MILWAUKEE — Andrew Landerholm, 20, a junior electrical engineering student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, recieved the sacraments of intiation at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in August. Usually catechumens receive baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation during the Easter Vigil, but because Landerholm is studying in Germany at Fachhochschule Lübeck for 10 months, an exception was made.
“Andrew came to us,” said Pat Wisialowski, pastoral associate for the cathedral. “RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) in a foreign country wouldn’t work because of the language and culture gap. This summer seemed like the right time to do the sacraments.”
Landerholm was born into a Protestant family and was home-schooled in Rockton, Illinois. He began to explore Catholicism around the age of 15, when he participated in a youth group organized by Catholics.
“I began to branch out with friendly debates about religion with my friends,” said Landerholm. “They weren’t trying to change my mind, but they helped me clear up some common misconceptions that Protestants have with the church, like Mary and the pope.”
As the debates grew more heated, Landerholm became introspective about his faith and began to notice a new sense of maturity within himself. After his first year of college, he returned to Rockton for the summer and started a relationship with a Catholic.
“Religion was a point of contention in our relationship,” said Landerholm. “It forced me to really confront my faith and not to put anything off.”
Upon returning to MSOE for his sophomore year, Landerholm attended Cor Jesu, a weekly eucharistic adoration service at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood.
“I had doubts and was questioning or proving (to myself) what God wanted,” said Landerholm. “In my heart, it was clear.”
In December, he began attending daily Mass at the cathedral, where he met Fr. Jeff Haines, rector and pastor of the cathedral.
“Andrew is a very sharp kid and is advanced in his knowledge of faith,” said Fr. Haines. “We knew he didn’t need to wait another year to go through RCIA and we wanted to respect his studies in Germany.”
To help Landerholm prepare before receiving the sacraments of initiation, he studied Bishop Robert E. Barron’s “Catholicism” DVD series.
“In my heart, it was clear I was honestly seeking what God wanted,” said Landerholm. “I was no longer approaching my conversion from a questioning perspective; I knew I needed to pursue it actively.”
As Landerholm grew closer to his faith, he noticed a riff developing with his family.
“Before, I wasn’t held accountable to external parameters,” said Landerholm. “During the summer it was difficult living at home; I felt awkward but I wasn’t being persecuted.”
Yet, when Landerholm received the sacraments of initiation on Aug. 6, his family was in attendance.
“There was some sensitivity from the family; they weren’t cheering him on, but over some time, they grew to support Andrew,” said Fr. Haines, who administered the sacraments. “There was a remarkable turnout at the ceremony from his hometown and the local Milwaukee community.”
Before the ceremony, Landerholm volunteered at the Riverwest Food Pantry to help take his mind off the occasion.
“It was a little scary; the ceremony was all I could think about that day,” said Landerholm. “I don’t like to be the center of attention and there is a lot of choreography involved with the sacraments.”
Pete Burds, director of college campus ministry for the archdiocese and Landerholm’s sponsor, remembers the congregation at the ceremony being very enthusiastic.
“It’s inspiring to see someone desiring to find truth in the church,” said Burds. “It’s humbling for somebody to see where the truth lies and walk with them on that journey.”
Landerholm chose to be baptized by full immersion.
“Before I was baptized, I used to joke that they better heat the pool so it isn’t cold,” he said.
“Baptism by immersion is a powerful scene for the witnesses,” said Fr. Haines. “Baptism is a very physical sacrament; the baptismal font is like a grave, as you are placed in it you have to gasp for air before you can experience the living waters.”
The priest encouraged all of the observers to gather around the baptismal font during the sacrament.
“The community could feel the electricity of the Holy Spirit,” said Fr. Haines. “Everyone was living vicariously through Andrew.”
As Landerholm received the three sacraments, he tried to embrace all of the moments.
“Three sacraments in one Mass is very quick,” said Landerholm. “I used the advice that a lot of people told me, ‘Treat this like a new start, not a culmination.’”
For his confirmation name, Landerholm chose Francis after St. Francis de Sales.
“The two main tenets of St. Francis de Sales which struck me were his patience and his zeal for preaching the Gospel,” said Landerholm. “I am challenged by his prayerful patience because I am quick to rush and assert myself. In his preaching, he converted 60,000 Calvinists back to the church. This makes me question myself, asking what have I done and what am I doing today to bring the truth to the lost? I just really seemed to identify with him, so the choice was easy.”
Fr. Haines remembers everyone being emotionally touched during the rite of initiation.
“Sacraments are individual and communal acts,” said Fr. Haines. “Not only did Andrew receive new life, he brought new life to the church.”