Two Rites of Election were held in early March at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and one was held at Holy Family in Fond du Lac in late February. (Photos by David Bernacchi)

Every year, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion signal the beginning of a new phase in the spiritual journey of catechumens and candidates across the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

For the catechumen, the Rite of Election is when the Church makes its “election” of the individuals deemed fit to take part in the sacraments of initiation at the next major celebration (in this case, the Easter Vigil on the night of April 16). For the candidate seeking reception into full communion with the Church, the Call to Continuing Conversion is a moment of affirmation and recognition.

When celebrated together, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion offer those present a moment which eloquently conveys the unity of all believers — all on their own spiritual journey of sorts, waiting, preparing, hoping for the new life promised by the Resurrection.

Sr. Eileen Kazmierowicz, pastoral associate at St. Alphonsus in Greendale, said she always finds it “inspirational to see the people who are catechumens and candidates coming forward from various parishes” at the yearly celebration.

“I feel a strong sense of the Universal Church as we’re gathered in the Cathedral, the mother church of the archdiocese,” said Sr. Eileen, who has ministered to those seeking baptism and reception into full communion with the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for the past 30 years. “It’s a significant step for us to see how connected we are in the Body of Christ.”

Sabina Carter, director of Christian formation at Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac, agreed. “Seeing all of the people from around the archdiocese coming together to celebrate shows them that the Catholic Church goes beyond the walls of our home parish,” said Carter, who has been involved in RCIA ministry since 2016.

As has been done in the past here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion were celebrated together on two Sundays in early March at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. New this year was the addition of a third service on the last Sunday of February at Holy Family in Fond du Lac.

“When the archdiocese sent out a survey to see if parishes wanted to have the rite held in the northern area of the archdiocese, I volunteered Holy Family,” said Carter, noting that the church is able to hold more than 1,200 people. Preparing for the rite was a “team effort,” she said, between staff from Holy Family and the Archdiocesan Office for Worship. “It was a blessing to be able to have other churches from our area celebrate together with those preparing to join the Catholic Church.”

Because of the parish-based nature of RCIA, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is often the first opportunity that a catechumen or candidate has to interact with the Church on an archdiocesan level. It is an experience which underscores the importance of worship as a communal experience in the Catholic tradition.

Lisa Bart, a candidate in the St. Alphonsus RCIA program who attended one of the Rites of Election at the Cathedral, said that it was “incredible to see so many other people going through the same process.”

For Bart, Communion — both the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and a sense of spiritual community — was the “catalyst” for her desire to seek out St. Alphonsus’ RCIA program.

Bart was raised Lutheran, and has long had a deep and profound faith in Christ. But for years, she “wanted to go deeper.”

“I always felt like there was something more calling me,” she said. Bart’s husband is Catholic, and as the years passed, she attended Mass with him more often — but when she did, it was painful to have to stay in the pew and refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

“It’s going to be very powerful,” she said, anticipating the moment when she is able to receive the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. “It’s going to have so much more meaning than if I had just been able to walk in and partake. I have so much of a greater understanding of what it means to take Communion in the Catholic Church.”

Bart said that she will actually be sorry to see the RCIA process conclude.

“I have just enjoyed getting to know the people, the catechists,” she said. “I’ve felt so welcomed into the community. It’s very powerful to feel everybody wrapping themselves around my journey.”

Sr. Eileen described the RCIA process as one of “journeying” alongside the catechumen or candidate. “We’re always remembering that it is the person who is coming to us,” she said, indicating that it is the catechists’ job to “listen to what their questions are as they grow in their faith.”

The RCIA journey makes for a poignant Easter Vigil for the catechists, too, agreed Carter.

“One of the things I have loved being able to see is the participants being initiated into the Church at Easter Vigil,” she said. “Some of our candidates have been attending Mass for years with their spouses and it is a blessing to see them come into full communion with the Church.”

“I find that in those key moments (of baptism and confirmation), my heart is beaming inside,” said Sr. Eileen. “These people come from different walks of life and different ages and stages in their life, and have made the commitment and been received into the Church and been confirmed — sealed the deal, so to speak, with the Lord and with God’s people.”