Sunday, April 12, 2009

Converts' search brings them to Catholicism

rls baptism_4109.jpg staff writer
Posted Apr 11, 2009 @ 10:10 PM
Last update Apr 11, 2009 @ 11:40 PM

If local converts to Catholicism require an example, they need look no further than their own bishop.

As a little boy, Bishop George V. Murry was raised as an African Methodist Episcopal, but was so impressed by his experience at his Catholic school that he convinced his parents to allow him to convert. Eventually, they too, became Catholic.

In the Diocese of Youngstown, 406 converts have joined the Church just in time for Easter. On Saturday, 169 people received the Sacrament of Baptism, and 237 who were baptized in another denomination received the sacraments of confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.

Adults who want to become Catholic must enter a months-long education process known as RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. They undertake classes in which they learn about Catholic beliefs and liturgy. Each person has a “sponsor” or mentor.


For Ruth DeFranco of Alliance, a divorce, the death of her only child and her father’s illness took a spiritual toll.

“I questioned my faith, with God,” said the former Methodist and Lutheran. “I was lost and had questions and felt alone. I had friends that were Catholic and attended church with them. I wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith.”

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Upon becoming godmother to a Catholic friend’s grandchild, DeFranco enrolled in RCIA classes at St. Peter Church in Canton under the tutelage of Rita Kingsbury.

“It’s a great process,” Kingsbury said. “Everybody learns from one another. Most people have a rich life in God that they bring with them. Everybody becomes richer.”

One of DeFranco’s sponsors is the Rev. David Delargy of Ireland, a member of the recording group, The Priests.

For Emily Studeny, becoming a Catholic just made sense for her family. Her husband, Mike, is a lifelong Catholic, and last summer the couple baptized their baby daughter into the Church. A former United Methodist, Studeny has been attending St. Peter since 2003.

“At Christmas time, I decided it was definitely something I wanted to do,” she said. “One reason it took so long is, my family is very involved in the United Methodist Church.”

Once her mother and family gave their blessing, Studeny went ahead, saying, “It’s something you need to pray about. It’s something you have to do wholeheartedly.”


On Saturday, the Rev. John Zuzik of Little Flower Catholic Church in Plain Township led 12 converts to the faith. Zuzik said whenever he’s approached by someone about converting, he tries to discern their motive.

“I ask them if they’ve prayed about it, and why do they feel called to become Catholic?” he said. “There’s usually a couple of reasons. One is marriage to a Catholic. A lot of people like to start off their married life with the same religion as their spouse, though it’s not required in the Catholic Church.

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“We have non-Catholics who’ve come (to Mass) every week for years, then one day, they come to me and say, ‘I’ve prayed about it; it’s time.’ Other times, it’s because of a traumatic experience in their life. As they say, there are no atheists in foxholes.”

At 15, Leah Wilson is one of this year’s youngest converts. The bright and personable McKinley High School freshman said she grew up attending a United Methodist church but was never baptized.

“I learned about Catholicism in the fifth grade, through some of my friends who were Catholic,” she said. “Last summer, I decided I wanted to become Catholic. I’m very excited, and my family is happy for me.”

Wilson advises the curious to do some homework.

“It’s forever,” she said. “It’s not to be taken lightly.”

With a Catholic father and an Amish-turned-Methodist mother, Leslie Foster said she felt destined to be Catholic.

“I always felt more comfortable with Catholicism than Methodism,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always known I was going to make my Confirmation.”

“I was thrilled, very excited,” said Foster’s fiancé, Joe Cole, a “cradle” Catholic. “My mom was a Protestant who always wanted to convert, but with raising kids, there just wasn’t time.”

Cole became a sponsor for his mother, and now, Foster.

“I’ve learned more about my own faith as a result,” he said.

“It sounds kind of corny, but it felt very spiritual, falling in love,” Foster added. “It just seemed a natural fit.

“I found a peace within myself and the answer I’d been searching for,” DeFranco said. “... I believe that the Catholic faith is the biblical form of Christianity and most united with Christ. They are a community that remembers Jesus.”

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