By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
An unusual request appeared on the website of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa. A couple living in Las Vegas had posted an inquiry about joining the Catholic Church. “You don’t think of people finding Jesus in Las Vegas,” said Samantha Ridder, the parish’s director of faith formation. But, she added, “God works everywhere.”
Father John Spiegel, the parish’s pastor, made a phone call to Las Vegas to speak with the couple, Monica and Lynn Harter, both 36. He learned that they would be moving to Oskaloosa and desired to become parishioners and enter the Catholic Church. In the year since that phone call, the couple’s fervor for the Catholic faith grows stronger by the day.
Monica and Lynn grew up in Iowa and decided to return to their home state to be closer to family. The couple has moved frequently during their nearly 12 years of marriage as Lynn accepted jobs in his field as a lineman for power companies.
They married in a Methodist church in Ottumwa but became immersed in the secular world and didn’t give a lot of thought to going to church. Something happened in Las Vegas.
They became friends with an older Catholic couple, Bill and Ingrid Mancuso, whose marriage inspired them. “For some reason, I wanted to go to Mass with them,” Monica said. One Sunday in May last year, she and Lynn attended Mass with the Mancusos and their son Chase and his fianceé, Ashlee, who had entered the Catholic Church after going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
“I left the Mass feeling like I had finally participated in something and got it right according to God,” Monica said. “I felt like that’s the way God intended for worship to be. I had no clue what was going on. I just remember walking out of there and being moved and inspired.
“It was very fulfilling,” Lynn said. The couple first spoke with The Catholic Messenger about their journey of faith following the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City on March 10. They will be initiated into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil on April 20.
During a later phone conversation, Monica shared that she and Lynn were unaware going into the Mass in Las Vegas that they would not be able to receive Communion. That was disappointing, especially for Lynn. The Methodist church allowed them to receive Communion. “We got home and started researching it,” Monica said.
She and Lynn also watched video-based study programs on a digital platform of the Augustine Institute called “Formed.”
Once they understood the significance of the Eucharist as the real presence of Jesus Christ, “we were just blown away,” Monica said. “We were all in from there.” They have been studying the church’s sacraments and are eager to receive the grace that comes with participating in the sacraments.
They have been attending Mass weekly at St. Mary in Oskaloosa since moving there last year. “When we moved back to Iowa, as soon as we stepped into the church, I’ve never felt so welcome,” Lynn said. Fr. Spiegel asked catechists Marianne and Art Cline to serve as the couple’s RCIA instructors.
“Their faith was so young and full of wonder and discovery,” Marianne marvels. “As a cradle Catholic, and an old one, at that, I remember my faith formation as dreary catechism memorization and doing things because ‘that’s the way it is.’ Monica and Lynn have a new faith and they are hungry to know more. It strengthens my faith to see how their faith grows.”
They meet weekly in Marianne and Art’s home for an hour, but sometimes they’ve talked for as long as three hours. Last week, Fr. Spiegel joined them for dinner and the lesson. Monica and Lynn also attend parish activities and Lynn recently participated in a men’s retreat that inspired him.
Monica and Lynn asked longtime family friends Dennis and Belinda Anstey – the parents of Father Kevin Anstey – to be their godparents. “Yes,” they said immediately. “They are like our own kids. They grew up with our kids,” Belinda said. “We went out to dinner with them a couple of weeks ago and it was lovely. They were so on fire (about their faith).”
Belinda said she wasn’t particularly surprised by the couple’s decision to join the Catholic Church. She said they came from good families and grew up with other Catholic kids. “It was similar to my conversion story.”
As godparents, “we’re there to answer questions and encourage,” Belinda said. “We’ve talked about what it means in our marriage to share our faith. They’re feeling that. That’s very cool, too. That bond.”
“We had such a worldly view of what marriage was supposed to be,” Monica said. Looking at marriage with God’s design for the sacrament “changes the way you think about marriage,” Monica said.
Receiving the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist – will give her the grace that she needs so that “I can be the wife God wants me to be and the person God wants me to be. I can’t do it on my own. I can’t white-knuckle my way through it.”