Orozco family photo
Benji Orozco’s conversion journey was long. He wanted to be sure he was  becoming a Catholic for the right reasons, not because that’s what his  wife Michelle wanted.
Orozco family photo
Benji Orozco’s conversion journey was long. He wanted to be sure he was becoming a Catholic for the right reasons, not because that’s what his wife Michelle wanted.
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until someone brings your attention back to it.

That’s what Jackie San Nicolas discovered when her longtime boyfriend Matt Covington decided to become a Catholic before their wedding Sept. 18.

Through her difficult life journeys, San Nicolas had always turned to her faith to guide her. But in the past few years, she’d lost touch with that guiding light.

“When he decided he wanted to be a Catholic, it was like him taking my hand and saying ‘let’s walk this life together. Let me bring you back to the faith I want to learn about and you already know,’” she said.

In RCIA, Covington isn’t the only one studying the Catholic way of life. San Nicolas attended with her partner and felt invigorated spiritually to revisit the core components of her faith, especially with someone who wanted also to be a part of that.

For one person new to the Catholic faith and his or her significant other who is already part of the Church, the journey can be enlightening for both.

San Nicolas, who grew up in Saipan in the western Pacific Ocean, was raised Catholic. Covington’s parents, he said, never influenced him one way or the other.

“They let me find my own path,” he said. “For many years, I attended many different churches, but never found one that fit me or one that I could see giving myself to completely.”

The couple attend Mass at Queen of Peace in Salem, nearby their home.

More than anything, the process has strengthened their relationships, Covington said.

“Doing it together has made it the best it could be,” he said. “I feel really blessed and fortunate to be going through this process with her…. I want to be on the same page every step of the way.”

For another Salem couple, it was a longer road that led to conversion.

Michelle and Benji Orozco married in 1996. They were both in their early 20s.

She was raised Catholic in Salem and he was raised by parents who were Christians, but not Catholics.

For four or five years at the beginning of their relationship, they were members of separate churches. Wanting to be supportive of each other, they attended both services together.

“Sunday was a 5-hour church experience,” Michelle said.

In 2001, Benji decided he wanted to go through RCIA. It answered many of his questions, but at that time Michelle was the one who really fell deeper in love with her faith, she said. Benji didn’t finish the RCIA process.

“It didn’t’ feel right for me at the time,” Benji said. He wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith and the Church first. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there. I wanted to feel comfortable and know firsthand what it was all about. It was the beginning of my conversion journey.”

Meanwhile, Benji began attending Mass at Queen of Peace. He appreciated the reverence displayed in the Church, and formed relationships with the priests, first Father George Wolf, then Father Tim Mockaitis.

Also during that time, Benji was traveling often for his work so he listened to audio books in transit. On one trip he listened to the account of a former Baptist preacher who converted to Catholicism. Something about the man’s words clicked for Benji and he knew he was ready to finish the ritual of coming into the church.

However, instead of telling his wife as soon as he arrived home, Benji surprised Michelle. One day, as they were setting up for a church event, Father Mockaitis wandered in.

“He asked, “Benji, seriously, let’s just make this official,’” said Michelle, adding it was the same question the priest asked every time he crossed paths with her husband. She laughed.
But this time, Benji said, “Sure, can we do it now?”

That was when Michelle realized Father Mockaitis was in his vestments, ready for a private confirmation. She was so touched, she cried.

These days, the shared faith has brought the couple, as well as their six children, closer together.

“It unified us in our spirituality, and it has strengthened our marriage to be on the same team,” Benji said.

For another Salem couple, the experience of being in the same church has set values in their relationship that weren’t there previously.

When Christina Froylan-Callas and Guillermo Froylan started dating, he was a Catholic and she was not. She began attending Mass at St. Edward in Keizer with his family, but Christina admits she was close-minded to the experience.

A Native American from the Blackfeet Tribe, Christina had been raised to understand that organized religion was inherently bad because it was someone else telling her what she should or should not believe.

“It was a struggle for me to drop the walls I’d built,” she said.

But when she started paying closer attention, Christina said, she had a few revelations.

“My in-laws are really loving and supportive – and religious,” she said. “I started to see how it made their lives better, and how much it helped their kids growing up.”

Christina decided to enter into RCIA, her husband at her side.

“It’s impacted us for the better,” she said. “As I went to class, he was able to come with me and learn again why he’s Catholic, so he was able to find his faith again.”