DOVER – A shoulder injury that ended Elspeth Schalk’s athletic career opened the way for her to join the Catholic faith.
Schalk, 25, can still pitch underhand, as required in softball, but is unable to throw overhand, as is needed after fielding balls or to relay throws. Rather than give up the sport she has participated in all her life, she turned to coaching.
She met Kelly Tilghman, whose daughter, Jenna, was a pitcher that Schalk coached. Through Tilghman, Schalk learned of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Salisbury. The program helps adults interested in the Catholic Church learn more about the faith.
On Feb. 17, Schalk professed her intent to formally enter the church by signing the Book of the Elect for St. Francis de Sales Parish during the annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at Holy Cross Church in Dover. In all, 162 people will be received into the church this year through the RCIA program. They are almost evenly divided between those like Schalk, who have never been baptized Christian, and those who have been baptized as Christian (most in another denomination) but not Communion and confirmation.
The Elect will receive baptism, Communion and confirmation, known as the sacraments of initiation, at the Easter Vigil Mass at their parishes.
Bishop Malooly told those gathered that just as God “elected” Noah and his family to be his followers, God elects people today to be his followers. He told the Elect and the Candidates for Continuing Conversion that God calls them “to be holy, to be church, and to be disciples.”
He challenged those entering the church to do four things: witness the faith; be disciples; serve others, and “always have a connection to the Eucharist,” especially through Sunday Mass.
Through the Eucharist, Bishop Malooly said, God “draws us to himself. He wants to be with us.”
Those entering the church include a family of five from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bear. “It was a family decision,” said Tressie Aldarondo, who with husband Daniel and their three daughters will be fully received into the church.
Daniel Aldarondo was baptized Catholic but never received Communion or was confirmed. “I moved around a lot as a kid,” he said.
Their daughters are Victoria, who with her mother works for Bank of America; Kamilla, who attends Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security, and Alexandria, who attend Gunning Bedford Middle School.
Schalk’s mother is Methodist and father Catholic, but she “never went to church when I was little.” When she started playing softball, “every Sunday, nearly, was spent on the ball field.”
Her shoulder injury occurred when she was a senior at James M. Bennett High School in Salisbury, but she played her freshman year at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Va. She underwent surgery after that season and realized she would not be able to play any longer.
She transferred to Salisbury University, where she is a biology major with hopes of becoming a veterinarian. She works part-time as a veterinarian tech and began coaching girls’ softball teams.
When she started her spiritual quest, she tried the Methodist church but did not feel as if it was her spiritual home. Then, after she and Kelly Tilghman talked, she started the RCIA program at St. Francis de Sales.
“They [RCIA leaders at St. Francis de Sales] told me it would be a growing process,” she said of her faith. “It’s still growing. It’s a satisfying feeling.”