By Celine Klosterman
TIPTON — Clara Oleson was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic high school and college. But after graduating, she “spent the next 50 years outside the Church because of pride and delusion,” she said.
By last year, she was thinking of returning to her faith as a hunger for God gnawed at her. So she signed up last spring for the first Awakening Faith program at St. Mary Church in Tipton, which is currently running the program again for inactive Catholics.
Now, Oleson said, she attends Mass almost daily and enjoys reading the writings of St. Augustine. This summer, she’ll attend a seminar on the theologian at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Awakening Faith was a “major” factor in her return to Catholicism, she said.
Father David Hitch, St. Mary’s pastor, hopes the program also inspires others to rediscover their religion. Last month, five Awakening Faith participants wrapped up the last of six weekly sessions, and some group members have continued for optional meetings. The program refreshes Catholics on the basics of their faith and offers an opportunity for people to connect and share about their experiences with Catholicism, Fr. Hitch said.
“It was an honest, loving space to talk about the Church,” Oleson said. Awakening Faith participants in her sessions were full of questions — many of them angry — but Fr. Hitch’s patience won out, she said.
The priest said he was inspired to offer the program, which is a ministry of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association, because of the “staggering” number of inactive Catholics. Only about 36 percent of Catholics attended Mass weekly in 2009, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
Since taking part in Awakening Faith in Tipton last year, four of nine participants have been attending Mass and parish activities, Fr. Hitch said. Other parishioners have been encouraged to reach out to inactive Catholics they may know.
Joyce Rundle is one Catholic who was invited to Awakening Faith by a friend who belongs to St. Mary’s. Since being divorced and remarried, she had long felt unwelcome in the Church. But she missed her faith and needed its solace after personal tragedies — including the deaths of her second husband and mother.
Awakening Faith offered her a path back into Catholicism, she said. “The group is very welcoming, very comforting. I don’t feel judged. Fr. Hitch has been wonderful.”
In May, she attended Mass for the first time in years. She plans to continue attending Mass, and said she would “love” to begin taking part in parish activities.
As Katie Nerem is nearing the end of Awakening Faith, she’s also hoping to get more involved at St. Mary’s. She grew up Catholic, but ceased practicing after her mother stopped “making” her attend Mass, she said.
In recent years, she began to feel renewed interest in the religion. “I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I want to know what it means for me to be Catholic …It’s no longer an obligation; it’s what I’m searching for.”
Nerem also wants to raise her children, ages 4 and 6, in the Church. So she signed up for Awakening Faith. “Every class, I feel a little closer to the Church,” she said. Every week, she reads St. Mary’s bulletin in search of more ways to get involved in parish life. “I definitely get a feeling of welcoming.”
Nerem said last month she couldn’t wait for the next Awakening Faith session. “I was born and raised Catholic. Now I want to be a Catholic.”