New Catholics receive welcome into the Church

Father Alexander “Sandy” McDonald, pastor at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, baptizes Ana Laura Rivera-Bravo at the May 30 vigil Mass for Pentecost Sunday.

Back in March, Tracey Tims of Beaufort was so excited about becoming Catholic that she kept a countdown calendar on her cell phone. 

Then her plans — and those of hundreds of other people around the state — were put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic forced an end to preparation classes and to public worship.

Tims and others who had waited for years to enter the Church had to complete their studies through online sessions of RCIA, which is the formal way that people interested in becoming Catholic learn about the faith. Their day for joining the faith was moved from the Easter Vigil to Pentecost Sunday, May 31. 

On that day, catechumens like Tims received the sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion and confirmation; and candidates were confirmed and received the Eucharist. 

“I cried when it finally happened because it was a dream come true, a dream I never thought would happen because I had been trying to get there for so long,” Tims said. “A few days later I realized that I was really Catholic, and I just wanted to go and shout it to everyone.” 

The total number of people expected to enter the Church this year statewide was 442, although some of those people may not have participated in the Pentecost services because of concerns about COVID-19, according to Michael Martocchio, who is director of the Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation and Interim Secretary of Evangelization and Education.

William Ojeda makes his profession of faith. (Provided)

The Greenville Deanery had the most people involved with 132, followed by the Charleston deanery with 118, according to statistics compiled by Martocchio’s office.

“This year’s path to the sacraments has definitely been a strange journey,” Martocchio said. “We are thankful for all those who have joined the Body of Christ during these challenging times. They are witnesses to us that, even amidst the uncertainty and chaos of the world, the Holy Spirit is alive and working today.” 

The process of preparing hundreds of people to join the faith while quarantined at home was a challenge for directors of religious education. They handled the challenge in a variety of ways. Some prepared lessons and posted them online or sent them by e-mail. Others, like Mary Harden at St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill, hosted online classes using Zoom or other software. 

Then came the job of planning the Pentecost service in accordance with social distancing rules, which make rituals like baptisms a challenge. Catherine Combier-Donovan, director of adult formation at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, and Father Alexander “Sandy” McDonald, pastor, said planning the event, held during the vigil Mass for Pentecost on May 30, was quite an undertaking. 

“It took us four hours in the church trying to figure out how to mark the pews so that people were seated at a proper distance,” she said. “We marked the pews with painter’s tape and put out name cards so that people would sit in the proper place. Then for baptisms and confirmations, we came to them individually. The only time people stood in procession was for Holy Communion. Logistically it was quite complicated, but I loved being able to make it work.” 

The additional waiting was worth it for those like Tims, whose journeys to becoming Catholic had evolved over decades. 

“I was a member of the United Methodist Church for more than 30 years but for years I also had been drawn to the Catholic faith,” Tims said. “Finally last year, my best friend, who is Catholic and attends St. Peter, called me up and said ‘RCIA classes are starting — you need to go.’”

Father McDonald confirms Jaira Peñaloza. The new Catholics had to wear masks and received Communion by hand due to coronavirus concerns. (Provided)

Tims lives 45 minutes from St. Peter Church in Beaufort and it was a challenge to make the evening classes because she has difficulty driving at night. Her husband and children helped make sure she was able to attend, and after in-person classes stopped she continued studies with online classes organized by Debbie Gallagher, her RCIA leader. 

Another new Catholic is Dillan Milholland of Mount Pleasant. She grew up Presbyterian and was attending a nondenominational church when she met her husband Hank, a cradle Catholic. After the couple married in 2018 and their son Hank was born, she decided she wanted to raise him Catholic and the couple started attending Christ Our King Church. She was drawn to the Church’s rich history and tradition, and started RCIA in 2019. 

The weeks leading up to Pentecost were doubly special for Milholland because she and her husband stood alongside her grandmother and grandfather to have their marriages convalidated. Now, with her marriage recognized by the Church, she was ready to fully become Catholic.

“The experience on Pentecost was really amazing,” she said. ‘Taking Communion has always been very important to me and for so long I was not able to. Now it feels like I’m fully accepted. I’m really a member of the Church and I can share that with my husband and my son.”