God Squad: MC’s Sacramental Preparations Program Picks Up Speed

Genevieve Finn '17, Writer

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MC’s inaugural Sacramental Preparations Program is gathering momentum. Launched in 2014 by Sister Miriam of the Chemistry Department and Ms. Nicole Ferris of Campus Ministry, this program offers students opportunities to explore and live the Catholic faith through the sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation in an on-campus setting. We at The Roar spoke to the program’s founders, members, and sponsors to gain insight on what it’s like to be a part of this process.

The Sacramental Preparations Program was conceived when a number of students approached Sister Miriam to express their interest in converting to Catholicism or being confirmed. Sister Miriam met with the Theology Department, Campus Ministry, Monsignor Sheeran, and Mr. Navone to explore options. The 2013-14 school year saw four seniors baptized or confirmed through an unofficial program run by Sister Thomas Aquinas. Beginning this year, a formal process was established.

Three distinct groups of students currently participate in the Program. One group is comprised of students who will receive all three sacraments (Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation) simultaneously. The second group is made up of students who are converting to Catholicism from another religion or Christian denomination, such as Episcopal or Lutheran. Because the Catholic Church honors the baptisms of other denominations, these students will receive First Holy Communion and Confirmation only. The third and final group are students preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. This group is led by Ms. Ferris, whose job is to bring Christ to campus through organizing retreats and developing new spiritual programs. The other groups are led by Sister Miriam, best known to most students through her sophomore Chemistry classes or her management of the Liturgy Choir.

Juliette

Mrs. Ferris, Juliette Hvistendahl, and Sister Miriam

The three groups meet separately on Thursdays at lunch to discuss their spiritual growth. According to Sister Miriam, there are seven students preparing for Baptism, two  preparing to become Catholic, and nine candidates for Confirmation. Each student has chosen a personal sponsor who has already received these sacraments and who is helping to guide them through the process, plus a spiritual advisor, who is an adult with whom they can discuss their faith and prayer life one-on-one. Whereas several MC teachers serve as spiritual advisors, sponsors are more commonly peers.

The process is very similar to an RCIA program, or Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, though candidates follow the curriculum found in the Youth Catechism, or YOUCAT, a theology book created specifically for teenagers. The candidates go through six or seven “rites,” such as the one the entire school was able to witness during the Mass of the Immaculate Conception. Other rites include the Rite of Sending, which was celebrated during the Ash Wednesday Mass, and the Rite of Election, celebrated at St. Mary’s Cathedral on February 22. In addition, there are three “scrutinies” held in the Chapel before school on separate days, and the actual Baptism, which will take place on May 25 at St. Patrick Church in Larkspur. “All of these are opportunities for God’s grace,” said Sister Miriam. “Growing in their relationship with Him and knowing and loving Him in a deeper way.”

rsz_liam_sacraments

Mr. Navone, Liam Byrnes and family, Sister Miriam, and Monseigneur Sheeran

The Roar spoke to candidate Leela Najafi, a junior, about her experience in the Program. Leela is receiving all three sacraments on May 25. She said she was motivated to join the Program after her years of being exposed to MC’s strong faith community. “The fact that everyone here is so strong in faith allowed me to open up more to it and seek it myself,” Leela said. She did this by reaching out to Sister Maria Catherine, her sophomore English teacher. “It was nice knowing that what I said meant as much to her as it did to me.”

Leela’s family has been very supportive of her decision to become a Catholic. She is considering choosing Saint Joan of Arc as her confirmation patron because she admires St. Joan’s courage and convictions, a quality that Leela has been mirroring as she progresses through the Program. “It’s nice to be with people who feel the same. There’s maybe ten of us in our group and we’re all looking for the same thing and experiencing it together, so it’s nice to know you’re really not alone in it.”  Encouraging next year’s candidates, Leela says, “Only good can come of [joining the Program], and if you decide you don’t want to, it’s never too late to back out.”

Leela’s sponsor is her good friend, Grace Lombardi, who is also a junior. Grace, who was confirmed a few years ago at St. Hilary parish, has assisted Leela on her journey by discussing her own faith, which she mentioned has been strengthened by interacting with the Sisters at MC. “To see such incredible people believe in something so wholeheartedly and dedicating their whole lives to it, it’s impossible not to believe.” Serving as Leela’s sponsor has strengthened Grace’s spirituality as well. She succinctly says, “In creating her faith, it renews mine.”

Participating in next year’s Sacramental Preparations Program simply requires reaching out to your theology teacher, to a Sister with whom you’re close or admire, or to anyone on campus whom you trust, and letting them know you’re interested in exploring the opportunity.  Your interest will be made known to Sister Miriam and Ms. Ferris, who welcome all students who are curious about strengthening their faith. Says Sister Miriam, “We do encourage kids to get it in their parishes if they have that connection, but it seems like some people can’t get these sacraments in the usual manner. Maybe they don’t belong to a parish, maybe they haven’t been going to Mass, and all of a sudden they’re seniors and they’re like, ‘Wait! I want to be confirmed.'”

Hayden

Jared Lazor, Hayden Holland, and Sister Miriam

Note that the Sacramental Preparations Program is not limited to upperclassmen. Students of all grades are encouraged to check out the Program’s offerings out at the beginning of the next school year. The Program is non-binding and candidates may withdraw if they feel the time isn’t right for them. Ms. Ferris says to potential candidates who are unsure about joining, “If fear is holding you back because of time or you’re not sure what it’s gonna be like, you just have to experience it. It’s not like we’re quizzing you or testing you; we’re just sharing our faith.” She reiterates that “If fear is holding you back, just trust that God is going to help you through it.” Sister Miriam finds the Program personally beneficial because it helps her “dive back into the richness of our Catholic faith and become closer to Christ. It’s an honor for me to be a part of [the candidates] formation for these sacraments.”

The final sacraments for this years’ candidates will be administered at St. Patrick Church in Larkspur by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone on May 25. We wish these candidates luck on the home stretch of their spiritual journeys and thank their leaders, sponsors, and spiritual advisors for the blessings they have bestowed on MC by making this program a success.

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