By Celine Klosterman
As Lent invites Catholics to renew their baptismal call, a story of one couple’s conversion to Catholicism has inspired some parishes to offer studies reminding parishioners of the meaning and richness of that call.
The studies are based on the book “Rome Sweet Home,” in which former Protestants Scott and Kimberly Hahn share the story of their unexpected journey to the Catholic Church. More than 50 parishes in the Diocese of Davenport requested free copies of the book to distribute around Christmastime, said Pam Ockenfels, who helped Sheryl Schwager and Patty Erusha lead a drive to get the books out.
Parishes in Iowa City, Washington County and the Lee County area are among churches that either have begun or will begin discussion groups or studies based on the book this spring.
“I think many Catholics don’t appreciate the beauty of our faith,” said Ockenfels, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. “When you read a story about people who aren’t looking for the Catholic Church, but discover its truth and beauty, it can’t help but excite you about the faith you already have and inspire you to share it with others.”
She got involved with the book distribution this past fall after talking with Schwager, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, who is an account manager with Lighthouse Catholic Media. Schwager was trying to spread the word that the organization was offering $1 copies of “Rome Sweet Home.” Ockenfels and Erusha, a member of St. Mary’s in Solon, volunteered to help get the books out. An anonymous donor covered the cost.
“Things moved quickly,” Schwager said. “It was the Holy Spirit.”
After speaking at a priests’ meeting and contacting pastors individually, the women received requests for more than 23,000 English and Spanish-language books, Schwager said. “Then we encouraged parishes to do book studies after Christmas.”
Members of cluster parishes in Richmond, Riverside and Wellman are meeting on Mondays at 7 p.m. at the Kalona Coffee House to discuss the book. Group coordinator Joyce Mattes, a member of Holy Trinity in Richmond, said that as the authors share what they discovered about Catholicism, readers gain insight into things cradle Catholics may take for granted. “There was an ‘a-ha’ moment when (Scott Hahn) went to Mass for the first time and was excited to hear different verses from Scripture throughout the liturgy. I think it’s exciting that the Bible is used so much in our Mass, but we might not recognize that sometimes.”
Parishes in West Point, Farmington, Houghton and St. Paul recently launched five-week discussion groups led by parishioners on various days and locations. “We’d like to do more small-group activities to help people share their faith outside of Saturday and Sunday liturgy,” said Rebecca Hannum, parish administrator at St. Mary’s in West Point. “This is another avenue for folks to explore their faith in a different setting.”
In Keokuk, Church of All Saints will offer a relaxed book study starting in May, said Trevor Pullinger, director of faith formation and youth ministry.
Catholics in Johnson County are invited to a study at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Iowa City on Mondays from March 24 to April 14 at 7 p.m. “I hope that by reading ‘Rome Sweet Home,’ Catholics realize how great the Catholic faith is and they become comfortable sharing their own stories of conversion. Conversion happens day-by-day and minute-by-minute,” said Dan Teets, director of adult faith formation at St. Mary’s.
He wrote a study guide for the book and said “Rome Sweet Home” was given to parishioners in Iowa City and Coralville and to Christian Experience Weekend participants in Riverside.
Members of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport gathered to discuss the book this past winter. “The people who participated had a profound respect for the study the couple gave to their faith journey, and the strength of their prayer and Scripture reflection which made their decision to join the Catholic Church clear for each in turn,” said Trish Gallagher, pastoral associate for faith formation. “Discussions also focused on the need for Catholics to be sensitive in responding to misunderstandings of our teachings about issues surrounding sacraments, Mary and the saints with gentleness, openness and support and solid information.”
For a study guide or copy of the book, email Ockenfels at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Schwager at (319) 855-8475.
“It’s an opportunity to evangelize,” Ockenfels said.