By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT —Although his initiation into the Catholic Church was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nick Foster said he felt the wait benefited him.
The 2019 St. Ambrose University graduate entered the church July 12 during the first public celebration of Mass in Christ the King Chapel on campus since the start of the coronavirus. Along with Foster, Savannah Wilson made her profession of faith and received the sacraments of Communion and confirmation. Michael Campbell was confirmed.
Foster’s sponsor was his girlfriend, Danielle Gutierrez, who graduated from St. Ambrose in May. Wilson’s sponsor was Katherine Greening and Campbell’s sponsor was Rachel Wiedman.
Foster said he joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) after the other two students. “I was set to take part in the sacraments a year later than the rest of the group, but the (coronavirus-caused) delay actually gave me enough time to do it with the group,” he said. “I think the most meaningful thing for me over the course of the process was being able to really develop and strengthen my connection with God, and my sponsor Danielle, all while also building a connection with the rest of our group. I think the only thing that was upsetting about the whole situation was that we didn’t get to spend as much time together face to face, and didn’t get to enjoy our sacraments with a full crowd.” He would not have changed a thing, however, “due to how special and exciting it was for me.”
Foster’s later start meant he did not participate in the diocesan-wide Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on March 1 in Iowa City. Shortly afterwards, Bishop Thomas Zinkula suspended public celebration of the Mass across the diocese to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Tammy Norcross-Reitzler, director of campus ministry, moved RCIA to online sessions. “The whole group met online every week through the rest of Lent, the entire Easter season and beyond. We were able to reflect on the beautiful Scripture readings of those Sundays. Nick participated wholeheartedly. It was obvious in June that he was eager and ready to be initiated into the church. So I asked permission of the bishop for us to do the Rite of Election.”
At that time, St. Ambrose broadcast Sunday Mass from its radio station, KALA, so Foster and his sponsor “came to the studio for the Mass on June 28 and celebrated the Rite of Election right over the airwaves,” Norcross-Reitzler said.
The bishop had dispensed the obligation to celebrate the scrutinies (rites, prayers and an examination of one’s life). “When we realized we could do a scrutiny in a Liturgy of the Word service, we thought, ‘let’s do it.’ The prayers are so powerful,” she said. “We scheduled the Liturgy of the Word service for an early evening in Christ the King Chapel.”
Trish Gallagher, a retired director of religious education from Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, assisted Norcross-Reitzler with the RCIA process and read the Scripture readings during the liturgy. Father George McDaniel, a retired St. Ambrose professor, shared a reflection on the readings and prayed the prayers of the scrutinies. “It was an intimate and beautiful prayer service that really touched Nick and Danielle,” Norcross-Reitzler said.
Father Thom Hennen presided at the Mass on July 12 in Christ the King Chapel during which the three adults received the sacraments of initiation. About 30 people, including family and friend of the new Catholics, attended the Mass, the first public celebration of the liturgy in four months in the chapel.
Norcross-Reitzler appreciates the lessons she learned from the RCIA experience. “It took me a few weeks to find a way to lead the sessions online. The very first week, I emailed everyone a whole bunch of reading material. I didn’t get a single response from any of them. It was awful. They were already overwhelmed with figuring out how distance learning was going to work.”
“The students told me they’d rather meet online than be sent a bunch of reading materials with questions. So, we moved online.” During the first online meeting, “I think I did all the talking. That wasn’t effective either.” After participating in webinars and other online groups, Norcross-Reitzler learned better techniques.
“We started each session with a check-in by asking questions such as ‘Where did you experience God’s love this week?’ and ‘What isn’t working for you right now?’ The check-in laid the foundation for the rest of the reflection and conversation. They opened up more and more each week. It was truly a sacred and blessed experience.”
“I love the Easter Vigil and big celebrations,” Norcross-Reitzler said. “But, I have to admit, this Mass was so prayerful and meaningful. The emphasis was definitely on the prayers of the church and the sacraments.”
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