A sense of belonging to the Catholic Church


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Fransisco Esparza stand behind the baptismal font at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. Both will enter the Catholic Church and will receive the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist — at the Easter Vigil, March 30.

CLINTON — Different paths led Fransisco Esparza and Sandy Brown to the Catholic Church through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish. Not formally raised in any faith, both share their journey with The Catholic Messenger. Each will enter the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil, March 30.

AA led to Esparza’s journey

Fransisco Esparza remembers attending Sunday school as a young child. After the death of his mother when he was a young teen, “I turned my back on God. I felt like, why would he do this? I resented him,” Esparza said.


He turned to alcohol and drugs. “I felt all alone.” Later, following the birth of his daughter, “he found a father’s love in his life,” said Brenda Bertram, faith formation director at Prince of Peace Parish.

“One day a voice told me everything would be alright,” Esparza said. “The next day I looked at myself and said enough is enough. I attended Alcoholics Anonymous.”

He began to get his life back on track with the help of his sponsor, who invited him to Mass at Prince of Peace. “I felt at home. At peace,” Esparza said after attending Mass several times. “He made this choice and responded to God and has not looked back,” Bertram said. “He often shares that he feels a high power over him, keeping him away from the drugs and alcohol. He knows it is God. With his family at Alco­holi­cs Anonymous, he has found this faith that is rooted in the Church and God.”

Esparza moved to the Clinton area to be close to his daughter. He said when he and his daughter and his sponsor William Peart go out to eat, they pray together before the meal. When his daughter puts her hands together in prayer, it is a moving sign to him. “I never thought I would be sober and clean and go to church,” Esparza said. “I changed my life, thanks to God. Everything is so much clearer.”

“Coming into the Catholic Church is just one part of knowing he is putting himself right with God,” Bertram said. “The support from the parish and his Alcoholics Anony­mous family is part of this conversion, but all credit goes to God. Fran­sisco shares that he is at peace with himself as God keeps him grounded on this new path. God is caring for him and his daughter and opening new opportunities for them.”

Esparza encourages other people having difficulties to “Get to know God. Let go and let God take control. Don’t give up. Miracles happen.”

Sandy Brown stand behind the baptismal font at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. Both will enter the Catholic Church and will receive the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist — at the Easter Vigil, March 30.

“I always had faith”

Although Sandy Brown did not attend church when she was young, “I always had faith. I knew God and felt God,” she said. She remembers growing up, listening to her mother tell Bible stories. “My mom went to Catholic school. She had a strong faith in God and passed that on to her children.” But due to circumstances at home, the family did not practice the Catholic faith. Brown had attended a Baptist church, but was never baptized.

Her husband, Kevin, made his sacraments in the Catholic Church but stopped attending while young.

When the couple had children, she began checking out different churches. She attended River Church for several years but did not commit to it.  “When our daughter got married and became Catholic, I would go to church with her when I would visit in Cedar Rapids.”

The faith journey of her daughter, Carly Koening, inspired Brown to explore the Catholic faith. “I started reading the Bible. I wanted a deeper and better understanding of it, so I listened to podcasts, watched Mass (online) and used resources from ‘Formed,’” Brown said. Her granddaughter also is a positive influence in her decision to enter the Church. “She is considering a vocation to religious life,” the grandmother said proudly.

She contacted Bertram to inquire about the faith. “I wanted Bible study. I wanted to expand my faith and knowledge.” Brown and her husband began attending the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) at the Clinton parish. “I love these classes,” said Brown, who is a nurse. “Sandy has a wonderful relationship with God. As a nurse, she has seen the power of God throughout her life,” Bertram said.

Brown says her husband is happy to be back at church. “We are happy going together. It is a decision we made together,” she said. “God has guided me. The Catholic Church is a fit for me.” Sandy’s sponsor is Cindy Holiday.

Holiday will be at her side during the Easter Vigil. Brown’s husband and their daughter and her husband, Paul, will be in attendance. The Browns will have their marriage convalidated in the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday.

Following her entrance into the Church, Brown hopes to get involved in various activities at Prince of Peace, as her daughter is involved at Immaculate Conception Parish in Cedar Rapids. Some day when Brown retires, she would consider looking into a parish nurse program to be of service in the Clinton church. “I like the idea of body, mind and spirit together.”

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