By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — A fellow teacher invited Thomas Boyd to the first session of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) at Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington. Aron Kehoe’s father-in-law, Deacon Gary Johnson, leads OCIA at the parish and Kehoe knew that Boyd was searching for a church to call home.
Boyd accepted the invitation and Kehoe’s offer to accompany him. The first session wowed Boyd because it connected with his own spirituality, his understanding that the origin of everything is love, which expresses itself in all that makes up the natural world. “God is love,” he heard in that first OCIA session. He thought to himself, “This is a Church that believes what I believe.”
At the Easter Vigil, Boyd will celebrate his new home, the Catholic Church, where he will receive the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist — at Divine Mercy Parish’s St. John Church. His wife, Rachel, and extended family will be present. “It’s so exciting to me,” says Rachel, a cradle Catholic who made a sacrifice by refraining from receiving the Eucharist for several months until the sacramental validation of the couple’s marriage in February. “It’s like a miracle. I feel like everything (up to this point) is a little miracle. I’m really proud of him.”
Boyd’s journey to the Catholic Church began after an intense, successful effort nearly a decade ago to overcome addiction to alcohol and painkillers, an effort he undertook because Rachel couldn’t bear to watch him destroy his life. She located a rehabilitation center and handed him the phone to ask for help, which he did. “I wanted him to get well and to love himself unconditionally,” said Rachel, a student success advocate for concurrent enrollment at Southeastern Community College in Burlington.
Boyd’s sponsor in sobriety, who became his closest friend, developed an interest in Christianity. Boyd wanted to support his sponsor and offered to read the Bible with him. “I had never really given Christianity a fair shake since I was 10,” added Boyd, now 32 and an English teacher at Burlington High School. “God used Corey as a vessel to speak to me.”
Their exploration of Christianity influenced Boyd’s later willingness to check out what he described to Rachel as “this Catholic class.” A cradle Catholic, she did not want to push her faith on her husband. However, she was encouraged by his interest.
Following that first OCIA session, Boyd said Kehoe asked him if he would go to the second session even if Kehoe did not accompany him. Boyd responded yes. Each session has been a revelation, such as an explanation of the sign of the cross. “Ever since I started OCIA seven months ago, I have been devouring as much literature as I can.” Over winter break, he committed to reading the New Testament.
Everything he read connected back to his spirituality, which was “bringing back all of the spiritual aspects of our life together,” Boyd said, referring to himself and Rachel. He praises Deacon
Johnson’s teaching. “One of the earliest things we did was have a discussion about the Holy Trinity, which was awesome.”
Boyd appreciates the Church’s embrace of sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition and he fully accepts Church teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. “I believe it so deeply in my soul.” His greatest anticipation this Easter Vigil is being able to receive the Eucharist. As a Catholic, he will also look forward to receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
Joe Spillane, Boyd’s sacramental sponsor, said the gift that Boyd brings to the Church is his sincerity. He also is a good listener who asks pointed questions and always wants to go deeper, Spillane said. Boyd’s enthusiasm for the faith will have an impact on his fellow parishioners, Spillane predicts. “When he gets into the Church, he’ll be stirring their fires; he’ll be stirring up people in the pews.”
In Divine Mercy Parish’s OCIA process, Boyd is among three elect (non-baptized) and three candidates (baptized in another Christian denomination) and one individual interested in learning about the Catholic faith, Deacon Johnson. “It’s a good group, a good process.”
Boyd “told me he always had a spiritual life, but it wasn’t grounded,” Deacon Johnson continued. “He always felt connected to God in a broad sense. When he came into OCIA, he became grounded.” Deacon Johnson, himself a convert, understands that feeling. “You get a real hunger to learn everything you can.”
After entering the Church, Boyd hopes to be of service in the OCIA process, to inspire others on the journey. If he discerns that is God’s will, “that’s what I’m going to do.”