God did not wait for us to go to him, but he moved toward us, without calculation, without measures. This is how God is: He is always the first, he moves toward us…. What does this mean for us? It means that this is my, your, our path…. Following Jesus means learning how to come out of ourselves … to take the first steps toward our brothers and sisters, especially those who are farthest from us, those who are forgotten, those who need understanding, consolation, and assistance.
Pope Francis’ words from his first general audience reflect a significant part of Nicole Pate’s journey of faith. Pate was drawn to the church by seeing others take steps toward those in need.
Pate is one of dozens of new Catholics received into the church this past Easter in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program.
While many people exploring the Catholic faith start in an RCIA classroom learning about church teaching, Nicole’s first experience with the Catholic Church was as an employee of the church. She was hired as director of outreach at All Saints Parish on Milwaukee’s north side.
As Pate worked side by side with Catholics serving the poor, she looked upon her encounters with those serving and with those being served as encounters with Christ.
Christian faith is not new to Pate. She grew up in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee in a family where faith was central. Her mother took her four sisters and her to church every Sunday at Holy Recovery Baptist Church.
Parish: All Saints Catholic Church, Milwaukee
Occupation: Director of Outreach at All Saints
Favorite hobby: Reading
Favorite song: “Nobody Greater,” by Vashawn Mitchell
Favorite quotation: “The righteous gives and does not hold back.” (Prv 21:26)
However, as she got older, Pate “backed away from religion.”
“I wasn’t ready to be mature and to do what I needed to do to be a member of the church,” she said. “I felt like something was missing.”
At 25, Pate was a single mom of two and working as the program director at a child care center.
“It was a good job for learning the art of being patient,” she said, laughing.
But Pate felt called to challenge herself and pursue a better life for herself and her children. Eventually she returned to school, enrolling in a business management program at Bryant and Stratton College, continuing to work full time while remaining a full-time student. A few years later, she became the first member of her family to graduate from college.
Initially, Pate considered using her degree in the corporate realm. But an internship at Goodwill Industries employment resource center brought her true passion to the surface.
“I realized what a blessing it was to be an advocate, a resource to help people,” she said. “It’s not work if you love your job. If I can help one person every day, I feel like I’ve accomplished my goal.”
Through a college classmate, Pate learned about the director of outreach position at All Saints, a central city parish located in a neighborhood challenged by high levels of poverty. She was offered the job and became responsible for running the parish’s numerous outreach programs, including a food pantry, meal program, and a women’s shelter and transitional housing program.
Pate found the work rewarding.
“It was great to have women come in and see them develop the skills and maturity to live on their own – that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.
Around the same time, Pate got to know and started dating a Catholic man serving as a consultant for the All Saints outreach programs. Their conversations about the Catholic Church piqued her interest and made her want to learn more about what her boyfriend valued so much.
Her other experiences with the Catholics with whom she worked at All Saints were similarly intriguing. She observed the generosity and love her co-workers brought to their work with those in need.
“I thought I couldn’t go to church because I wasn’t perfect,” she said. “But they were so open and welcoming, and understand your weakness. They are genuinely caring and go out of their way to help people – they extend their hand.”
Pate became aware of another outstretched hand; she described Jesus calling her to him in his church.
In 2012, she entered the parish’s RCIA program.
She remembers learning a lot in a short period of time and was amazed by the way the Mass helped her understand the Bible better. Her All Saints co-workers supported her along the way, spending time with her, talking through the aspects of church teaching that she found challenging, such as the role of Mary and the saints in a Catholic’s life of prayer.
Nicole’s children also started instruction to prepare them for baptism. Shavonna, 11, and Jeremiah, 6, found what they were learning new and confusing at first. But soon they were excited to find out more, and Nicole could barely keep up with their questions.
At this year’s Easter Vigil, Nicole and her children were received into the Catholic Church.
“I had a feeling of completion – there was no longer something missing,” Nicole said. “I have a better understanding of how Jesus wants us to live – a better understanding of myself.”
Her work at All Saints has a new and deeper meaning as well. Nicole is ready to continue taking the first steps toward those in need, knowing she is following Christ’s example.
“I know what it means to give to people. And I have a better picture of what God wants me to do,” she said.