For Dana Durham, it wasn’t her parents, Margaret and Ronald, who decided she would become a Catholic. It was Dana herself.
Mr. and Mrs. Durham are both Presbyterian, and it was the quality of the education that prompted them to send their two daughters to St. Mary Magdalen. Although Dana and her older sister, Emma, were baptized at birth in the Presbyterian Church, their parents believed it was up to the girls to choose their religion once they were old enough.
Eighth-grader Emma remains a Presbyterian, although she plans to go to Our Lady of Mercy Academy next year.
Dana, on the other hand, never wavered about converting.
“Dana – from the time she was a little girl – felt that’s where she belonged,” Margaret Durham said. But the parents wanted to be sure it wasn’t just a case of peer pressure – or peer envy.
“That’s why we held her back,” Mrs. Durham said. “In second grade when all the girls got First Communion, it was a huge deal with the dresses and all. And we felt that that wasn’t the right time to allow her, because we didn’t want her to feel like she just wanted to fit in or she just wanted the dress. We wanted her to be educated and to know when she was personally ready.”
The Durhams never set an age for making a decision about converting. The parents told the girls that when they were ready, they should speak with their teacher and the pastor. Margaret Durham said they told their daughters, “When you’re adult enough to go talk to them, we feel you’re old enough to make your own decision.”
For Dana that time arrived this year. Right after Christmas, her mother said, “She came home one day and said ‘I went and spoke with Sister. I’ve decided it’s time.’” So in February after a regular Friday Mass in the school, Dana made her profession of faith and became a Catholic.
Baptism for Emily and Isabel Kefer took place after a Sunday Mass in February. Emily is in first grade, and Isabel is three years old. The Kefers are relatively new to the area and this is Emily’s first year at St. Mary Magdalen.
Richard Kefer, a Catholic, and his wife, Si, a Buddhist, had talked about having their daughters baptized. Emily started learning about religion at school, he said, and “finally when she asked about it, it was time to do something.”
Some of Emily’s classmates came to the Mass and stayed for Emily’s baptism. It’s a “very supportive community,” her father said.
(Story continues below)
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Joanne Sampson echoes that thought, describing the school as “a big family. The whole congregation is somewhat close.”
An Episcopalian, she has been raising her granddaughter, Trinity Cain, since her son died several years ago. This school year she enrolled Trinity at St. Mary Magdalen and the fifth-grader has made her profession of faith as a Catholic. Joanne Sampson herself is now taking classes to become a Catholic.
A recurring theme for the parents of the new Catholics is that the warmth and educational quality of the school, its mission, and especially the five sisters – members of the Missionary Daughters of the Most Pure Virgin Mary – were all part of the decision.
“I really truly feel that the whole reason that the children find their way is because of the sisters at our school,” said parent Margaret Durham. “They’re astonishing in their faith and their trust and their ability to motivate people. … They are so kind and so gentle and so loving, and they’ve just made these children feel special.”
Sister Rosa Maria is modest about the nuns’ role, saying simply, “We’re very happy and proud of our children.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Star Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Camden, N.J.