By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — With her children’s growing interest in the Catholic faith they are learning about in their parochial school, Natasha Woodard chose to have her family go through the process to become Catholic.
During Easter Vigil Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Woodard entered the Catholic Church with four of her children: Dominique Bradley, 14, an eighth-grader at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport; Precious Bradley, 12, a sixth-grader at All Saints; Dejanique Bradley, 7, a first-grader at All Saints; and Debrasia Williams, 4.
Woodard, Dominique and Precious were among 14 individuals fully initiated into the Catholic Church during Easter Vigil Mass at Sacred Heart; Dejanique and Debrasia received the sacrament of baptism, one of the three sacraments of initiation.
“Wow!” Woodard said following the Mass, when asked to describe her feelings. “My heart feels like it’s going to come out of my chest,” added the mother, dressed in the white gown of the newly initiated.
“I think it was awesome,” her daughter Precious said. “I feel like a new person. I feel so much closer to God.”
Even though it was after midnight, Dominique said he felt happy and, in fact, asked Gary Gloden, the four children’s sponsor, whether he was going to pick them up for Mass on Easter Sunday. Gloden assured Dominique that he had fulfilled his Sunday obligation. A longtime friend who looks out for the family, Gloden gently steered Woodard and her children toward faith formation programs at Sacred Heart. “I just answered their questions about how to become Catholic,” he said.
The timing was right. “My kids started coming home from school knowing more about Jesus than I did,” Woodard said. Even though she’d been to other churches and believed in Jesus, she desired the knowledge her children were gaining. “I was seeing the impact it was having on my children.”
Last fall she enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at Sacred Heart and enrolled her children in Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC).
Susan Stanforth, Sacred Heart’s pastoral associate, worked with the children, particularly Precious and Dominique, catching them up on catechesis they missed before entering All Saints. It became clear to Stanforth that what the children were learning was being implemented at home. And with Stanforth’s encouragement, Precious and Dominique started praying with their younger siblings.
The older children also helped out in the parish with Lenten soup suppers, babysitting and other activities — always going above and beyond what they were asked to do, Stanforth said. “The whole family has bonded with our faith community.”
Woodard is grateful to both Stanforth and Msgr. Robert Gruss, the parish’s pastor and RCIA instructor, who “has really helped me overcome a lot of things,” Woodard said. “He’s an example of what a church should be led by: someone who’s very supportive, very caring, very loving.”
Dominique appreciates the honesty he’s experienced in the church community. “They support you and treat you like a family; when you’re down, they support you.”
That support comes from the whole parish community, Msgr. Gruss said. “People in the parish have stepped up.”
The pastor feels privileged to have taught Woodard and the other new Catholics in RCIA, a ministry he’s always treasured. “Every person who comes through the RCIA process has a unique life experience, a unique faith experience, or no faith experience,” he said. “The Lord, in his infinite love, leads them through this faith formation process.”
Precious has a new word for this process — “a-wazing:” a combination of amazing and wonderful. Becoming a part the Catholic Church “lets me know that God is with me all of the time, even when I’m not at church.”
Adds Natasha: “It feels like God’s arms are wrapped around you and your family.”
New to the Church
The 14 individuals who were fully initiated into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil on April 23 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport were: Dominique Bradley, Precious Bradley, David Bronstein, Doug Collins, Charity Dynes, Ciera Kehl, David Kendall, Kim McDonald, Lele Nguyen, Lena Nguyen, Loan Nguyen, Kimberly Truong, Ellen Weishaar and Natasha Woodard. Receiving the sacrament of baptism were Dejanique Bradley and Debrasia Williams.