By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — Sophomores Braxton Thompson and Jeremiah Crow became close friends when Braxton began attending Burlington Notre Dame High School last fall. Their friendship and sense of belonging in the Notre Dame community led both teens to become members of the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at Divine Mercy Parish, along with Jeremiah’s brother Isaiah, a junior.
As a newcomer to Notre Dame, “I didn’t think anyone knew me,” Braxton said, but “everyone did a great job of welcoming me. I never saw myself as becoming Catholic but being in Notre Dame and seeing the people and the leaders in the school … encouraged me to go to Church and eventually I decided I wanted to become Catholic.”
“We encouraged him by talking about Mass and how it’s important to go. I told him he should become Catholic. We prayed for him together in class leading up to his entrance into the Church,” classmate Liam Delaney said.
Braxton confided in Jeremiah about his decision after talking with religion teacher Maria Roth about questions he had concerning the Catholic Church. Jeremiah, a Notre Dame student since kindergarten, was not Catholic but he and Isaiah learned about the Catholic faith in their classes and during weekly Mass at school.
“We talk about the meaning of the Mass in class, step by step,” said Jennifer Baxter, who teaches Notre Dame’s middle school and high school religion classes with Roth. “The life of Jesus in the rosary is a focus in all (religion) classes.” The brothers completed confirmation instruction as freshmen because that is when Notre Dame’s students receive instruction in the sacrament.
“I’ve been going (to Notre Dame) all of my life but never had the confidence to get baptized until I met Braxton,” Jeremiah said. “We became really close friends and we started talking in religion class about being baptized.”
“Most of my friends are Catholic. That encouraged me to become Catholic,” Isaiah said. “I have liked praying a decade of the rosary in class every day together. This has brought me closer to God. Father James (Flattery) also helped prepare us.”
Father Flattery, the parochial vicar of Divine Mercy Parish-Burlington and St. Mary Parish-Dodgeville, began meeting with the teens on his day off, after Roth told him about the students’ desire for baptism. Father Flattery is a regular presence at the school and he and Father Marty Goetz, the parishes’ pastor, take turns presiding at school Masses.
“We tried to be present to them and lead them closer to God,” Father Goetz said. “Father Jim is wonderful at the school. The way he is able to connect with the kids is just terrific. The only way we’ll be able to foster vocations is to be with the kids,” Father Goetz added. “If we’ve got kids who want to come into the Church, we need to meet them where they’re at. Let’s walk with them on the journey,” Father Flattery said.
Roth said she noticed Braxton’s interest in the faith from day one in religion class. “I just try to teach by example and let the Holy Spirit guide the kids, but was very attentive to all the ‘extra’ questions he would ask at the end of class,” she said. “When he started asking more specific questions about our Catholic faith and the possibility of being baptized and joining the Church, I spoke with his mother.”
Braxton’s mother “has been incredibly supportive. His entire family has been behind this 100%. Jeremiah and Isaiah’s mother is also incredibly supportive. All three boys had a huge family presence at the Easter Vigil … a very beautiful and proud night for them all and for Jennifer and myself!”
The support of Isaiah and Jeremiah’s family “was evident at the Vigil Mass,” Baxter said. “Their grandparents, great-grandma, their sister and mom were all there and very excited to be a part of the very special Mass. It was a beautiful way for their family to experience the faith for possibly the first time.”
In preparation for the Easter Vigil, Braxton and Jeremiah’s classmates helped them choose their confirmation names by “interviewing” them about favorite hobbies, classes, etc. “The class was
unanimous in supporting their chosen names of Blessed Carlo Acutis (for Braxton) and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (for Jeremiah) as both students truly share the character of these holy young men,” Roth said. One classmate also shared his experience of initiation at last year’s Easter Vigil.
Baxter said she felt honored and excited to serve as Isaiah’s sponsor at this year’s Easter Vigil. “I know Mrs. Roth and I will be praying for the boys in a special way for many years to come. We will never forget this very special Vigil Mass. It was so powerful to walk into the dark church with the Easter candle guiding us. The power of Jesus’ resurrection was truly felt in a palpable way,” she said. “What a blessing to be able to witness the beginning of their journey into the faith!”
During the Vigil, “I was nervous,” Jeremiah said. “There were a lot of people there. Father James was my sponsor and that made it a lot better because he told me what to do.” Jeremiah’s Vigil highlight was his baptism. For Isaiah, who described the Vigil as “cool,” the highlight was “receiving my first Communion.”
“The experience was surreal,” Braxton said. “A few times I had to stop and remember, ‘I actually made it.’ … Communion was really special to me. I understand what it signifies and how important it is.”