With the Easter Vigil a little more than two weeks away, dozens of men, women and children are prepared to enter the Catholic Church in parishes throughout the Diocese. Having been formed through the RCIA process and religious instruction, these individuals are eager to conclude their journey of searching and begin a new one in the Catholic faith.
Among the new Catholics who will join the fold are Tim Erdman and Dean and Roxanne Wenrich of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lancaster.
And the amazing part of their journeys into the Church is that they all begin with grandchildren enrolled at Sacred Heart School.
‘Like I Found a New Home’
When Tim and Barb Erdman moved to Lancaster from Sunbury 25 years ago, they couldn’t find a church to call home.
Former members of the Methodist Church, they searched out various churches for years after their relocation, but nothing felt right.
Then, a few years ago, they enrolled their great-granddaughter, Haylie, into the preschool program at Sacred Heart of Jesus School. The program director invited the Erdmans to come to Mass to support their great-granddaughter, of whom they received full custody several years ago.
“The first time I came here, it was like I found a new home,” Barb said during an interview in the church. “I felt like I was supposed to be here. I felt like this is where I should come, so that’s what I did.”
For more than a year, she faithfully attended Mass, and then entered the RCIA program so that she could join the Catholic Church. She entered at the Easter Vigil in 2018 and now serves the parish as a lector and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.
Tim Erdman’s journey followed a path similar to his wife’s, starting at Sacred Heart School.
Parents of children enrolled at the school are required to give a certain amount of volunteer hours per week, so Tim decided to offer his time as a playground monitor.
“Because of Haylie, I got more involved in the school. Because of the school, I got more involved in coming to Mass just about every week,” Tim said.
Inspired by the way Haylie flourished at school (she’ll receive her First Communion in May) and his wife’s Catholic faith, Tim was stirred to join them as members of the Catholic Church.
“Last year, I was talking to Father Metzgar, our pastor, about joining the Church. He said, ‘Do a couple classes and we’ll talk some more.’ We had two classes and then COVID hit,” Tim relayed.
Undeterred, he continued in the RCIA program as classes went to remote learning.
“I’m glad I went through the whole thing because it taught me a lot about religion that I didn’t know,” said Tim, who was raised Lutheran and joined the Methodist Church when he and Barb married.
“The first time I walked into this church, I had an overwhelming feeling. I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t explain it,” Tim said. “Later on in our RCIA classes, we were talking about the Holy Spirit and the instructor said to me, ‘Now you know what that feeling was.’”
“It felt like I was home,” he said.
The Erdmans are joyfully anticipating the Easter Vigil, when Tim will receive the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. When Haylie receives her First Holy Communion on May 2, her Pappy will be a full member in the Church.
“We wanted to be able to support Haylie through the Catholic faith in the right way,” Barb said.
“I’ve come closer to Christ than I was,” Tim said. “It’s been quite a long journey and I’ve learned a lot through it. It’s enhanced my religion and has helped me a lot. I try to get here every Sunday, whereas before it was, “Eh, do I want to or not want to?” I enjoy coming to Mass, and I am waiting for my first Eucharist.”
A Journey to Truth
Dean Wenrich says U2’s hit song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” reminds him of his faith journey before discovering the Catholic Church.
“I’ve been a religious mutt. I’ve gone through the Lutheran faith, I’ve gone through the Methodist phase, all conference-driven churches, and still it wasn’t really what we were looking for,” said Wenrich.
A few years ago, Dean and his wife Roxanne said they were invited to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church to see their granddaughter, Isabelle, in a Christmas tableau. They returned again for the school’s spring concert, for a bingo fundraiser and a spaghetti dinner.
Dean, who works in construction, was initially drawn to Sacred Heart Church for its aesthetic appeal. But soon, he and his wife discovered a more profound beauty.
“We came here and we took everything with a grain of salt, little bits of things. We were just listening to things, watching things, seeing how things go,” Dean said. “This is where we felt the draw.”
“Honestly, I had no knowledge of the Catholic faith,” Roxanne said. “I knew you knelt, and had a Rosary and made the Sign of the Cross, but that was probably the max that I knew about being Catholic.”
The Wenriches kept returning to Sacred Heart for various events and liked what they saw. Their daughter, Heather, recently joined the Catholic Church. Isabelle, a fourth grader, was baptized in January. She will receive her First Holy Communion in May.
One day, Dean asked Roxanne what she thought about joining the Catholic Church, too.
“We had hit up just about every religion you can think of, but never really found the ‘spot,’ the place to call home,” Roxanne said. “But this is it.”
The RCIA process helped to affirm their decision as they learned the teachings of the Church, the nuances of the liturgy and the symbolism of the sacraments.
Dean offered up the analogy of a snow globe to describe the faith formation process.
“In the RCIA classes, when you’re getting a hold on everything, it’s like a snow globe. Everything is still and calm. It’s a pretty picture. And then somebody picks up the snow globe and shakes it like crazy, and now there’s a blizzard, and you start over again,” he said. “There is something new to learn all the time that makes it interesting and amazing. It goes that deep, and there are so many layers.”
Roxanne’s profound moment came in learning about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“The first time we walked in here, Father Metzgar was giving us a go-round of the church. He said, ‘Jesus is in the house…. He’s in the tabernacle.’ I replied, ‘He’s in the tabernacle? I don’t know what that is, but he’s here, and he’s in it.’”
We left here, and I said, to Dean, ‘Father really thinks that’s the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ.’ I’d never heard that before, ever, and it just blew us totally away.”
“In the things I’ve learned in RCIA, I was totally cheated in my faith life. There is so much here that you don’t find elsewhere,” Roxanne remarked.
Two weeks away from receiving her First Communion, Roxanne has come a long way from her first encounter with Jesus in the tabernacle.
“It’s exciting to truly experience what you’re supposed to experience when that happens,” she said as she thinks of receiving the Body of Christ for the first time. “I’m a little anxious, I think, because I want to make sure I’m fully connected in that moment to truly understand more so than I ever have.”
“In every other religion I’ve been, it’s not been so meaningful. I feel like I’ve been cheated my whole life, because communion was just something to do every fourth Sunday. It was never anything to get excited about. Now, we’re ready for the real thing.”
Dean echoed his wife’s thoughts.
“It’s real, that passion that this is the Body of Christ. It’s the all-holy. It’s just powerful,” he said.
“When people are searching for faith, they’re looking for that rock that they can base their faith upon,” he reflected on his journey. “I’m glad that the Roman Catholic Church is that rock that is unwavering. The Truth is here. This is where it is.”
(Celebrate Tim, Dean and Roxanne as they enter the Church at the Easter Vigil. The Catholic Witness will be with them on Holy Saturday as they receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion, with follow-up coverage in the April 8 edition.)
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness