By Anne Marie Amacher
BETTENDORF — When Mary Ellen Olson joined St. John Vianney Parish in the early 1970s, she got involved in various ministries right away.
“Almost immediately I worked in religious education,” she said while preparing for a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) session with Anwi Ngando in the parish center in mid-June.
When Olson began teaching religious education, classes were held in homes. Over the years, she also became a lector, eucharistic minister and member of the choir.
In the fall of 1987 she was asked to help teach RCIA. She attended a workshop first, which fueled her interest. “I had the opportunity to break away from religious education and do RCIA. I started as part of the team.”
She also served as a sponsor when needed and took over as RCIA director in 1997. “Even though we worked as a team, they needed an organizer.”
Although classes often are held from August through early the following summer, Olson said the position was a 12-month job.
She found that Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. (following the 9 a.m. Mass) worked best for classes. They usually lasted one hour, but she never designated an official ending time. Some people would leave for the 11 a.m. Mass. Others would stay to ask more questions.
Olson’s favorite experience in RCIA was watching the reaction of people being baptized.
Each group of RCIA participants has been unique. “You say that every year,” people would often tell her. But Olson truly believes each group has something that sets it apart.
A challenging aspect of her ministry involved dealing with the annulment process if a participant was going through it. At times, the process could delay the participant’s entry into the church.
Another challenge was convincing people they were as good as she was in being able to teach and share their faith. She often had RCIA graduates return to help for a year or two and share their experiences with the new class. “They have an experience I had not experienced.”
Although Olson officially retired Pentecost Sunday, she is still busy with RCIA, working with Ngando as she continues her journey toward membership in the Catholic Church. That journey began in February. Ngando hopes to be ready for baptism, the Eucharist and confirmation by September.
After Ngando finishes her journey, Olson will have completed her duties with RCIA.
“My husband is Catholic,” said Ngando, who was baptized in a nondenominational church eight or 10 years ago. Since that time she attended services on and off. She began attending Mass with her husband when they moved to the Quad-City area, and felt now is the right time to join the church. On Dec. 19 she and her husband are flying to their homeland of Cameroon where their marriage will be blessed in the Catholic Church.
“She (Mary Ellen) is fabulous and easy to talk to about theory or about anything,” Ngando said. Olson said Ngando has a lot of questions and does her studies before each session.
Olson sees now as the right time to retire. “Everything needs a change,” she said. “I was ready to not have the responsibility.”
She’ll continue to sing in the choir and may move from being a substitute lector and eucharistic minister to a more permanent position. The parish “can call on me for baking, too.”
And she’ll have more time to dedicate as a volunteer for the Catholic Service Board with duties at the Kahl Home for the Aged and Infirm in Davenport. Olson also hopes to be able to do more quilting and scrapbooking.