Thankful Convert Inspired to Give Back to Glenmary and Community

Posted: 2/4/2012

Sarah SmithwickSarah Smithwick, 73, is living proof of the way an invitation can change a person's life.

Sarah, a non-Catholic, started attending liturgies with members of Glenmary's Catholic Community of Bertie County (N.C.) in 2007. Two years later, she joined the Church and has since become a devoted, active mission member. She says she's never been happier, "and I owe it all to Glenmary."

Her journey to Catholicism began with a simple invitation to Sunday Mass. She and a friend met Glenmary Brother Jack Henn one morning in 2007 when he was taking a walk through her neighborhood in Windsor. At the time, Brother Jack was part of the mission's pastoral team.

"We chatted for a short while," says Sarah. "He was a nice, interesting person. When I told him I didn't go to a church, he invited me to come to Mass.

"After that day, we would talk briefly when we saw each other. The third time that he invited me, I decided to go. I liked it and felt welcome right away. It wasn't long before I decided to become a Catholic."

She says she felt drawn to the Catholic community because of how friendly and caring they were, especially the Glenmarians. At that time, Brother Curt Kedley and Father Mike Langell—her RCIA instructor—were the other pastoral team members. "I felt like I belonged to this big family," she says.

Sarah, a widow, has two grown children, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She was previously a member of the local Methodist church but didn't attend services.

Before she accepted Brother Jack's invitation to Mass, "I wasn't interested in anything. I just didn't care," she says. "But I'm really happy now. Being a Catholic and a member of our parish has made such a big difference."

She recently decided she wanted to give back to Glenmary because "they've been so good to me. They are a blessing for this county." That's why she chose the planned giving option of remembering Glenmary in her will. And as a parishioner, she continues providing financial support to the Windsor mission.

Inspired by the Glenmarians, Sarah also gives her time and talents to the parish and larger community. "I go to our Saturday night prayer services and I'm a lector at Mass. I wouldn't have dared to get in front of a congregation before, but now it doesn't faze me!"

She volunteers in the area because "it makes me feel good to help other people." Sarah joins Glenmary missioners in assisting at bingo games for nursing home residents and has worked at the local ecumenical food pantry. She also volunteers with Special Olympics. In addition, she keeps an eye out for neighbors in need and helps when she can.

During the last few years, she has needed help herself at times, too. And Glenmarians were there for her. "For example, when I had eye surgery and couldn't drive, Brother Jack took me to Mass. And later when I had another health problem, he took me to doctor appointments."

Some acquaintances don't approve of her decision to become a Catholic. "They tell me I ought to get out," she says, "and that I'll go straight to hell if I don't. But I enjoy being a Catholic, and I'm going to stay a Catholic."

One of the happiest times of her childhood was the few years she spent at a Catholic boarding school. "The sisters were strict but nice, and I enjoyed being with them and my classmates. I really felt like I belonged, even though I wasn't Catholic." That feeling of belonging came back to her when she joined the Catholic community in Windsor.

Today, Brother Curt, Glenmary novice Jason Muhlenkamp, Father Mike Kerin and Brother Virg Siefker make up the mission team serving Bertie County. Sarah says the Glenmarians are as caring as ever. And she adds that she'll never forget the invitation which helped turn her life around.