St. Augustine Catholic
The RCIA: Forming New Catholics This Easter
A Lost Boy’s journey from the Sudan to America
Life After Retirement
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saint of the month
editor's notes
bishop's message
from the archives
in the know with Fr. Joe
work life
theology 101
your marriage matters
the parenting journey
spiritual fitness
parish profile
around the diocese
catholic news from around the world
calendar of events
2005 catholic foundation report

Forming New

Vilita “Vi” Curley and her two brothers grew up in Jacksonville with strict instruction from their parents to reject the idea of God and religion.

They were trained to “disprove” the Biblical miracles and to hold that all religious people were essentially indoctrinated by cults – a belief deeply held by Vi’s father.

So adherent were Vi’s parents to atheism that they regularly enrolled the children in local Baptist Sunday school and summer camp simply to serve as an irritant to those attending and to sharpen their skills at arguing against the existence of God.

Ironically, the exposure to religious education had an unintended result. Vi absorbed a lot of scripture and learned the psalms. When she was 16 years old, she started having waking nightmares, feeling a kind of evil resulting from her actions and beliefs. She thought to herself that she could live either as a cynic or an optimist.
“I said if there is a God, help me,” Vi said, describing the first steps that eventually led to her becoming a full member of the Catholic Church in 2002 at the age of 44. “I told my father I can no longer go to (Baptist) church and do this to those poor people and that I believe there is a God. He looked at me, disappointed, and said: ‘I thought you were stronger than that.”

Married at 19, Vi and her husband Kevin, who was not practicing his Catholic faith on a regular basis, began attending churches of various faiths in Jacksonville, including Blessed Trinity Catholic Church. A family crisis had developed and Vi heard a homily from Father Keith Brennan, pastor at the time, that touched her deeply. “At that moment I understood the whole reason God sent Jesus here, why we are supposed to be part of a community and love God,” Vi said. Shy about approaching Father Brennan after Mass, Vi saw a note in the parish bulletin inviting people interested in learning more about the Catholic faith to join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

The RCIA process begins the journey for catechumens (unbaptized) and candidates (baptized in other faith traditions) who seek to become full-fledged members of the church during the Easter Vigil, when they receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

The entire parish community is responsible for the formation and initiation of its newest disciples. Parishioners serve as role models and mentors to new members. By our actions and deeds both in the parish and in the broader community, our newest members learn what it means to be a Catholic Christian today. Parishioners also serve as sponsors, catechists, coordinators and ministers of hospitality.

“The more the parish community becomes personally invested in the process of initiating others in the life of Christ, the more the community itself will be renewed in its own life in Christ,” said Sister Lucy Clynes, a Daughter of Wisdom and director of the RCIA for the Diocese of Saint Augustine.

RCIA coordinators say the whole process can revive a parish community through the energy and involvement of its newest members. Each year in the Diocese of Saint Augustine, some 600 to 700 people complete the RCIA process and become full and active members of the church.

Religious unity in the family is the number one reason why people join the RCIA, while others are drawn to the faith through exposure to the church’s consistent ethic of life teachings. Participants generally fall into one of three categories: unbaptized adults or children seven years old or older (catechumens); baptized adults or children in other faith traditions (candidates) and baptized but uncatechized Catholics preparing for confirmation and/or Eucharist.

“It is a wonderful experience to see the catechumens and candidates experience a connection to the universal church through the bishop at the Rite of Election (beginning of Lent),” said Sister Lucy. “Gathering at the Cathedral-Basilica in St. Augustine they see several hundred other (candidates and catechumens) and it gives them a sense of the bigger church,” she said.

Vi and Kevin’s adult children eventually joined the Catholic Church and they now serve as sponsors to other new members in the RCIA process. “That was the most wonderful thing do – to be a Christian guide to other people who were just coming in and to experience that transformation for the whole family,” said Vi.

This year both Vi and Kevin joined the three year diocesan Ministry Formation Program as a means to deepen their knowledge of their faith, which helps them as members of the parish RCIA team.

Another gift for Vi has been the peace she has made with her father about her decision to become Catholic. He attended his granddaughter’s First Communion and occasionally goes to Mass with the family during holidays.

At the Westside office of the Nassau County Barnabus Center, a place where families in crisis can come for help, John Anderson, 65, a member of Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Callahan, shares his gifts by helping people with their utility and rent bills, dental emergencies, medical prescriptions, food and other needs. A former Baptist, John came into the church through the RCIA in 2004. He is also very active in offering moral support to others going through the RCIA process at his parish.

“My wife is Catholic, and I went through the RCIA process so I could participate in the Mass with her,” he said. “When you are attending and not participating you aren’t learning as much as you can. I learned so much. Without going through the RCIA I don’t know how people can have a full understanding of the church; my wife went through it with me even though she was already Catholic.”

For Wendy Saunders, a cradle-Catholic who didn’t have much religious instruction, it was the experience of having children that made her realize something was missing and that her children need to experience religion. Her son was in second grade and when she enrolled him in parish religious education; she also enrolled herself in the RCIA process at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Ponte Vedra Beach.

At that first meeting of the candidates and catechumens with Msgr. Daniel Logan, Wendy recalls that so many questions she had about faith and religion had been answered. She left that meeting feeling euphoric, looking at the world in a different way. Later, her husband went through the RCIA and Wendy is very active in her parish, having held a number of church volunteer positions, including parish respect life coordinator. She is now taking time out to care for her new baby.

“I see myself as continuing to deepen my spiritual life and I have a strong desire to attend daily Mass more often and foster a stronger prayer life,” she said. “For now, my service needs to be at home with my baby but I hope to get back in the swing of things wherever God wants me to help in terms of ministry.”

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in the RCIA process contact your parish office or visit the diocesan website: and click on “Becoming Catholic.”