Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Laura Dieken made her new friend Janet Wollam this rosary. They both entered the Church during St. Rita Church's Easter Vigil.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Laura Dieken made her new friend Janet Wollam this rosary. They both entered the Church during St. Rita Church's Easter Vigil.
In joining the Catholic Church this Easter, Laura Dieken and Janet Wollam found not only faith, but also a close friend.

The two women, who received first Communion on Holy Saturday, are both part of St. Rita Parish in Northeast Portland. Having met at the start of RCIA, they found the instruction and formation was at times easier with a buddy.

They were two of about 800 people who became Catholic in western Oregon this Easter.

“It’s been so nice because it seems like when I’m stuck on something, Laura can always come through and say, ‘This is how I understand it,’” Wollam said. And that idea sharing goes both ways, Dieken said.

Wollam was baptized a Catholic as a toddler, but then adopted by a family of non-practicing Catholics. They supported her faith formation as much as they were able by sending her to Catholic schools, but she never experienced a first Communion or confession.

“I just wandered off and away from the church,” Wollam said.

It was in the hairdresser’s chair that her interest in Catholicism was rekindled. Wollam’s stylist of seven years invited her client to come to a service at St. Rita Wollam had just lost a loved one, and contemplation that night was focused on death. Though, initially, the broken-hearted woman found the topic unsettling, that feeling was muted by an overwhelming sense of homecoming.

“I went one time and that was it for me,” Wollam said. “It was the warmness of the people, and true friendliness, and it was comfortable.”

As a student pre-Second Vatican Council, Wollam’s memories of Mass were of Latin rites, uncomfortable proper dresses, and a formal atmosphere.

Today, she says, the service is much more approachable. Wollam looks forward to helping out with the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul program, serving those in need. Once a month the parish hosts a free dinner for the community, and watching parishioners in fellowship with the homeless and other people in need is special to behold, she said.

“Everybody sits with everybody, and that’s really nice,” she said.

As a congratulatory gift to her new friend, Dieken handmade a rosary for Wollam. Its beads are different shades of jasper gemstones, adorned with a silver crucifix.   

Dieken was raised in the Episcopal tradition. After high school, her family moved away from her childhood parish and never reestablished themselves in a new church.

A contractor who works on computer database applications, Dieken’s moment of realization came when a single friend mentioned that she never knew how to fill in the “religion” box when she was filing out online dating forms.

After all, Christian is a pretty broad term, and can mean different things to different people.

“It occurred to me, if I had to fill out that form [that asks about religion], I wouldn’t know how to answer that question either,” Dieken said.
So she began searching.

“The Catholic church has excellent resources for people looking to establish a faith practice,” she said. “I had always had an appreciation of the Church.” She spent her junior year of college studying abroad in France, and she remembers her awe of the Gothic cathedrals and ancient churches.

She chose St. Rita as her place to worship because she could join the RCIA program earlier in the year. Once she’d decided to join, Dieken wanted to start right away, not wait until fall. That early offering was like an invitation, Dieken said.

“It said, ‘You’re ready, and we’re ready for you now,’” she said.

Because of her years as an Episcopal, much of the ritual felt familiar, and the RCIA discover process was friendly and engaging.

Wollam and Dieken have anticipated the Easter season with joy.

“This is just the beginning,” Dieken said. “There will be plenty for me to learn and discover and practice.”

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Blake and Traci Hillstrom, married deputies at Tillamook County Jail, drew opposite shifts. He works days, she nights. That made it tough for them to attend Mass together. Blake, raised Catholic, wanted to reactivate his faith. Traci wanted to explore Catholicism, but was afraid she'd say prayers wrong or kneel at an inappropriate moment. She wanted a guide.

Now, though the liturgy has not lost its sense of holy awe, it feels like home for Traci. She and her five young children were baptized at the Easter vigil at Sacred Heart Parish in Tillamook and Blake was confirmed.

