For The Dialog
Bishop Malooly welcomes some 200 people who will enter the Catholic Church fully during Easter Vigil
DOVER – Less than a year after she entered the Catholic Church, Jo Wardell returned to this year’s Rite of Election at Holy Cross Church with her mother, Sara Wardell; brother, Jason Wardell, and best friend, Sarah Shannon.
She held St. John the Beloved Parish’s Book of the Elect as Jason Wardell and Shannon signed it Feb. 21, declaring their intent to enter the church through baptism. Moments later she stood as her mother’s sponsor as the names of those who have been baptized Christian, but now desire to join the Catholic Church were called.
“My mother and brother are joining me now, and my best friend,” Wardell said. She downplayed her role in their decision, though she acknowledged all three saw how joining the church reenergized her spirit. “It was God’s grace that brought them in.”
Most of about 200 people entering the church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and a parallel program for children, attended the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. The Rite of Election is traditionally held on the Saturday following Ash Wednesday.
Those entering the church were about evenly divided between those who had not been baptized and those who had. About three-fourths were adults and the remainder children. Most will enter the church at the Easter Vigil Mass at their parish.
People who have already been baptized Christian enter the church through the sacrament of confirmation.
“This is always a special day in the church universal because so many men and women indicate that they choose to join the church,” Bishop Malooly said.
But he noted that actually, “God chose us. He elected us through Jesus Christ to be holy … to be disciples.
“You are elected for baptism not because you earned it but because God elected it.”
Angela Giuffre, who was baptized Catholic but never confirmed, said the Rite “made me feel like I was welcome” in the church.
“You go to class every week and then you come here and go through this, you feel like you are part of something.”
Giuffre will be confirmed at St. Bernadette in Harrington.
Since Wardell was baptized last year, she has worked two groups of 12 confirmation candidates at St. John the Beloved and with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a parish-based program for those interested in the church.
While Wardell cited God’s grace as the key to her mother, brother and best friend entering the church, one suspects Wardell’s example may have played a role.
Both last year and this year Bishop Malooly urged those entering the church to be witnesses to the faith by their lifestyles so that they could be role models to others. (He also called them to be people of service and to participate in the Eucharist weekly.)
“It was a big influence for entering the church, watching my grandson (Jo’s now-2-year-old child, Maynard) being baptized and then my daughter, too,” Sara Wardell said. “She’s really committed to the church.”
But Sara Wardell said “there was something in me that made me want to join the church anyway.”
She was baptized Lutheran at the chapel at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington; her father was a colonel in the Air Force.
She lives in Millsboro but travels to Wilmington every weekend to attend the Monday night RCIA at St. John the Beloved.
Her son also had to make special arrangements to go through RCIA. Jason Wardell is a truck driver who often works Monday nights. Father Idongesit A. Etim, associate pastor, has worked with Wardell and several others who had trouble making the Monday night sessions but were interested in entering the church.
“I’ve always been religious,” Wardell said, noting that he and Jo have an aunt, Sister Sandy Wardell, who is an Ursuline nun in the Bronx, N.Y. She will be Jason’s godmother. Even as a child Jason felt an urge to be Catholic. “I remember saying I wanted to be a Catholic.”
He and Jo attended the Brethren in Christ Church as children, but he felt “it was missing something. You go here (the Catholic Church), and you don’t feel like you are missing anything.”
Jason’s plan is not to be the last of his family baptized this year. He hopes his 4-year-old daughter, Madison, will be baptized before her birthday in December.
There may be another baptism in the works as well. Sarah Shannon and her husband, Dominic, who was raised Catholic, are expecting her first child in April. The baby will be raised Catholic, she said.
Shannon cited Jo Wardell’s example as a major reason for her decision to study the Catholic faith.
“I never envisioned I would be a candidate for baptism in the Catholic Church,” she said. “Being Catholic is the farthest thing from where I thought I would be.”
Her decision “hasn’t been an easy choice,” Shannon said. “I’ve struggled with it.”
Still, when her name was called, Shannon walked along the main aisle of Holy Cross to where her good friend, Jo Wardell, held the Book of the Elect. Shannon signed the book, saying yes, she wanted to be baptized as a Catholic.