RCIA Testimonial

It’s Never Too Late

Sisters and Brothers in Faith, The Divine Mercy Chaplet Makes a House Call

My current RCIA journey is directly related to the manifestation of my now deceased husband’s, Prem’s, three year sojourn with the diagnosis of carcinoma of the liver bile duct (cancerous tumor).  Prem was originally given a six month prognosis, but by the grace of God, our merciful Lord, Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we were provided for through God’s servant, Dr. Kenneth Benmoeller, a gifted, humble physician who flew in to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco on 11 different occasions to perform stent procedures for Prem.  My husband was able to “outlive his prognosis” by almost three years.  During my husband’s illness I lived “frozen by fear” of the uncertainty of each day and the horror of my husband’s physical demise.  These factors hastened my becoming totally dependent on God’s love and mercy to truly live on a day-to-day basis.

During this trial God sent members of the Catholic community to our home to bring us comfort and support with His “good news.”

In the last year of my husband’s illness, his best friends of more than thirty years, Pat and Ilona Helmholz, who have attended St. Dominic’s for many years and are members of the Dominican Laity, had just returned from three years in Africa as Maryknoll missionaries.  In Prem’s last year they, Pat and Ilona, made weekly visits to our home to pray with us, frequently bringing flower bouquets to cheer us. Sharing their faith with us, they walked with us and supported us during that difficult time, our journey “through the shadow of the valley of death.”

 Additionally, during the last year of my husband’s life, two friends of ours, Linda Perkins and Chuck Prejean, and two of their friends, Lena and Rudy D’ Antonio, all of whom are parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Vallejo, frequently came to pray with us.  Through these devoted Christians we were introduced to the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  When fear plagued me, St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy Chaplet calmed me steadily increasing my trust in the love and mercy of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  Subsequent to my husband’s death, I continued to experience an amazing depth of relationship with The Trinity through the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  As I navigated the loss of my husband, I was very lonely, but not alone because of my ongoing relationship with the source of my strength, our Heavenly Father, His Son Our Lord and the constant, subtle voice of the Holy Spirit.  I had truly learned to trust in the Lord during my husband’s illness, and now in my loss, I trusted in and relied on the Lord to guide me forward on a daily basis as I ventured alone.

Saint Faustina, the conduit of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, made a house call through those Catholics who introduced me to her works.  Subsequently having read The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska and having committed myself to the chaplet, it was apparent to me that she would be my patron saint because of the peace the chaplet, which attested to her intimate relationship with God,  had provided me during my husband’s illness and death.

Although as an infant and youth, I had been baptized and confirmed in the Methodist church, and I was subsequently married and confirmed in the Episcopal Church, the depth of my relationship with the Trinity was never significantly tested until my husband’s illness and death.   The Catholics came to my rescue at the time when my spiritual needs were the greatest.  While one of my sister’s converted to the Episcopal faith as I had, two of my sisters had previously converted to Catholicism many years ago, so I was aware and somewhat familiar with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the beauty and depth of the Catholic mass.  In the 1970’s I had taken an Inquiry class in Catholicism, but did not join the church.  During my husband’s illness and upon his death, I was called to Catholicism through the ministrations of these friends, previously noted, as well as by the Holy Spirit and Saint Faustina.  I began to walk in faith and by attending midnight mass at St. Dominic’s on Christmas Eve after Prem’s passing, I was greeted by Shannon Carter and Gaye Rose, who so generously share their faith by serving others.  Although I was attending regular grief counseling through Kaiser Permanente for what would ultimately be for a year, I also began to attend the grief group at St. Dominic’s led by Shannon.  Then, I attended the series Catholic’s Returning Home (although I was not a Catholic) also led by Shannon, Gaye, and Teresa Schneider.  When RCIA began in the late summer, I was hungry to know more about Catholicism.  Shannon, Kelley Curtis, Gaye, Fr. Corwin, and Dr. Marco Roman along with my sponsors, Ilona Helmholz and Rose Usura, were consistent shepherds leading me in the ways of Catholicism. 

