Faith, reborn

Maria Bouselli

Catholics in America are leaving the Church at four times the rate they are joining, according to a Pew report. Yet 13 Villanova students will officially defy this national trend this spring beginning at the University’s Easter Vigil on April 4.

“It’s a personal choice,” Cayce Lista, a senior and participant in this year’s process, says of her decision to join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process at Villanova University.

The RCIA fully initiates adults into the Catholic Church by receiving the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation. 

“I know a number of people who have left the Christian faith in general,” Lista says. “I think that at this point in our lives, you either make your faith your own, or you don’t make it.” 

Lista, for one, decided to make her faith her own after she was exposed to the Catholic faith tradition at Villanova. 

Originally a part of the Protestant denomination, she found the sacramental lifestyle and availability of mass within the Catholic tradition appealing.

“It clicked in my mind,” Lista says. “It’s easier to stay disciplined.”

Participants in the RCIA process fall into three categories: those who are not baptized and decide to become Christian and specifically Catholic; those who have been baptized but have not completed their sacraments; and those who have been baptized in other Christian denominations and decided to become Catholic.

Three student candidates will take part in the Easter Vigil and receive baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Another three students are to be received in the Church with the sacrament of Eucharist.  A total of seven students will be receiving confirmation. 

“The RCIA is a process because it is an ongoing faith journey that continues even after initiation,” says Kathy Overturf, director of the RCIA process at Villanova for approximately 15 years.  The RCIA does not actively recruit students. Once a student decides to go forth with initiation into the Catholic Church at Villanova, he or she can join the process under the direction of Overturf. The RCIA process begins the first week of October and ends on or after the weekend of Easter. During these months, students attend weekly meetings in which they learn about Scripture and spend time in prayer and reflection.

A Discipleship Counsel made up of Catholic students offers support to the candidates to try to answer any questions they may have. 

Lindsay Hamilton, a senior comprehensive science major and candidate, also believes in the importance of sharing this experience with fellow students. Hamilton did not come to Villanova because of its Catholic affiliation.  

In fact, she hardly thought about that aspect of the University until she arrived her freshman year.  

She immediately felt that the Catholic connection of Villanova was what she was missing in her Protestant faith. 

Villanova’s dedication to service was also a major factor that contributed to her decision to become initiated into the Catholic Church.

Hamilton’s recent trip to El Salvador this past spring break confirmed that she was making the right choice.

“The trip was something that put all the pieces together,” Hamilton says. “The culture down there, their focus on the Church and just hearing the stories from people about their faith made all the connections for me.” 

For Lista, the Rite of Election, celebrated at the cathedral in Philadelphia, verified her decision.

“It was a beautiful experience,” she says. “It made everything so much more real and official, and then I knew it was actually happening.”

Hamilton believes that she has progressively grown into the person she has always wanted to be.

“This program has allowed me to reflect on my previous years, where I come from, and where I want to go,” she says. 

Lista has also found her voice through this process. 

“I have become a lot more articulate,” she says. “I had to articulate to many people, friends and family why I chose to become a candidate in the RCIA.”

Overturf continues to be pleasantly overwhelmed by the students’ commitment to their faith.  

“I am totally impressed by the witness of the partipants wanting to know who Jesus is in their lives, and,to me, it’s the most tangible experience of the spirit of God acting in people,” she says. “There is some kind of transformation that goes on that I witness, and I am also transformed.”

The candidates are also given mentors to help them through the process and can choose their own sponsor. 

Overturf receives many calls from students during the year asking about the process.  

“People constantly call me and ask me about RCIA,” Overturf says. “We had one student who saw the Church spires on campus and that led him to questioning.  It’s my favorite thing I do in Campus Ministry, because I provide a structure, but the Holy Spirit leads them there.” 

Daina Amorosano has contributed reporting to this article.