‘Something bigger than myself’

 New Catholics reflect on community, blessings of Catholicism
Neena and Wade Gaynor joined the Catholic Church on All Saints Day in November 2017. Photo by Laura Clarke/WKC.

By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic

Joining the Catholic Church is a daunting experience for many, even – or especially – for thosewho had great faith experiences when growing up in non-Catholic churches.

“One thing that I do like about RCIA is that it’s not dismissive of Protestantism,” said Matt Litsey, currently going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green.

RCIA is the process by which adults enter the Catholic Church. Litsey will enter the Church at the Easter Vigil on March 31.

Litsey appreciates that the RCIA process “is not saying that the faith that I had for the previous 30 years of my life was invalid.”

Litsey grew up in a Christian family; his parents even went to Africa as missionaries for three years. With his already-firm Christian foundation, he was grateful to learn that “we’re allies, not enemies. We’re allies in the same fight.”

Matt Litsey. Photo by Laura Clarke/WKC.

Similarly, the Gaynor family joined the Catholic Church on Nov. 1, 2017 – but are quick to explain that this was not the beginning of their journey with Christ.

“We encountered Christ years ago,” said Wade Gaynor. He, his wife, Neena, and their two sons now belong to St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro.

Wade Gaynor credits his family for showing him the faith while he was growing up: “I have an incredible foundation laid (by) all of these Jesus-believing people in my life.”

Neena Gaynor agreed.

“I knew Christ,” she said. “But when I fully encountered him – he’s present, completely, at every Mass, every day, all across the world – it was impossible to turn away from.”

Wade Gaynor said that when they encountered Jesus “through the sacraments, and through the Eucharist specifically – and adoration, and confession – it’s just a beautiful thing.”

He said his original opinion of the Catholic Church was that it was “kind of scandalous, and stuff was hidden – but it’s an open book.”

“Be careful when you start asking questions,” he said with a grin, adding that a person might respond with, “wow, there’s a lot of truth in what I’m seeing here.”

Brandy Rothberger, a catechist at Holy Redeemer Parish in Beaver Dam, entered the Catholic Church last Easter.

Brandy Rothgerber. Photo by Laura Clarke/WKC.

Though her husband came from a “very large, Catholic family,” Rothberger, raised in the Assembly of God, had no intention of becoming Catholic herself.

Still, after she and her family returned to Ohio County after living in Louisville for a time, Rothberger felt “embraced” by the Catholic community. They joined Holy Redeemer, and planned to raise their children Catholic.

Rothberger attended Mass with her family, and after many conversations with a Catholic friend, “I began to realize that you’re part of something so much bigger than yourself.”

“The Catholic Church is about the whole world,” she said. “You’re hearing the same things in every church, and everybody’s saying the same prayers… we are literally the Universal Church.”

Her family’s house tragically burned down in a fire in September 2017, and the flames were still being put out when members of the parish arrived.

“Can we help, what do we need to do, what do you need right now… it was an experience I’d never had before,” said Rothberger. “It was such a blessing.”

Rothberger said she found comfort in Catholicism that “not only are the people standing beside you, your family, but if you go anywhere – you could go to a Hispanic Mass, a Latin Mass, and it’s all the same.”

Preston Harrell. Photo by Laura Clarke/WKC.

Preston Harrell, a sophomore music student at Western Kentucky University, became Catholic in 2016.

He said that “community” is vital for new Catholics, as well as for anyone in the Church.

In addition to singing in the choir and being an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, Harrell volunteers on the RCIA team at St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green.

“We all have a duty to ourselves and to other people to do the favor of showing the kindness of the Lord and face of Christ to everyone,” he said. “And I’ve come to find that it is through the ministries that I’m involved with, that it really shines through.”

(This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.)

Listen to Their Stories

Throughout Lent and the Easter season, the Diocese of Owensboro’s social media has been posting video interviews with Matt, Wade, Neena, Brandy and Preston. Hear their stories in the videos below. More videos coming soon!