Members Enter Church at Missions' Easter Vigils

Posted: 6/10/2015

Father Neil Pezzulo baptizes Shirley KyleParishioners who attended this year’s Easter Vigil Masses at Glenmary missions in Rutledge and Maynardville, Tenn., witnessed four adults and four youth received into the Catholic Church. Shirley Kyle and Dean Nardi are two of the new members of St. John Paul II mission in Rutledge. They talked afterwards about their faith journeys with Father Steve Pawelk, pastor of both missions; Cindy Delph, Shirley’s friend and sponsor; and Dean’s wife Theresa.

Shirley and Dean went through the mission’s RCIA process. Then at the Vigil, she was baptized and both received first Communion and confirmation.

Shirley has been attending the mission for almost two years.  She first went to Mass there because her friend Cindy invited her.  Prior to attending, Shirley thought the Catholic Church was some type of cult. “But the more I came, “ she said, “the more I liked it. The people were warm and welcoming.”

The women first got to know one another when Shirley cared for Cindy’s elderly mother. “My mother never liked any of her caretakers before Shirley,” said Cindy. “Shirley was so patient and kind to her that we became friends.” Their friendship continued after Cindy’s mother died.

One turning point for Shirley in deciding to become Catholic, she told Father Steve, “was when you scolded Cindy and me for gossiping. You were so nice and peaceful about it. I said to myself, ‘This man is not a preacher but really a father. He cares for me. He will keep me on the straight and narrow.’”

Shirley’s family is happy about her baptism, but they have not yet accompanied her to church. One of her clients told Shirley she was joining a cult and should join another Christian denomination instead.

“Brother Craig (Digmann, a Glenmary brother on the mission team) gave me a Bible verse to share with the client. After hearing it, the person responded, ‘But that is from the Catholic Bible.’ I smiled and said, ‘No, I read it from a Bible on your bookcase.’ This individual didn’t know what to say after that.”

Shirley’s advice to anyone considering a church is to visit and not judge.  “Your heart will tell you if it is the right church,” she said. “This is the right church for me.” She chose the confirmation name “Maurice” because he was an early black saint.

Dean’s journey to the Catholic Church began with his wife Theresa. She was raised in the Catholic faith but spent many years practicing Hinduism. Then when her parents moved in with them during their final years, she drove the couple to Mass outside of Knoxville and attended with them. During this period, she was helped to return to the faith by two wonderful priests of the Knoxville diocese, she said. They also introduced her to Catholic mystics, about whom she previously knew nothing.

Once I returned to Catholicism,” she added, “I was all in.” Theresa is currently completing a degree in spiritual direction.
Dean told Theresa several months before Easter that he was ready to be Catholic, which caught her by surprise. She didn’t question his reasoning at the time, and she didn’t fully understand until this conversation with Father Steve. But she did say to Dean that if he were going to join the Church, it would be a good time for them to start attending the Rutledge mission since they live in the same county.

“I always played devil’s advocate when I talked religion with Theresa,” said Dean, “whether we were discussing Hinduism or Catholicism. But as time went on, I found her arguments about Catholicism more and more convincing. I was no longer resisting.”

What are most appealing to him about the Catholic faith are the rituals and sense of order. “I need this in my life.” Since he started attending Mass with Theresa and going through RCIA, he said, “Our marriage is more stabilized—not that it was bad before. Our conversations have a new depth.” He is happy to receive holy Communion now with his wife.

Glenmary Father Neil Pezzulo, who came to assist with this year’s Holy Week services at the Rutledge mission, led the Easter Vigil celebration there. Along with Dean and Shirley, Sendy Tovar Morales received first Communion and confirmation on the same evening her young child, Jocelyn, was baptized. And Jayden, another family’s infant child, was baptized, too.

Meanwhile, Father Steve presided over the Easter Vigil at Maynardville’s Blessed Teresa mission. Susan Combs, who was received into the Church there, is a periodic weekend Mass participant. She and her husband live in Pineville, Ky., and have a lakeside home near Maynardville. Yet she received permission from her Kentucky pastor to go through RCIA and enter the Church at Blessed Teresa.

She asked this favor, she said, because it was this faith community and Father Steve’s homilies that finally moved her to join the Catholic Church after attending Mass with her husband for several years. Susan received her first Communion and confirmation. In addition, brothers Luis and José, ages 14 and 12, were baptized and also received first Communion and confirmation.
Like other Glenmary missions, says Father Steve, these two East Tennessee communities continue to attract new members and grow.