Two fathers from St. Agnes Parish, Butler, taking their children’s lead,set the spiritual course for their families during the April 7 Easter Vigil.
Michael Schultz and Clarence (Clay) Hayes not only entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, but each made the journey alongside his children.
While Mike, a 49-year-old construction worker, had attended weekly Mass with his wife, Debbie, for 20 years, the longing to belong wasn’t strong enough to embrace the church, until his son Patrick began asking questions.
“As Patrick got older, he began asking me why I don’t go up there with Mommy and things like that,” said Mike. “I never really knew how to answer him. He would also ask a lot of questions about Mass and I wasn’t able to answer them because I had no religious teachings.”
While Mike was baptized as an infant, he received no formal religious training, and it wasn’t until he began dating Debbie that he learned how important her Catholic faith was in her everyday life.
“I began attending with her very early on in our relationship, and she would often ask me to become a full Catholic, but she never pushed the subject,” said Mike.
Happiest time of life was short-lived
He came close to joining when the couple belonged to Our Lady of Good Hope Parish where now-Bishop Donald J. Hying was their pastor.
“He made Mass easy to understand for me and I looked forward to going every week,” Mike said. “At the time we struggled with infertility issues and had several miscarriages, but we were finally pregnant and life seemed perfect. The day of Pat’s birth was the most exciting day of my life. It was also the happiest time of my life, however it was short-lived.”
Just three days after their son’s birth, his 52-year-old mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, dying before Patrick’s first birthday. Mike was angry with God and could not comprehend why they were finally blessed with a child, and at the same time, were losing his mother.
“I didn’t know my father, never even had a relationship with him, so my mom was everything to me,” explained Mike. “Fr. Don noticed that I was no longer attending Mass with Deb and told her time and time again that he would be willing to talk about it with me. When I did feel ready to go back to church, Fr. Don explained that it is not for us to understand in this life; that God has a reason for everything and some day in heaven, it will all make sense.”
Longing for faith returned at St. Agnes
After Bishop Hying left Our Lady of Good Hope for his work as rector of Saint Francis Seminary, Mike lost his zeal for the faith, although he continued to attend Mass each week. Last July, the couple joined St. Agnes Parish and through the leadership of the pastor, Fr. Tim Bickel, his longing returned.
“I started enjoying Mass and looked forward to going every week,” he said. “So, on my own, without even telling Deb, I talked to Gerry Wolf (Christian formation director) about the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program. After a few discussions, he thought I was ready, so I started taking the classes in the fall.”
Throughout the program, Mike realized he no longer had to carry the burdens of his life on his own. He learned to understand life and death more, and now turns to God for all of his needs.
“He is always there. I am no longer angry with him for my mom’s death. I understand she is in a better place and I will see her again,” he explained, adding. “I have also learned that I can be vulnerable and that’s OK. I don’t always have to be the big, strong, macho man. I can give it all to God and he will take care of it in his own way, in his own time.”
Father, son share special moment
At the same time Mike was preparing for first Eucharist and confirmation, Patrick was also preparing for first Eucharist. Jim Stout, parish music director, suggested the evening would be extra special if father and son received first Communion together at the Easter Vigil.
“I had not thought of it, nor did I think it was ‘legal,’” said Mike. “I asked Gerry, who in turn got permission from Fr. Tim. This is something that the two of us will always have as ‘ours’ and it was truly special for me.”
For Patrick, the option to forego first Communion with his classmates or receive it with his dad at the Easter Vigil was an easy one. After all, he had been praying for this day nearly his whole life.
“When he told me that Fr. Tim gave us permission to receive it together, I was so excited,” he said. “It means a lot to me that my dad and I received Communion at the same time. My first Communion is so much more special because I got to receive it with my dad.”
Although he was proud of his dad and excited for the big day, Patrick admitted he had to squelch a few butterflies and last minute jitters.
“Dad was really nervous the whole day and kept practicing with me,” he explained. “On our way up to the altar, I had to calm him down a little. But when we stood side by side, it was the happiest time of my life. I know that he did this for himself, but also for me and my mom, and it means a lot to me.”
Mike admitted he looked most forward to receiving Eucharist, as it was always a mystery to him.
“I would see these people receive Communion every week and they would go back to their pews in deep prayer and I never understood it,” he said. “Now I do, and I am excited that I can join my family in the Eucharist every week.”
Communion is now family event
For Patrick, having both parents walk up with him in the Communion line each week is a dream come true.
“I am so excited and I can’t wait for Mass this weekend,” he said. “Finally, after all of these years, we can participate in the Mass as a family and receive Communion together as a family.”
Wolf has directed RCIA for seven years at St. Agnes Parish and said working with the catechumen is rewarding and a privilege.
“It is always special watching anyone who comes toward faith with an openness and willingness, and taking the initiative to do so,” he said. “It’s very touching and I enjoy working with them as they ask questions and really search things out, trying to understand our faith and tradition.”
Future son-in-law embraces faith
To make learning easier, Wolf breaks down the church’s history and longstanding traditions to make them more understandable.
“With Clay and Mike, it was very neat as they had family members to guide them along,” said Wolf. “But for me it is especially unique, as Clay is my future son-in-law. He is engaged to my daughter Meg and they will be married next spring. He has a daughter, Anna from a previous relationship who had not been baptized; and he and my daughter have a newborn named Leila together. All three were baptized at the Easter Vigil, and to see him approaching commitment to my daughter and looking forward to their marriage in faith, makes everything more special.”
At 27, Clay works at Kohl’s Corporate and came to the decision to become fully initiated into the Catholic Church on his own. According to Wolf, Clay has been part of the family for 18 months, and wants to do the right thing for his family.
“It is very powerful and so neat to see him grow,” said Wolf.
Raised in a Christian nondenominational church, Clay was never baptized. He didn’t feel a sense of belonging until he began attending St. Agnes with Megan.
“I wanted to continue to grow spiritually within the church,” he said. “And now that I have come home, I feel as if I have a deeper relationship with Christ.”
‘Holy Spirit is at work’ in family
While Clay admitted that he didn’t begin RCIA for self-realization, he knew in his heart that receiving the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation was something he wanted and needed to do for himself and his family.
“I feel more in line with the principles and teachings of the Bible,” he said. “And I felt so joyous to be able to share in the sacrament of baptism with my daughters.”
With all three dressed in white robes, Clay and Anna received the sacrament of baptism through full immersion, explained Wolf.
“It was so neat, as Anna went first and then Clay. Then he held the Leila in the pool while our pastor poured water over her head,” he said. “It was so touching.”
Through Clay’s reception into the Catholic Church, Wolf believes that the Holy Spirit is working with him to attract new members into the church.
“We had our family over for Easter Sunday and Clay and Megan came over with the girls. We had lunch before the other folks came and Clay told us that his mom had come to the vigil. She wasn’t a churchgoer, but she was baptized, just not raised in the faith. Because of her positive experience at the Easter Vigil, she wants to come to church now. I think it is really neat to see how the Holy Spirit is at work.”