GARY – As many of the 58 catechumens and their godparents gathered at Holy Angels Cathedral on March 1 to celebrate their Rite of Election, Bishop Robert J. McClory made them feel at home with a uniquely personal welcome.
“Like you, I came to this cathedral and answered questions, just about two-and-one-half weeks ago,” he said of his episcopal ordination and installation as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Gary on Feb. 11. Both he and the catechumens he would soon question, he noted, “came to express publicly our intentions. The most consequential decision (you have made) is to say ‘yes’ to Jesus.”
Bishop McClory noted that his episcopal motto, “We proclaim Jesus as Lord,” gets right to the crux of why the catechumens surrounded the altar as the bishop examined their readiness for initiation with a series of questions for their godparents. As each stepped forward to state their name and shake the bishop’s hand, he declared them one of the elect with their godparent’s hand on their shoulder.
“Say the words and believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that opens us up to baptism and the grace that God wants to give us,” said the bishop.
Bishop McClory pointed out that Jesus forgave sins while he walked the earth, and because only God can forgive sins, “he pointed to his identity. So we profess faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and (Jesus) forgave sins so people would know he was God.”
Dismissing charges that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, Bishop McClory said, “He’s Lord, he is who he said he is, so to proclaim that and accept God,” as the catechumens did publicly in the presence of family and friends, “you open up a pathway, and that’s when (you) can have a relationship with Jesus. . .and receive from the church that he founded the sacraments that he wants us to receive.”
Preparing through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or separate programs for children for up to a year, most of the catechumens will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist during the Easter Vigil service at their parish on Holy Saturday.
Father Tom Mischler, pastor of Holy Spirit in Winfield, celebrated his parish’s first catechumen in several years, Sean R. Terwilliger. “It’s exciting for the church to have someone that we can lead as he follows the path of Jesus,” Father Mischler said.
Referring to Bishop McClory’s episcopal motto, Father Mischler happily revealed, “Coincidentally, I happened to choose ‘Jesus is Lord’ to have engraved on the bottom of my paten.”
Jode Saylor of LaPorte will receive the sacraments at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, having begun his faith journey there. “I attended Mass there for about one-and-one-half years and I felt the warmth, felt like I was home, and I want to be part of it,” he said. “Learning more in depth about the Bible, meeting a lot of interesting people and knowing they are praying for me,” are his favorite memories, Saylor added.
“I hope to make a better person of myself and be a better example for my daughter,” he said of his plans to become Catholic.
Saylor’s godparent, Rob Olson, a Schererville resident and St. Michael parishioner, likened his own journey to baptism nine years ago to Saylor’s quest. “It’s something he’ll remember all of his life, and I hope he will continue to grow and bring his heart closer to the Lord,” Olson said. “It’s very fulfilling to help someone else become a Catholic.”
One of those stepping up to declare his intention to become a Catholic is no stranger to Holy Angels, having attended the ordination of his own son, Father Jeff Burton, to the diaconate in 2017 and the priesthood in 2018.
“I’ve been married for 46 years to a Polish Catholic lady, but when we started going to church at St. Paul in Valparaiso (where Father Burton is the associate pastor), I really felt comfortable, got involved in some parish things and poked my head into an RCIA class. They invited me in, it was a very interesting class, and the rest is history,” said Robert Burton, a Valparaiso resident.
Jennifer Smith said her parents were baptized Catholics but never pushed her toward the faith, although her grandmother and aunts did. “Finally the light bulb went off and I made the call,” she said, adding that her husband is Catholic. “I always thought about it, and felt that this is where I needed to be.”
Preparing to receive the sacraments at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage along with her daughter Dakota, 15, and son Kallin, 10, Smith said her faith journey has progressed to the point where “my whole week is off if I’m sick and have to miss Sunday Mass.”
Father Kevin Huber, pastor of two Michigan City parishes, called the Rite of Election for one catechumen from St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception and two from Queen of All Saints, “powerful witness that evangelism is taking root in the hearts of people, (which means) we’re doing our job.”