Journey of faith led family to become Catholic at Easter Vigil

Contributing writer

Each year on Holy Saturday during the Easter Vigil, thousands are baptized into the Catholic Church in the United States. Parishes welcome these new Catholics through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

This is true for individuals and families from around the Diocese of Belleville, who made professions of faith to the Catholic church, receiving the sacraments of confirmation and communion, or were baptized.

Sister Laura Reynolds, a Franciscan Sister of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, is one of many coordinators of RCIA throughout the Diocese of Belleville. For 10 years, she has served in Franklin County, which includes three parishes and two chapels.

Seven individuals in Franklin County were Catechumens and nine were candidates at this year’s Easter Vigil.

The Garmanes from Benton are one of the families who participated in RCIA with Sister Laura this past year.

Cory and Amy Garmane, along with their children, Elijah, age 11, and Emilia, age 4, entered the Catholic faith at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in West Frankfort at this year’s Easter Vigil.

The parents attended RCIA since September; Elijah needed religious education to receive First Communion; and Emilia was baptized at the Vigil. Cory, Amy and Elijah had previously been baptized in the Baptist faith.

Jennifer Connaughty from St. John the Baptist sponsored the family.

“Jennifer walked with them through this journey of becoming Catholic,” says Sister Laura. “Many times, it is a family member or a friend who is a godparent or a sponsor. In this case, Jennifer was someone they met from the parish.”

For everyone interested in RCIA in Franklin County, RCIA meets one night a week from September to April. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the meetings have been held via Zoom.

“Different models have been used in years past,” she says. “We are considering a hybrid model for next year, using a combination of Zoom and in-person meetings, with half the meetings in West Frankfort and half in Benton.”

During class, participants view DVDs of “Symbolon: The Catholic Faith Explained” from Augustine Institute and Bishop Robert Barron’s DVDs on the sacraments.

“Our meetings are informal enough, friendly and easy to participate,” Sister Laura says. “There are no wrong answers, no grades and no homework.”

There is a team of 10 teachers who rotate presenting the classes and leading the discussions about the DVDs. The teachers include Father Urban Osuji, pastor at St. Joseph in Benton, and Father Eusebius Mbidoaka, administrator at St. John the Baptist.

“Our teachers each came into their faith in their own way,” Sister Laura says. “They are good at teaching and sharing their faith stories.”

She explains, “There is no pressure to finish the RCIA program or formally enter the Catholic Church. Everyone is free to make the decision to come into the Church, become members and, hopefully, to be active in their parish.”

She adds, “We hope they continue to learn about their faith and practice it. Even after RCIA, there is a lot to learn. You should never be finished learning.”

For the Garmanes, who were practicing Baptists and very involved members, the COVID-19 restrictions presented them with an opportunity for a change.

“When everything shut down, we got into the habit of not going to church,” Cory says. “We felt like we needed to go back – when restrictions were lifting – but not to the Baptist Church.”

He adds, “But we thought, where do we go from here?”

Cory is a business and music professor at Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg. Amy is a second-grade teacher at Zeigler-Royalton Elementary School in Zeigler.

In Cory’s studies of music, he was exposed to the Catholic church.

“Out of the blue,” Amy was contacted by a high school friend she hadn’t talked with in eight years. This friend had converted to Catholicism and attended St. John the Baptist. Another co-worker also attended the parish. They decided to visit.

That is when they met Jennifer Connaughty, who would later become their sponsor, as she greeted everyone at the door.

“She was so sweet, right from the beginning,” Cory says. “The kids took to her quickly. She was like a welcoming committee.”

He adds, “She made us feel it is okay to be there, which was nice for this bunch of Baptists.”

Amy explains they do feel this is the right path for them, even if some of their family disagrees.

They both say it’s important when making a decision like this to do research, take the classes, and go to the church to experience it and meet others.

“Learn about the faith from people in the faith,” Cory says. “Look into the church history, Catholic theology, be open minded.”

At St. John the Baptist, the Garmanes are taking “baby steps” as new members.

“I know we will get more active when they find out I am a degree-holding classical musician,” Cory says. “And that’s okay. We like to be involved and plugged in.”