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Padua Academy junior Anastasia Watson ready to join Catholic Church and follow late great-grandmother’s example

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Padua Academy junior Anastasia Watson (left), pictured with her grandmother, Kathleen Kern, has spent the year preparing to enter the Catholic Church with three other students. (Photo courtesy of Anastasia Watson)

Anastasia Watson has been preparing since the fall to enter the Catholic Church, and the Padua Academy junior will be ready once churches reopen following the coronavirus pandemic.

Watson, 17, and three freshmen from Padua went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults over the past several months as a group. Watson said she has wanted to become Catholic for some time.

“I’ve always wanted to become Catholic because my great-grandmother, who passed my freshman year, was very involved in the church,” she said recently.

Her close friends at Padua knew she wasn’t Catholic, and she would sit with them at school Masses so they could help her with some of the elements of the service. On her own, she had begun to look into joining the church.

“I actually found RCIA on my own just doing some research,” Watson said. “I voiced my desire to my parents. They were like, this is a good idea, but we didn’t know how to go about this. I was comfortable with Mrs. (Karen) Duppel. She connected with the school for me.”

Duppel is a theology teacher at Padua.

Watson had approached Theresa Moschelle, the director of religious education at her parish, Holy Rosary in Claymont. Moschelle said the parish had just one other candidate, an adult, and she wondered if there were other girls at Padua with whom Watson would be more comfortable going through the process.

As it turns out, three freshmen expressed an interest in joining the Catholic Church. They are Lauren Schurman of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, Haleigh Butterfield of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, and Olivia Shimp of St. Mary Magdalen Parish.

“I didn’t know any of the girls going into this. It was a surprise that other people wanted to do this, given that most of the Padua population was already Catholic,” Watson said.

Duppel said Schurman’s parents said something at the freshmen convocation, so Duppel went to the school’s campus ministers. Padua put a note in the family newsletter, and the other two came forward. The school got in touch with Oblate Father Mark Wrightson, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, who wanted the four girls connected to their parishes even as they were taking RCIA classes at Padua.

“Many of (the parishes) do not have teenagers going through it. I think by having teenagers in it has been a real support,” Duppel said.

Watson had Catholic family members, but her father is Muslim. She said her parents did not raise their children in any religion.

“There was that debate about how we should be raised. There was a decision to bring us up with no religion and let us decide,” she said.

Her parents “were very supportive of the fact that I wanted to take after my great-grandmother. I did have that example growing up.”

She also has found support among her friends at Padua. Watson said they have served as “role models.” Also, taking theology classes has helped her as she’s been going through RCIA.

Duppel said having four girls going through RCIA at the school presented “a unique opportunity to form a faith community.”

Moschelle said she was impressed with Watson’s dedication to Catholicism and the RCIA process.

“I was impressed when I interviewed her that a teen with so many outside activities, and at this point in her high school life, still had the presence of mind to listen to the voice of God, which had been calling her to this transformation,” Moschelle said. “In a time where a high-schooler may be thought of as uncool to follow an ancient and structured ‘system’ such as religion, it is that much more impressive that she pursued this voluntary path.”

Watson, who lives in Claymont, attended a public middle school, but she said she was looking for a different environment and pace for high school. She likes the focus on academics at Padua, along with the familial feeling.

“It is very welcoming and very inclusive,” she said.

She was the manager of the volleyball team and was on the indoor track and field team, both of which won state championships. She would be playing softball and running for the spring track team had school not been interrupted. She also was a member of the peer leadership team and student council.

Her initiation into the Catholic Church may be delayed, but Watson is ready to go, whenever that may be.

“I’m very excited. The Catholic community is such a wholesome community, and I can’t wait to be a member of the church.”