Two high school friends and hockey teammates recently traded their time on the ice to stand before the Easter fire.
St. John Vianney High School senior Henry Vest entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass April 16 at St. Mary Magdalen Church in St. Louis. Supporting him as his sponsor was hockey teammate Tim Dotson, a 2021 Vianney graduate who was confirmed in the Church last year.
The church was filled with more than 200 people for the Easter Vigil, including family, classmates and teachers who came to support Vest, who was confirmed and received the Eucharist for the first time.
On the steps of St. Mary Magdalen, the two watched as pastor Father Brian Fallon lit the Paschal candle from the Easter fire. From the Exsultet, Father Fallon chanted:
“This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to His holy ones.”
And so on this night that “shall be bright as day,” it has begun — the journey of a young man who has come into full communion with the Catholic Church, ready to receive God’s graces through a life of faith.
Vest was baptized as an infant with the United Church of Christ. He was sporadically active at his church. But when he was invited to be confirmed in the UCC in the eighth grade, he “got too busy,” as he put it, and never got around to doing it.
Vest was drawn to Vianney for two reasons: hockey and academics. He knew other guys from his hockey team who had gone to Vianney and left a good impression of the school. “It was the friendly people who made my decision easier,” he said of his visit to the school.
Theology teacher Grace Burnworth noticed early on Vest’s interest in faith and Church teachings. “He would come into class and said he just never understood the Catholic faith,” she recalled. “He knew his faith was different than his classmates, but wasn’t sure what it was. He came in almost every day with a new question.”
Burnworth said the same of Dotson, who would often come into her class with questions about the faith. He was raised Catholic, but hadn’t been confirmed. A neighbor friend of his also invited Dotson to Mass, which played a role in his decision to be confirmed his senior year at Vianney.
“He sort of came into class one day and asked, would it be possible for me to be confirmed?” Burnworth recalled. “I knew that certainly there was a way for him to be confirmed if he desired it.”
Dotson said it was his theology classes throughout his time at Vianney that rekindled his interest in the Church. He particularly enjoyed learning biblical history through studying the Old and New Testaments, including Jesus’ public ministry.
“Learning more about Jesus and the miracles He performed — that really spoke to me,” Dotson said.
An ocean of graces
One day on their way to hockey practice, Dotson and Vest played “Oceans,” a song from Christian group Hillsong United, and one heard frequently at campus ministry activities at Vianney.
The song prompted Dotson to open up about his experience of being confirmed in the Church. Vest, who was already intrigued by the Catholic faith, said he felt that God was speaking to him in that moment.
Both of them received their formation at Vianney. Vest did an RCIA program with a small group at school, and Dotson received his confirmation preparation at the end of theology classes.
“Ms. Burnworth made it easy to talk about faith,” Dotson said. “It didn’t feel like class, but rather a conversation.”
Classmates, teachers and campus ministers at Vianney have been supportive of them throughout the experience. “Everyone there accepts and supports you in your faith and meets you where you’re at,” Vest said. “It’s crazy to think that this is the place who made me who I am.”
Teachers plant the seeds and then step back and wait with hope and prayer that their students will grow deeper in their faith, said Burnworth. “When you see something like this, it’s really inspiring. I have thought, what a cool place to be in your life where you’re thirsting for so much information.”
“When Tim was confirmed, his grandparents were there, and I saw his grandpa had tears in his eyes. It made me realize how impactful this is to the Body of Christ,” Burnworth said. “The way it impacted his family, his community — it’s so much bigger than just himself.”