Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Carole Christensen (center) is surrounded by RCIA team members Gene Climer, Sharon Climer, Karen Becker and Mike Flanigan.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Carole Christensen (center) is surrounded by RCIA team members Gene Climer, Sharon Climer, Karen Becker and Mike Flanigan.
BEAVERTON — Greg Wynne didn’t expect to tear up. That was not on his mind as St. Cecilia parishioners advanced toward him to receive the Blood of Christ. But his emotions overwhelmed him when he handed the cup to Carole Christensen.

 “The lady who started it all, who had guided me, who was so important — she was coming to me, of all people, to receive the blood of Christ."

Wynne is not the first of Christensen’s RCIA students to react emotionally. Not all shed tears, but over the past 25 years more than 300 have been deeply moved by a newfound love of Christ and profound gratitude to the woman who has guided their journey to become new Catholics.

At the end of June, Christensen will retire as St. Cecilia’s religious education director, leaving baptism, adult education and RCIA programs that have inspired newcomers to the faith as well as longtime Catholics who just can’t get enough of her classes.

You might say Christensen was called to her 25-year journey; it was a phone call from Sister Clare Vandercouvering, who was leaving St. Cecilia and wanted her to take the job.  
So, in 1988 she took the job as religious education coordinator, aided by several years experience at Holy Trinity, a deep devotion to God and the desire to help others discover Christ in their own way.

Accepting and honoring everyone, her students say, has set her RCIA program apart and made it successful.

The acceptance often begins with the first inquiry. One woman recently joined St. Cecilia’s RCIA program after one brief conversation.  When she explained that her husband was Jewish, directors from other churches had said, “We’ll fix that.”  Christensen exclaimed, “How exciting.”  

 “In Carole’s view, where we come from is part of our faith journey,” said Karen Becker, a longtime member of Christensen’s RCIA Team.

 “Carole is not just saying, ‘This is what we have for you.’ She is acknowledging what people are bringing to the table. She is excited.  This enriches us,” said Rosemary DeCosta, a former evangelical who came to the RCIA class simply to discover what her son would be learning at St. Cecilia School.  She joined the church and the RCIA Team.
 “You don’t have to leave all your luggage at the door. What I already had – my love of Christ, my ease of prayer — were enriched by becoming Catholic. That’s Carole’s gift. She is amazing,” added DeCosta.

 “People come to us with really interesting stories,” said Christensen. “They are here because something very positive has touched them. We need to accept them where they are, touch the positive and make it grow.”

A hallmark of the St. Cecilia RCIA program is the RCIA Team – a group of 10  to 15 parishioners who help Christensen with the class.  About half are “cradle Catholics ”and the other half are recent RCIA graduates who don’t want to leave the program.

Team members serve as sponsors, mentors and instructors who share their faith stories with the class, offering a variety of experiences, perspectives and styles.

 “Our Catholic faith comes with a wide range of understanding. Carole accepts all that.  We have wonderful debates and discussions,” said Mike Flanigan, a 20-year team veteran.

When Wynne joined the RCIA class, he immediately wanted much more detail and specifics than the class could initially provide.

 “I needed academic answers right away. Carole recruited a team member who could handle all of my questions, whenever I needed an answer. The class is designed to fit all types,” he said.

The diversity of the team, along with Christensen’s welcoming acceptance, helps creates an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and sharing stories.
 “They feel so loved and supported by the class that they are not inhibited. They can share their deepest feelings. They can be brought to tears and not be embarrassed — like one man who was devastated from fighting in a war. He felt guilt, but then relief, through the mercy of God and the support of the group,” Christensen said.

 “Carole understands that growing in faith involves building a community,” Flanigan said. “You are not going to be part of any group unless you have relationships with those people. Catholicism is about relationships between people of God, The class is a great balance between Catholic teaching and getting to know each other,” he said.   
That sense of community doesn’t end with the last day of class. Christensen says one measure of success is the high number of RCIA graduates who go on to serve as lectors, ushers, Eucharistic ministers or in other parish activities.

Team members keep returning to support the students because they love watching others grow in faith, which enriches their faith too.

 “I see their excitement and am reminded not to take my faith for granted,” Flanigan said.

As for Christensen, her true test of success is seeing Christ reflected in her students.
 “You are teaching to minds, hearts and lives. It’s not just, ‘Here’s information.’ You are helping them through the Holy Spirit to see themselves in all of this,” she said.  “It’s not ‘what’ they should know, but ‘who.’  And that is Jesus.

 “These 25 years have given me a much deeper sense of the Catholic faith through the eyes of those first coming to know it.  I feel blessed,” Christensen said.