Nikolas Christine was a social studies teacher for a brief time at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in State College, but he was the one who got an education in what really matters.
For years, Christine felt a pull to the Catholic faith. Then he started teaching at OLV.
“To me, it was a job,” he recalled. “I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it, but here we are now.”
Christine is one of about 50 individuals pursuing full initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist – in the Catholic Church at Easter. Another 45 candidates, who are already baptized, are seeking the Holy Spirit and a place at the Lord’s Eucharistic table.
They all came together on Sunday, March 10 for the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates.
The moving ritual was held at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona and Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown, with Bishop Mark L. Bartchak presiding at both.
During the Rite of Election, catechumens like Christine come forward with their sponsor to sign the Book of the Elect and to be greeted by the Bishop.
After the catechumens add their signature, the deacon carries the Book of the Elect throughout the Cathedral accompanied by representatives holding bowls of incense – symbolizing our prayers rising to God.
For Christine, this latest step toward full communion in the Catholic Church is part of a journey that truly came into focus while he was at OLV.
“That was the push off the edge of the boat into the water instead of just nudging me to jump on my own,” said Christine, who is now a teacher in the Bellwood Antis School District and will be a member of Saint Matthew Parish in Tyrone.
During the celebration of the Call to Continuing Conversion, candidates come forward with their sponsors to be greeted by Bishop Mark.
Prior to the ritual, catechumens and candidates wrote letters to Bishop Mark sharing their story.
“I wish more people would have the blessing that I receive when I read these letters in which so many of you speak of a former life and things done in that former life in which forgiveness was needed,” the Bishop noted in his homily.
Many also expressed their yearning for eternal life, he added.
“For so many of us who were born and raised in the Catholic faith, we think of eternal life as something that happens beyond time,” explained Bishop Mark. “We experience it only when we leave this earth and meet the Lord face to face. But so many of you in sharing the story of your faith, you describe how awesome flashes of grace and God’s glory are revealed to you in your husband, or wife, or your children. They inspired you to begin this faith journey. They are your motivation, inspiration, and passion.”
With the Rite of Election over and Easter just weeks away, newly-elect Mandy Aungst is excited for this next chapter in her faith life.
She, too, felt a draw to the Catholic Church for some time.
“I finally listened to my heart and the voices within myself, which led to where I stand today,” she said. “I did it myself as an adult. I chose.”
Aungst will be a member of Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Altoona.
“I’m looking forward to the journey, every step of the way,” she added.
Celebrating along with Aungst, Christine, and the other soon-to-be initiated individuals will be our entire Diocesan Church, stated Christian Initiation Coordinator Jeanne Thompson.
“All of the men, women, children, college students, and inmates at state correctional facilities who want to join the Church are truly a gift of hope, faith, and grace, but it’s God’s gift to us and we are here to welcome them,” she emphasized. “That is an indicator that we are here to stay and our Church is going to continue to grow one person at a time.”