By Barb Arland-Fye
WEST BURLINGTON – Witnessing their infant granddaughter’s baptism two years ago launched Kathy and Buddy Mennen on a journey of faith that evolved into a multigenerational family commitment.
The journey began when Kathy and Buddy were sitting in the front pew at St. John Catholic Church in Burlington waiting for Father Patrick Hilgendorf to begin the baptismal rite for little Lillian Mennen.
“I had this feeling that this is where I belong,” Kathy recalled. The 56-year-old registered nurse was baptized in the Methodist Church, but hadn’t attended services in childhood or adulthood. When Kathy told Buddy – her husband of 28 years – of her desire to become Catholic, he was elated.
Buddy, 59, who is retired, had entered the Catholic Church during his first marriage, which ended many years ago. After his divorce, he didn’t think he was welcome in the Church. “But I prayed every day for guidance.”
The couple spoke with Fr. Hilgendorf, then pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington, who reassured Buddy that even though he’d been divorced and remarried, “you will always have a future in the Church.”
The priest suggested that Kathy enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and that each of them would need to obtain an annulment if they wanted to receive the sacraments. There were no guarantees that either one’s previous marriage would be annulled. But the Mennens knew they would still be welcome in the Church.
Kathy joined RCIA and Buddy accompanied her, recognizing that he needed to learn much more about the Catholic Church. “It was one of the best decisions I made,” he said.
To the amazement of both, their two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also enrolled in RCIA class. “It’s like it was supposed to be,” Kathy said.
“You don’t see that too often – a whole family coming into the Church. It shows the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Father Bruce DeRammelaere, parochial vicar of Ss. John & Paul.
Kathy felt welcome at classes and described RCIA director Connie Trautner as a saint. She and her husband love Fr. Bruce, who was a big support through RCIA and the annulment process. “Everyone was wonderful. Nobody ever looked down on you when you asked silly questions. I was starting from step one. They were loving and forgiving,” Kathy said.
The Mennens’ sons, Aaron and Bill, and Bill’s wife Beth and their three children — Emily, 20, Nick, 17, and Maddie, 12 — entered the Catholic Church during Easter Vigil in 2010. Kathy and Buddy did not enter the Church at that time because they were waiting to learn whether their annulments would be granted.
The couple continued to attend Mass every weekend. Buddy asked Fr. Bruce what would happen if the annulments weren’t granted. The priest said he told Buddy, “You are following what God is asking of you and God will bless you for that.”
“I never, ever felt it was not the right thing to do; I was just getting anxious about the outcome,” Buddy said.
When the Mennens received the good news their annulments had been granted, they set a date for Kathy’s initiation as a Catholic and the validation of their marriage in the Catholic Church. On Feb. 19 Father Tony Herold, now pastor of Ss. John & Paul, performed the initiation rites and Fr. DeRammelaere performed the marriage ceremony.
Afterward, “I had so many people just come up to me and welcome me into the Church,” Kathy said. “People I didn’t even know. It was so warm. Usually I get nervous is front of people, but I was very calm and full of peace. It was a wonderful experience.” She also was grateful to have all of her children, grandchildren and her mother present.
“From a family standpoint it all came together. It was fulfilling for me,” Buddy said. His father had been Catholic, but also was divorced, remarried and mistakenly thought he was not welcome in the Church. But years later, as the father was dying in the hospital, Buddy rushed to find a priest to perform what was then known as Last Rites.
“I feel in some sense I’ve come full circle from my dad. I just wish he’d have known the things I found out eventually,” Buddy said.
“It meant a lot to the RCIA team members to see that whole family engaged in the faith formation process,” Connie said. “They were very inspiring people to work with – Buddy and Kathy especially. Their enthusiasm and desire for this was so obvious.”
Kathy said attending Mass gives her “a feeling of being where you’re supposed to be, appreciating that Christ died for us.”
And during the Easter Vigil this year, she and Buddy were able to welcome Kathy’s sister, Judy Weatherwax, into the Catholic Church.