Becoming Catholic

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire” (Saint Catherine of Siena)

Post-Communion Remarks at Initiation Sunday Mass, April 18, Saint Mary’s College


Karin McClelland, Director of Mission and Ministry at Saint Mary’s College

My name is Karin McClelland, and I am the Director of the Mission and Ministry Center.  Thank you all for being here this evening to celebrate this very special occasion.  It’s been a long time coming.

This liturgical celebration means a great deal to me each year.  Without fail I reminisce on my own RCIA experience with Sr. Elizabeth almost forty years ago!

Like some of you, I am not a cradle Catholic.  Rather, I announced to my mother at the ripe age of eleven that I wanted “to be Catholic.”  I would love to tell you that an angel came to me in a dream, or that I had some vision of Mary, but alas…my messengers came in the form of family friends—a large, Catholic, Portuguese family, nine children in total, living in South Sacramento. 

When I was ten, I started spending some weekends with this family.  Looking back, I think the mother of this crew actually took pity on me because I was essentially an only child, as my older brother was already out of the house, and it was unthinkable to her that I would grow up solo.  These were the days when you rode your bike all over the neighborhood, played wiffle ball in the streets, and played hide and seek with all the other neighborhood kids until the street lights came on.  

Some of the Freitas Family, at the annual San Pedro Festa (circa 1978) with one of their daughters as Festa Queen in Bryte, CA. The author, two years before her baptism and not pleased at the costume she had to wear in the parade, is at the bottom right.

Then came Sunday. The routine was predictable. We started the morning at sunrise (or earlier), doing a paper route (everyone was expected to pull their weight), then breakfast and reading the paper around the small dining room table (a table made for four–that I have never seen less than five to ten of us around), and then we all packed up in the family van and went to mass.  We took up an entire pew.  We were that family. Then, after mass, without fail, we, all, either worked a church function (festival, crab feed, et al., at our own parishor another!), or we did work around the parish grounds, or we had Fr. John and/or Sr. Elizabeth over for a meal.  This was the schedule. No one was exempt. Without a doubt, these activities, these weekends, comprise my fondest childhood memories.

What I did not realize at eleven, when I announced I wanted “to be Catholic” was that so much of what I was drawn to was how these people were living out the gospels.  No one ever asked me to consider being Catholic (which I joke with my godparents about to this day), they simply showed me a way of living that brought to life the gospels. My wee soul recognized their authenticity, their witness and I knew I wanted a piece of whatever they had.  I surmised it was the “Catholic thing.” 


The author with her godmother

I suspect some version of this is true for each of you who were baptized or confirmed today.   Someone has inspired you “to want a piece of that” and you surmised it is the “Catholic thing.” 

What my godparents taught me through their witness, their selfless service to their community (and each other for that matter), helped me make sense of what I was hearing: from the pulpit, in my theology classes at St. Mary’s (and later divinity school), and while serving as a Lasallian Volunteer.   To this very day, their witness shapes how I understand my own vocation as an educator, minister and mother.  Our witness is as important as what we think we “know” and espouse to others about the Catholic faith. 

Further, when I was baptized and received first communion at twelve,  I did not realize these celebrations were only the beginning of my faith development, only the beginning of my formation as a Catholic woman of faith.  Through the assistance of my dear De La Salle Christian Brothers, I came to realize early on that I must be an active participant in my faith journey, and trust that God is at work in all things. Let me repeat, we must be active participants in our faith journeys.

The Next Generation: Karin and her children visiting godparents’ home

One of my favorite quotes from St. John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, is the following:

“It was undoubtedly for this reason that God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of the schools. God did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time, so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning.”

God is not done with any of us. God is always at work even when we don’t recognize it.   

The author’s baptismal photo

Photo credits: Karin McClelland

2 thoughts on “Becoming Catholic

  1. Brother Bernard L OCoco says:

    Karin, story telling is an art and you are an artist.
    While reflecting on your journey I was reminded that like Our Founder you were led step by step and with each step you allowed God to guide you.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful faith journey.
    Brother Bernie


  2. Maura Wolf says:

    Beautiful. Thank you Karin. The warmth evoked in me through the reading of this story brought me back to memories of my Irish Catholic clan, always packed into the pews, with someone making someone laugh and getting scolded through the silent glare of the elder in the row. Step by step we are led.


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