Traci, 30, was raised by parents with no faith tradition. As a teen, she was famished for spirituality. "I read every religious book I could get my hands on, trying to figure out what would work for me," she says.

As she got older, she abandoned the search. She and Blake wed and had three children and are adopting two more. That gives them youngsters aged 4, 5, 6, 6 and 11.

At the grocery store, Traci ran into an old pal who invited her to Sacred Heart. Friend at her side, Traci attended Mass for the first time in January 2012. That prompted her to enter RCIA, along with the children and Blake. Now that Traci has Sundays off, the Hillstrom clan can attend Mass together.  

"I truly feel that I have found the path I was looking for," she says. "I want to guide my children in their faith and raise them to be the best they can be."

The ancient constancy of the Catholic Church appeals to Tracy. "It has been going on since Christ," she says.

Traci and Blake are considering service as eucharistic ministers, perhaps even in the jail. Their 11-year-old daughter, in religious education for two years, may become a classroom aide.  

"This family is on fire," says Joe Trainor, who leads RCIA at Sacred Heart.

At Sacred Heart Parish in Medford, 39-year-old Jennifer Limon professed the Catholic faith, took Communion and was confirmed while her 11-year-old son was baptized.  

"I think everybody should have Jesus in their life," says Limon, a checker at the grocery store in nearby Jacksonville. She sees everyone in town about once a day, she figures, and now views them not just as customers, but as God's children.

Limon grew up in California, where her grandmother took her to Baptist services. She was baptized as a girl and never gave Catholicism much thought until 1997, when she met husband Nabor, a cradle Catholic.

As the couple's son, Alejandro, grew, they wanted to get their spiritual lives in order. Hoping to have the boy baptized, they enrolled him in classes at Sacred Heart. Jennifer decided she would become Catholic, too.

"I thought, 'If he's going through it, we might as well do it as a family,'" Limon says. "It has brought us closer." At the start of the year, Jennifer and Nabor had their marriage blessed in the church. Alejandro is enthused by the steps toward faith. He is ready for Mass each Sunday well before departure time.

Like most people, Jennifer had heard both positive and negative reports about Catholicism. Once she looked into it herself, she discovered that the good outweighed the bad. The problems, she decided, come with the church being partly a human institution and are issues faced in all parts of society.  

As she studied the faith, it fit what she had long believed about spiritual life and doing good in the world. The last eight months of learning and prayer have been "comforting and rewarding," she explains.

"It has let Jesus Christ himself into our family to make it tighter," Jennifer says.
 
*            *        *

 At Sacred Heart Parish in Medford, 39-year-old Jennifer Limon professed the Catholic faith, took Communion and was confirmed while her 11-year-old son was baptized.  

"I think everybody should have Jesus in their life," says Limon, a checker at the grocery store in nearby Jacksonville. She sees everyone in town about once a day, she figures, and now views them not just as customers, but as God's children.

Limon grew up in California, where her grandmother took her to Baptist services. She was baptized as a girl and never gave Catholicism much thought until 1997, when she met husband Nabor, a cradle Catholic.

As the couple's son, Alejandro, grew, they wanted to get their spiritual lives in order. Hoping to have the boy baptized, they enrolled him in classes at Sacred Heart. Jennifer decided she would become Catholic, too.

"I thought, 'If he's going through it, we might as well do it as a family,'" Limon says. "It has brought us closer." At the start of the year, Jennifer and Nabor had their marriage blessed in the church. Alejandro is enthused by the steps toward faith. He is ready for Mass each Sunday well before departure time.

Like most people, Jennifer had heard both positive and negative reports about Catholicism. Once she looked into it herself, she discovered that the good outweighed the bad. The problems, she decided, come with the church being partly a human institution and are issues faced in all parts of society.  

As she studied the faith, it fit what she had long believed about spiritual life and doing good in the world. The last eight months of learning and prayer have been "comforting and rewarding," she explains.

"It has let Jesus Christ himself into our family to make it tighter," Jennifer says.