Throughout the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, classes in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) have or will be starting in the next few weeks. The free, weekly classes provide instruction to non-Catholics who are exploring the faith as well as Catholics who need a “refresher” course in basic catechism and non-practicing Catholics who are considering their return to full communion with the Church.
Many priests have been encouraging their parishioners to consider who they might invite to RCIA. Often, non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics need that personal encouragement to make the first step. It was an invitation to “learn more” that brought Jim and Roddy Spangler to RCIA in the fall of 1994. They are now members of St. Joseph Parish in Beatrice, Neb.
In the early 1990s, the Spanglers were still Protestants, as they had been raised. After moving to a Lincoln neighborhood near the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, they practiced their faith haphazardly, attending “the closest Protestant church” whenever it was convenient.
As Jacob was preparing to enter kindergarten and 11-year-old Nellie was just a year or so away from middle school, the Spanglers grew concerned about the size of public schools. Mr. Spangler researched Lincoln’s private school options and determined that the Catholic School system was the best choice for their children.
“I objected at first a little bit, but (was assured that) lots of non-Catholics sent their children to Catholic schools,” Mrs. Spangler recalled.
Jacob was immediately enrolled in Cathedral School’s kindergarten program, while Nellie transferred there for seventh and eighth grade. Believing that parental involvement in schools is very important, the Spanglers naturally became members of the Home and School Association. They soon became familiar faces among the school families.
They weren’t very interested in Catholicism at first. However, their neighbors, Paul and Rosemary Reinsch, had given them some information about enrolling their kids in Cathedral school and eventually told them they could learn what Nellie and Jacob were learning about Catholicism through RCIA.
“I thought we already knew what the Catholic Church was all about,” said Mrs. Spangler. “But we also liked the Reinschs and respected them, so we thought we would give it a try.”
They enrolled in RCIA that fall. As the course was taught, Mr. and Mrs. Spangler began to realize that they believed a lot of myths about Catholicism. Mrs. Spangler said, “I’d never thought about the fact that the Catholic Church was where it all started. And I’d never thought about the word Protestant and being protesters.”
As this information sunk in, it made a huge difference to the Spanglers. “That’s kind of what convinced us that this is the one true Church…” Mrs. Spangler said, “but there was still that hesitation.”
As RCIA ended for the year and others began preparing to enter the Church at Easter Vigil, the Spanglers remained on the fence. But it wasn’t because they still had questions about Catholicism – RCIA had taken care of that.
“Even though we were really convinced, we weren’t ready to admit it,” said Mrs. Spangler.
The following year, the Spanglers attended RCIA once again. They also began attending Mass regularly.
“We had already made up our minds [to join the Church] beginning that second year of study,” Mrs. Spangler said. “We wanted to go though the whole thing again, just to learn more and absorb more.”
For the Spanglers, RCIA offered two particular benefits that private study doesn’t: “RCIA helped in that you were able to ask questions,” explained Mrs. Spangler. “And to have all the different priests and laypeople — each one of them shared their experiences and made it a little more clear than just reading a book.”
Meanwhile, the children were also preparing to enter the Catholic Church. Jacob studied for his first Communion with the other second-graders at Cathedral School, while Nellie got a little extra tutoring as her seventh grade class studied religion.
In April 1996, Jacob had the distinction of becoming the first Catholic in the Spangler family, making his profession of faith shortly before his first penance and first Holy Communion. Two weeks later, his parents and sisters were received into the Church and confirmed by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz during the Easter Vigil.
Mr. and Mrs. Reinsch, the ever-patient friends and neighbors, were their sponsors.
Mrs. Spangler’s gratitude toward them is obvious. “They’re so good,” she said, “They were very patient. They just said, ‘We want you to know what our faith is, to know the truth, not just what the world says about the Catholic faith.’ They didn’t pressure us.”
Mrs. Spangler said that personal invitation is an excellent way to encourage friends and relatives to investigate Catholicism. “We may not have done it on our own,” she said.
Each parish or group of parishes in the diocese has an RCIA programs. Some parishes offer free or low-cost babysitting during the sessions and a small number have the classes available on videotape. Consult your parish office or bulletin for dates, times and more information.
Story submitted by Father Kenneth Borowiak of the Southern Nebraska Register.