BC students help others on their journey to join the Catholic faith

BC students help others on their journey to join the Catholic faith

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Kevin Meme '03 knows precious little about the man for whom he prays: His name is Michael, and he is incarcerated at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Norfolk - for what crime and for how long, Meme does not know.

When Ann Pettrone '04 (right) decided she wanted to join the Catholic church, she didn't hesitate to ask her roommate and friend April Glazier '04 to be her sponsor in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at BC. "I wasn't surprised," says Glazier, "but I was truly honored." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Michael is one of 18 inmates in the MCI-Norfolk Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program who have each been paired with 22 Boston College students in a "partnership of prayer." State law forbids any contact or exchange of personal information other than first names between the students and prisoners.

It is enough for Meme, however, to know that Michael is reciprocating the prayers given him, and that this Easter Sunday, Michael will formally join him in faith as a Catholic.

April Glazier '04, on the other hand, knows very well the person she will welcome into her church this Easter. As a freshman, she befriended Ann Pettrone '04 and by last spring they decided to become roommates for their sophomore year. But Glazier became something even more last fall, when Pettrone asked if Glazier would be her sponsor for the RCIA program offered through the BC Campus Ministry.

These students' experiences bespeak the nature of Boston College, as a Catholic university with ties to a wider faith community that lies beyond campus and extends to the most forbidding of places.

Easter, the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year, is the time when that church community formally receives newcomers like Pettrone and Michael through baptism and confirmation. As Catholics who have helped, directly or indirectly, in fostering this union, Meme and Glazier find a special meaning in this Easter as well: a new appreciation for their beliefs and the church that has been central to their lives.

"In a lot of ways, the journey is the same for all of us," said Meme, a Cleveland native majoring in economics. "Michael is among a group of people who are isolated from society, who in the eyes of many cannot be redeemed. Yet somehow I know what Michael and the others in RCIA are going through, because we take the same sacrament."

Glazier, discussing her experiences as an RCIA sponsor, said, "It taught me a lot more about my faith. Often, you have to teach something before you truly understand it."

It is the RCIA, says Assoc. Prof. Bruce Morrill, SJ (Theology), which has helped to make entrance into the Catholic Church such a powerful and meaningful transition for all. A relatively recent addition to church practice that draws on early Christian rituals, the RCIA has achieved great popularity in the United States, according to Fr. Morrill.

"Even as it enables adults to enter the church, the RCIA has come to give us all renewed sense of what Catholicism is," said Fr. Morrill, who writes a regular column, "Liturgy: The Church's Spirituality," for the Pauline Books and Media on-line magazine Growing in Faith.

"Seeing how God so intensely forms these new believers for fullness of life in baptism, the faithful are led to scrutinize themselves in light of the Gospel, to realign their own lives with the baptism they have already undergone."

In the case of Meme, that introspection began earlier this year, when Assoc. Prof. Douglas Marcouiller, SJ (Economics) invited students attending the 9 p.m. Sunday Mass in St. Ignatius Church to form the prayer partnership with inmates at MCI-Norfolk, where for six years Fr. Marcouiller has preached regularly at Sunday Masses.

Fr. Marcouiller, who notes that BC Jesuits and others from the University community have had a longstanding pastoral mission at MCI-Norfolk, said those inmates who choose to undertake the RCIA place themselves apart from much of the prison population, which tends to divide itself into subsets based on factors such as age, ethnicity, crime and sentence.

During a recent discussion with inmates that touched on the current controversy concerning sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy, recalled Fr. Marcouiller, one prisoner declared, "You ought to come here. To stand up and say, 'I believe in Christ' in this place, that's controversy."

Fr. Marcouiller said, "It may seem like a small thing, but the inmates there feel very supported by the prayers of the students. They appreciate the lift it brings."

Meme, who spent a summer working at the Suffolk County House of Correction, said, "We may tend to think of prisoners as 'disadvantaged. But Michael is praying for me, even though he's probably had a far rougher life than I ever had. It's just a great thing to know."

Equally heartfelt is the bond that has grown between Glazier and Pettrone as the time of Pettrone's confirmation draws near.

Pettrone, raised as a Methodist in Averill Park, NY, said she felt an affinity for "the Jesuit ideal" of Boston College almost from the moment she visited the campus while in high school. She found this kinship deepening during her freshman year, as she came to know more about BC's Catholic qualities, especially through her friendships with Glazier and other students from Catholic backgrounds.

"I just came to decide that what I wanted was to have more direction, more structure in my life," she said. "When I went to Mass, I liked the feeling that it inspired in me. There is something inside of you that leads you to be the person you truly want to become, and I believe being in the presence of God helped me to realize that.

"I see entering the Catholic faith as helping me become a better person in many ways, not only now but later on: a better friend, a better wife, a better mother."

Pettrone continued to learn about Catholicism, and last fall joined the RCIA program at BC directed by Campus Minister Tamara Liddell. When she found out she needed to have a sponsor for RCIA, there was no hesitation on her part in asking Glazier.

"I wasn't surprised, but I was truly honored," said Glazier, a native of Rumford, Me. "It's such an important thing to ask of someone, and I didn't even realize how powerful the whole program was."

Liddell, who directs the two-hour RCIA class each Sunday in St. Joseph's Chapel on Upper Campus, said the word "program" does not begin to fully describe the rites. "It's a sacramental process of formation for a particular way of life. The experience of conversion is ongoing."

Choosing to take that path, she said, is a decision not made lightly or out of vague impulse. "You don't have a college student walk in and say to you, 'I've seen the light.' They have a faith experience, perhaps through a service project or even the course of life at BC, or maybe a tragedy or personal crisis - something that leads to questions, then greater awareness, about God and faith.

"By the time they get to me, though, they have already come through a good part of their journey. With RCIA, they learn a lot about Christianity, not just the Catholic faith. But RCIA always gets back to their life experience, because that is where they should express their faith."

Pettrone says she has found RCIA demanding but satisfying, and enlightening. "It's just a safe place to be, where you can ask the stupidest questions and you'll get an answer. Tammy tells us the little things everyone else already knows."

Pettrone and others in RCIA will take the sacrament at St. Joseph's on April 7, the Sunday after Easter. The parents of both Pettrone and Glazier are expected to be on hand.

"Some Catholics I've talked to tell me they almost feel envious of me," Pettrone said. "When they went through confirmation or took communion, they didn't necessarily appreciate the significance of it because they were young, or just following the way of their family. But for me, it's a definite choice that I wanted to make."  

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