By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Paul Baresel invited his sister Danielle Hollembaek to join him in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes at Sacred Heart Cathedral and she accepted. Brianna Bellman’s fiancé, Reid Herrig, asked her to consider joining the Catholic Church so that they could share the same faith as they entered the sacrament of marriage. The death of a close friend of Ed and Jana Seutter motivated Ed to join the church.
Invitation, encouragement and lived experience led Paul, Danielle, Brianna, Ed and four other adults to become full members of the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at Sacred Heart Cathedral on April 20. They were among approximately 150 new Catholics welcomed into the church in parishes throughout the Diocese of Davenport during the Easter Vigil.
In an unfolding of the story of salvation, fire was blessed; the Easter candle was lit; the faithful processed into the cathedral with flame shared from the Easter candle. Father Rich Adam, the cathedral’s rector and pastor, sang the Easter Proclamation. The gathering listened to Scriptures that took them from Creation in Genesis to the Resurrection narrative in Luke’s Gospel, with sung responses between each of the readings.
In his homily, Bishop Thomas Zinkula made a connection between the pilgrimage that leads to heaven and the Wizard of Oz pilgrimage that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion made to Emerald City, and ultimately, to their true home. His analogies tapped into the Scriptures.
“There are various things in Dorothy’s way, like a Wicked Witch and flying monkeys, just like the demons who try to keep us from getting to our destination,” the bishop said. “We are tempted and tested in various ways as we progress on our pilgrimages, like Abraham, who as we heard, passed the test when he was willing to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice.”
Bishop Zinkula addressed the five women and three men being initiated into the Catholic Church. “The Scripture readings offer a foretaste of the Easter sacraments you will be receiving. Ezekiel says that God has sprinkled us with clean water and cleansed us of all our impurities. This is a foretaste of baptism. Ezekiel also talks about God giving us a new heart and placing a new spirit within us. This is a foretaste of the sacrament of confirmation. Isaiah tells us that when we are hungry or thirsty, God satisfies us with rich fare … ‘receive grain and eat; drink wine and milk’ … this is a foretaste of the feast we enjoy in the Eucharist.”
As the gathering sang the Litany of Saints, the eight soon-to-be Catholics – five dressed in gray smocks and the other three in their Sunday best – followed Fr. Adam through the church as he carried the Easter candle. One at a time, the five catechumens (elect) stepped into and knelt in the baptismal pool. Bishop Zinkula poured a pitcher of water over each one’s head a total of three times – in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Later, after donning white robes, the five returned to the foot of the altar to receive the sacrament of confirmation with the three candidates who had been baptized as Christians in another denomination. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the eight were the first in the congregation to receive Communion.
“What was unique to this group was how diverse they were in terms of the way in which they were coming into the church,” said Deacon Dan Huber, the cathedral’s RCIA coordinator. Several of the new Catholics shared their stories with The Catholic Messenger.
Paul and Danielle’s story
As Bishop Zinkula baptized Danielle, pouring a pitcher full of water over her head three times, “it was like a rush of energy when the water poured over me,” the 24-year-old said. Paul, like his sister, received all three sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. “That was truly the first time in my life that I experienced joy,” the 31-year-old said. “I’ve felt happy, I’ve been ecstatic, but this was truly the first time I felt pure joy.”
Seeds were planted for their conversion when the two siblings attended the parish’s Sacred Heart School, which closed more than a decade ago. They were also inspired by two priests who served the parish at that time: the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet and Father Tom Stratman, who is now retired.
Paul, a teacher, decided to enter the church after he accepted a teaching position at Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island, Ill., this academic year. “Looking at the trajectory my life was taking, I decided I need to find a faith community,” he said. “I talked with my sister and said, ‘I know you’re interested in (joining the church). Let’s do it together.’”
Danielle had been attending Mass with her husband, Eryk Hollembaek. They met at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. He always took his grandmother, the late Patricia Hollembaek, to Mass. After meeting Danielle, he made it a threesome for Mass. Danielle said she appreciates how people come together as community to pray and celebrate their faith. “They are vested in your life and want to see you do well.”
“I’m so glad Danielle shares the same faith and belief in the Lord,” Eryk said. The couple just learned they are expecting a baby. They look forward to bringing another member into the church.
For Brianna Bellman, 25, the part of the Easter Vigil where she felt “most in the moment” occurred when Bishop Zinkula made the sign of the cross on her forehead, using the sacred Chrism to anoint her with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “My heart was beating so fast,” she said. Her sponsor, Kayla Shaw, told her that was a sign of the Holy Spirit working in her.
Brianna grew up in the Lutheran church and graduated from St. Ambrose University. She met her fiancé, Reid Herrig, in high school. They reconnected while she was in college and are engaged to be married June 1. “His entire family is Catholic,” Brianna said. The night before they got engaged, Reid asked her to look into joining the Catholic Church. “I said, ‘absolutely,’” and started RCIA classes.
“Deacon Dan Huber does an excellent job of talking about the history and the meaning behind everything we’re learning. “It’s been a great experience,” she said, adding that she looks forward to raising her future children in the Catholic Church. Reid, an electrician with Shaw Electric in Davenport, has done work at Sacred Heart Cathedral, furthering that connection with the parish.
Ed Seutter, 54, and his wife, Jana, have been married almost 28 years. He has attended Mass with his wife and children throughout his marriage, but grew up in the Lutheran church. Ed and Jana socialized often with another couple. Not long ago the wife, who was Catholic, died.
Both Ed and Jana tear up thinking about their friend. “We used to do a lot together as couples. She didn’t realize I wasn’t Catholic,” Ed said. When she learned that fact, she encouraged him to join the church. He said her death caused him to act on a decision he’s been mulling for a long time. “She watered the seeds,” Jana said.
“I’ve been going to church with my fiancé (Andrew Dang) and I like it,” said Tiffany Nguyen, 21. “It’s interesting to learn more about Jesus because of his love, and he guides us to do good things in life. My fiancé’s family is Catholic.” The couple plans to marry in September. “I look forward to going to church every Sunday, like a habit, and trying to follow Jesus,” she said.
Also joining the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at Sacred Heart Cathedral were Max Lane, 18; Anh Lee, 34; and Stacey Christisen, 42.
The initiation of these eight people into the Catholic Church heartens Deacon Huber. “While the church is going through its purgation, God continues to bring people to us. It is God’s way of renewing the church. God initiates and we respond.”