connor’s sponsor.

All the different people leading Connor to the Church “are all part of the puzzle,” Toussaint said. “It’s just the beginning for him, in so many ways.”

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