Every year during the Easter Vigil, as the darkness of Holy Saturday gives way to the light of the Easter candle, tens of thousands of individuals are brought into the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, more commonly known as the RCIA.
The roads that lead to Sacraments of Initiation — baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist — are as unique as the souls of the catechumens themselves. For some, it is a means of uniting families. For others, the decision to enter the Church is a deeply personal one. Many will find in the waters of baptism and the oil of the sacred chrism the answer to a lifetime of discernment. For all, hopefully, it is a kind of homecoming , restless hearts, as St. Augustine put it, finally coming to rest in Christ.
It is certainly so for Rachael Mullen, who was baptized, confirmed, and received the Eucharist this past Saturday evening at St. Eugene Parish during the Easter Vigil. Mullen’s mother was born Catholic, and converted to Judaism at the time of her marriage to Mullen’s father. Mullen’s early childhood was rooted in the Jewish tradition, but when she was a preteen and her parent’s marriage was annulled, her mother returned to Catholicism. That decision piqued Mullen’s interest in the faith.
“It was at that point that I started really being curious about religion and trying to find where God fit into my life,” she said. “To see her go through something that was extremely difficult and to feel almost healed, it was therapeutic for her. That’s what she knew. That’s how she had healed in the past, was her relationship with God and with the Church. I knew it was something special. I just wasn’t sure quite what. Now I get to experience it.”
Mullen married Joseph 12 years ago in a non-denominational ceremony. It was two years ago at the time of the baptism of her son, also named Joseph, that she began to consider the sacrament herself. Her husband, mother and in-laws are all devout Catholics, but she said she purposefully kept the decision a secret until the night she began RCIA classes last fall.
“They loved the fact that I made the decision on my own. Of course, it’s always something they wanted me to do, but they never wanted me to feel pressured or that I would be doing it just for them and for their satisfaction,” she said. She asked her sister-in-law to be her sponsor.
“This has been a lifelong thing,” she said. “Now I just feel so whole with my family, I feel whole with God. It just means so much to me to take this step.”
Thirteen-year-old Shayla Gwinn was also welcomed into the Church alongside Mullen. Like Mullen, her interest in religion was linked to her entrance into adulthood. Next year she will celebrate her quinceanera, an important milestone in the lifetime of a young Hispanic woman that often includes a religious blessing. That ceremony can’t be done unless the young woman is baptized, Gwinn was told.
Her parents are baptized Catholics, but Gwinn herself had never been baptized. “My parents aren’t super-religious, so they wanted me to make the decision on my own when I was older,” she said. She made the commitment to attend twice-monthly RCIA classes despite carrying a heavy workload as a student at Maple Dale School in Fox Point. Through the process, she came to a deeper understanding of certain tenets of the faith.
Mullen agreed that one of the most important aspects of the journey to baptism was “learning the why’s” of the faith. “I’ve learned things that I never knew,” she said.
“It was a really cool experience,” Gwinn agreed. “Everyone in the RCIA process is so passionate about the Catholic faith, and it’s so cool to hear their stories and what they think about the lessons we learned each week.”