During the year of my RCIA journey, initially all was smooth sailing as I continued to learn and share with my fellow journeyers.  Our text, The United States Catholic Catechism, provided the intellectual knowledge I desired to begin to cognitively understand Catholicism while Bible readings reinforced “the heart and spirit” of faith.  The spiritual aspect of the cognitive pursuit of Catholicism was extended by the outreach of the leaders, sponsors, fellow RCIA inquirers, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, who like the parable of the lost sheep, never let us wander too far off course.  As the Tuesday night meetings progressed, my faith found a spiritual home.  Attending the 5:30pm mass on Sundays provided me hope and gave me direction for the coming week.  I felt like I had been swimming underwater a bit too long during the week, and surfaced for a much needed breath of air during Sunday the mass.  The mass continues to surprise me each week as I increase my level of understanding and involvement of the liturgy, symbolism, and the Lord’s word as I drink from His well.

One of the highlights of the RCIA journey came in early February when we attended the overnight retreat at Villombrosa in Menlo Park.  The serene garden surroundings and spiritual events designed for the growth of our faith, individually and collectively, are a gift I will always treasure.   The stained glass and religious appointments in the Church of the Nativity was especially inspiring, as was attending Vespers at the convent of the cloistered Dominican Nuns.  Quietly walking the Stations of the Cross at night with the moon and stars witnessing from Heaven was ethereal and touching.  Fr. Corwin provided an inspirational activity which encouraged us to write down any personal obstacles which might cause us resistance to our RCIA journey toward confirmation.  During a special mass we presented our “obstacles” for God’s grace on the chapel’s alter.  Afterward the mass these “obstacles” were collectively burned providing many of us a feeling of cleansing and release.

Having said that, I must admit that I was seized by two weeks of debilitating uncertainty about converting to Catholicism just prior to the Rite of Sending and the Rite of Election.  It was Shannon and Gaye who calmed my troubled waters, reminded me that all humans are all sinners, and that I was worthy of God’s mercy, grace, and love.  Gaye and I celebrated when my doubts ceased by attending the Chrism Mass in Sacramento at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament where the very chrism which would be used in the RCIA members’ baptisms and/or confirmations was blessed by Bishop Soto, who through the Holy Spirit, breathed faith and life into the sacred oil. 

My intense personal self-reflection of about two weeks prior to my first confession was much more agonizing than the actuality of the sacrament of reconciliation with Fr. David.  I will never forget how I felt God’s mercy through confession to Fr. David.  To receive the feeling of forgiveness was humbling and freeing and mystical. 

Another humbling experience was when Fr. Jerome washed our feet during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  This act of love and humility was welcoming in a way that words cannot express.  God’s touch was manifested by Fr. Jerome’s hands.  This ceremony was so intense that it helped me to better understand how the Eucharist is consecrated by the priest.

The most overwhelming experience of my RCIA journey was totally unexpected with the Veneration of the Cross.  The quiet, solemn procession of parishioners kneeling before the Cross and kissing the Cross one-by-one as it was held by Fr. Corwin in the candlelit church touched my very soul with the Passion of our Lord in a way I never expected!  I felt a heartbreak that was so real I could not hold back my tears.

By the night of Confirmation, the Vigil Mass, Saturday, April 4, 2015, I had no feelings of trepidation or uncertainty, instead feelings of peace and joy prevailed.   The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first communion honestly did feel like a “marriage” to God and to the Catholic Church.  True to “marriage-like” form, during the mass and sacraments, time seemed distorted as if time itself was surreal like time lapse photography being quick and slow at the same time…like a dream.

I had not really given particular thought to the charismatic evangelists’ concept of the “born again” phenomenon, but I certainly understand the experience now since my RCIA journey which culminated in my conversion to Catholicism through the sacraments of confession, communion, and  confirmation.  At sixty-four years of age, I do feel “born again” in Christ Jesus!

I am unable to adequately thank all who have been so self-less and instrumental in my RCIA journey:  RCIA leaders, Shannon Carter and Kelley Curtis, Fr. Jerome, Fr. Corwin, Fr. David, Fr. Vic, Dr. Marco Roman, Deacon Flanagan, and my sponsors, Rose Ursua and Ilona Helmholz, as well as all the sponsors who shared in and contributed to our confirmation experience!  Your commitment and support during my/our RCIA journey has been AMAZING!

Thank you to the entire active community of faith at St. Dominic’s Church for your support and welcome.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Katherine “Faustina” Jefferies Dhawan