Elle Wentross, 18, was raised by an atheist and an agnostic. This Easter, she will go through ancient rites of initiation and join the Catholic Church.
"I love the idea of Catholicism," says Wentross, a senior at Jesuit High School. "It gives us a tangible way to be with God, through the Eucharist."
She was among more than 780 people who attended rites of election in western Oregon this weekend. The liturgies are a milestone when those entering the Church meet the archbishop and have their names written in the Book of the Elect.
As an eighth grader, Wentross saw her parents' marriage breakup. At the same time, her mother asked the girl to consider attending Jesuit.
"I told her, 'You know it's Catholic, right?'" says Wentross, 18. "I was very skeptical of Catholicism."
But during her visit, she attended an all-school Mass and felt overwhelmed by its power. That hooked her on the school, where she continued attending Mass each week and takes religion classes. "It has completely shaped my faith life," she says.
The Jesuits and other staff have supported her in her formation, which has taken place through St. Thomas More Parish in Southwest Portland. Her parents are happy for her, noting that Catholicism calls people into service for others.
That's one part of the faith that inspires Wentross; another is the faith and courage of Mary the Mother of God. Wentross plans to start pre-medical studies in college next fall.
Sarah Craven, also a senior at Jesuit, is Wentross's godparent. Craven says she wants most to pass on the message of loving one's neighbor and being involved in a loving way in the community.
Archbishop Sample welcomed Wentross and other Catholics-to-be at rites of election in Coos Bay, Central Point, Eugene and Portland this weekend. Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner and Archbishop Emeritus John Vlazny celebrated a rite apiece.
"I want you to know how absolutely full of joy we are are for you tonight," Archbishop Sample said at St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Sunday night.
He told the congregation a secret: rites of election are among bishops' favorite liturgies.
"You are a sign of hope, a sign of encouragement, a sign of great promise for the future building up of the Body of Christ," the archbishop explained. "In spite of all the struggles in our culture today, God still calls and people still respond."
On hand at the rites are catechumens, those who will enter the church and have not been baptized, and candidates, those baptized in other communities who wish to enter full communion with the Catholic Church. After the rite, the catechumens are known as the elect.
"You are becoming part of the Church Universal," Archbishop Sample told both groups. "You are joining a community of Catholics around the world that is 1.2 billion strong."
He reminded the group that they did not really get themselves to the cathedral tonight. God did.
"Every one of you have been in the mind and heart of God for all eternity," the archbishop said. "God has always known you and always loved you."