McKenzie's Easter Story
During this year's Easter Vigil liturgy at Glenmary's Rutledge, Tenn., mission, 17-year-old McKenzie was one of a number of individuals who entered the Catholic Church and joined this mission community.
The stories of how these individuals found their way to the Catholic Church are all very inspiring. And McKenzie's story is, in the words of pastor Father Steve Pawelk, "unique and amazing."
In 2012, she and her grandmother drove past the storefront mission in Rutledge during Lent and were surprised to see that, for the first time ever, there was a Catholic church in Grainger County. They stopped to investigate because her grandmother was Catholic but hadn't been to church in a number of years.
"As I talked to her grandmother, McKenzie sat in on the youth retreat going on that day," Father Steve says. "And at the end of the day, she asked about becoming Catholic."
McKenzie says her parents had never forced religion on her, but she was ready to have religion in her life when she visited the mission. "My father is Catholic. But my dad and mom wanted me to be old enough to make my own decision about religion."
When McKenzie was 14, she became very interested in the Catholic faith and wanted to take religious education classes. But the nearest church was in Morristown and her parents couldn't drive her there. So when she discovered the mission in Rutledge last year, it was "really great."
"Many of the other kids at the retreat were classmates from school, and they made me feel very welcome," McKenzie says. "When I started going to Mass, Father Steve introduced me to the other mission members, too, and they have been really nice and friendly. I just love everybody at the mission. And I love Mass. It's so peaceful, and it makes me feel really close to God."
Later, McKenzie invited three friends to attend Mass and RCIA classes with her. They liked both and decided to keep coming. All four of them made their faith journeys together and joined the Church this past weekend.
Father Aaron Wessman, the mission's associate pastor, leads the classes and says he "admires all of our young people for their courage and ability to discern well, despite the struggle that living any kind of faith might present to a person."
When McKenzie reflects on her decision to become Catholic, she says "it felt right in my heart, and it was tied to my desire to be closer to the Lord. Also, my family is really happy that I chose a religion.
"Some other people have made fun of me for being Catholic. Sometimes people are afraid of what they don't know about. But I openly say I'm a Catholic and try to talk to them about the beliefs we all have in common."
Looking to the future, she says, "I think becoming a Catholic is the best thing I will do in the first 20 years of my life. It has changed me, and I feel like I've become a better person. I haven't regretted my decision once, and I don't think I ever will."
Father Steve, who is also pastor of the Maynardville, Tenn., mission in Union County, adds that "McKenzie and all the others who have journeyed to membership in the Church are wonderful blessings for our mission communities. The Holy Spirit is working here through us. And we are humbled and thankful!"