DALLAS — Alex Smith, a sheriff's deputy who pulls the graveyard shift at the Polk County Jail, became Catholic in part to counter what he experiences on the job.
"I could use more spirituality in my life, probably stemming from where I work. I see a lot of evil," says Smith, who was confirmed into the faith during the Easter vigil at St. Philip Church here.
On a fair evening in April, about 900 other Oregonians entered the church. Most, like Smith, feel that they have finally arrived at a spiritual home.
"It's been awhile coming," says Smith, who has attended Mass with wife Anette and their two daughters for 18 years. His confirmation also establishes come family unity, he explains.
Six months ago, not long after Father Michael Johnston arrived in Dallas, Smith began asking more questions about faith. Family friend and parishioner Betty Sledge explained what she could. Smith saw that Catholicism fit with what he believed already.
He wondered where to sign up. But Sledge told him that preparation and prayer is required. He began meeting with Father Johnston and was able to ask all the challenging questions he wanted. His thinking clarified. Then he felt his spirit deeply moved.
It happened at the end of Holy Thursday Mass, when Father Johnson was carrying the Eucharist to the altar of repose.
"I felt what you call the Presence, or the Spirit, or whatever, for the first time," he says.
Now he is reveling in the bond to the St. Philip Parish community, which welcomed him joyfully.
"Their excitement made me more excited," he says. "I realized how happy I am. It was, 'Look what I've been missing.'"
Now, Smith is urging a non-Catholic friend with a Catholic wife to drop by St. Philip and start asking questions.
Not far away in Silverton, 34-year-old Helena Scherotski became Catholic at St. Paul Church. A state health policy planner who grew up a Russian Orthodox Old Believer, she feels a sense of liberation via Catholicism.
"I always felt a longing for God," she says.
This mother of four had a "surreal" experience at the Easter vigil. The support overwhelmed her.
"Before, I felt like I was in two different worlds," she says. "Now I feel like I'm in one."
The Oregonians were among tens of thousands around the country entering the church at Easter. Many were catechumens, or people not yet baptized, who were receiving the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and first Communion. Others were candidates, like Smith and Scherotski — who were already baptized Christians but entering full communion with the church by receiving confirmation and first Communion.