New Catholics find community, beauty in church

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, April 3, 2016

New Catholics find community, beauty in church

Father Andrew Wawrzyn baptizes catechumen Elizabeth Pietka at St. Alphonsus during the Easter Vigil on March 27. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World
Mark Lucido waits to be baptized with the rest of the catechumens. Lucido didn't find out until he was an adult that he was not baptized as a child. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World
Father Andrew Wawrzyn confirms Catechumen Mark Lucido at St. Alphonsus Church during the Easter Vigil on March 27. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World

For Elizabeth Pietka, it was the sense of ritual and continuity she found in Catholic churches that attracted her.

Pietka, 32, wasn’t raised in any religion, she said, but has Catholic friends and has attended Catholic Masses and liturgies over the years, especially celebrations like weddings and baptisms.

“I’d been thinking about getting involved in the Catholic Church for some time,” she said. “One of the things I really loved was the way there are so many rituals, and they are done every day, all over the world.”

Pietka was one of about 450 adults to be baptized and confirmed and receive Communion in the Archdiocese of Chicago at the Easter Vigil March 26. Another 350 adults who were already baptized received Communion and were confirmed, according to Todd Williamson, the director the Office of Divine Worship. Williamson noted that many parishes receive people who were already baptized into the church throughout the year.

Pieka said she knows many cradle Catholics take that sense of tradition and continuity for granted.

“To me, it’s so rich that people all over the world are doing the same thing, saying the same prayers,” she said.

She looked into the RCIA program at St. Alphonsus because, she said, she lives near the parish and “the church is beautiful.” She found a warm welcome in the RCIA group there, she said.

“It made me feel very, very comfortable,” she said. “I think Father Andrew (Wawrzyn, the associate pastor) has done a great job of explaining things, because there’s a lot to learn.”

The parish itself also is a good fit, with plenty of young adults, both single and married, she said.

Being in RCIA has made her look at her own life differently, Pietka said, and examine the way she interacts with people around her.

“Now, if I’m getting mad when I’m in traffic or if I think poorly about a coworker, I try to remember that’s not the way we’re supposed to be,” she said.

Pietka said she was looking forward to “being able to say I’m a practicing Catholic,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to being part of the parish as a Catholic.”

Seeking baptism

It wasn’t until he was an adult that Mark Lucido learned that he wasn’t Catholic, technically. “I was raised Catholic,” he said. “But I was never baptized.”

Lucido, 37, said his parents split up when he was 2, and somehow, no one ever arranged his baptism. But his grandparents would take him to Mass at St. Alphonsus when he was a child, or he would attend with his aunts and uncles and cousins.

He stopped going to church as a young teenager and didn’t start again until he was an adult and he was in serious relationship with a Catholic woman, who also entered the church as an adult through the RCIA program.

That was when he found out that he had not been baptized.

“I kind of resented it,” he said. “All my cousins were baptized.”

He married his girlfriend a year and a half ago and completed RCIA at St. Alphonsus this year.

“There was a lot of stuff to learn,” he said.

The best thing, he said, has been the community he found.

“I like the people, the fellowship with everybody in class,” he said. “Getting to go back to St. Alphonsus as an adult has been really special.”

Researching the faith

Livia Guadagnoli, 24, had plenty of Catholic family around her growing up, and was baptized into the Catholic Church as a baby.

But her Catholic father and Protestant mother didn’t raise her or her siblings in either church, instead letting them choose which church to join, if any.

“In college was when I decided I wanted to belong to a church,” said Guadagnoli, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Northwestern University. “So I did research, I read bools, and it looked like the Catholic Church was where I belonged.”

When she moved to Lincoln Park in August and found St. Vincent de Paul Church just a block from her home, “it was like a sign.”

The thing she likes best about the Catholic Church, she said, is its defined structure. “I like having a pope,” she said. “The structure matched really well with my personality.”

She also was attracted by Pope Francis, she said, both the topics he has addressed and his style of communication.

“He’s very relatable,” she said. “He seems like someone I could just go up to and tell anything.”

Guadagnoli said she enjoys RCIA sessions. Candidates and catechumens were dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word, and they gather to reflect and discuss the readings and the homily before starting their class for the week.

“I’m a little afraid that when RCIA is over, I won’t have anyone to sit with and dissect the homily,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be different.”

Her parents have come in from Connecticut, where she grew up, for important moments along the way, including the Rite of Election at Holy Name Cathedral, Guadagnoli said. They and her brother attended the Easter Vigil Mass, where she was confirmed and received Communion.

“It’s been very moving,” she said. “Last time they were here, my mother said she is looking into doing it herself next year.”


  • baptism
  • easter vigil
  • converts
  • confirmation
  • communion

Related Articles