How St. Francis of Assisi’s RCIA Program Changed Me

By Katherine Cullen, MFA, LMSW

If you had told me one or two years ago that I would convert to Catholicism, I would not have believed you. I was convinced I wasn’t “good enough” to set foot inside a church—let alone a Roman Catholic one. 

My parents had me baptized and raised in the Protestant faith. But when their marriage ended in 2001 and two airplanes tore through the Twin Towers 80 blocks south of my home in Manhattan, my faith faltered. I drifted away from the church, from prayer, and ultimately from the moral and spiritual structure these practices gave me. It took me two decades to find my way back to a relationship with God. And that reunion would not have been possible without the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

I first came to St. Francis on November 27th, 2021 with the man who would later that year become my husband. He was a Catholic, and I had implored him to bring me to one of the Masses he spoke so fondly about and regularly attended. I was nervous as we ambled up the steps at the church’s entryway, fearful someone might tell me I wasn’t fit to be here. That I didn’t belong. Yet the sight of two smiling ushers assured me, and their greeting encapsulated how I instantly felt in this place of worship: Welcome. Further assurance arrived as my future husband pointed out that to the right of our pew was a statue of St. Andrew Kim—the saint whose feast day falls on my birthday.

I followed the lead of the parishioners around me, standing and sitting, kneeling, and praying as they did. As readers came and went from the lectern, as Father Barry delivered a homily on how the latest movie he’d seen applied to the Gospel, my concern that I would feel like an outsider given my ignorance of the Catholic liturgy melted away. Though I wasn’t familiar with every detail of the Mass, I was nevertheless so very moved by and inexplicably woven into it. As I watched a beautifully diverse line of people process towards the altar to receive the Eucharist, I wanted to know how I could become a part of this community.

Several days of Googling “how to become a Catholic” later, I reached out to Joe Nuzzi, Director of Evangelization at St. Francis of Assisi Church, to inquire about the parish’s RCIA program. He invited me to sit in on that evening’s class. The topics alone—salvation history, earthly versus mystical conceptions of time—were enough to sell me on officially enrolling. But what stuck out so profoundly to me was the warmth, wisdom, and down-to-earth-ness of the RCIA volunteer staff, other students, and most of all, of Joe himself.

Every Tuesday from that day until my confirmation on April 16, 2022 became a day I looked forward to all week, no matter how tired my day job left me. So too did each Sunday, when us catechumens (or RCIA students) were dismissed from the 5pm Mass to “Break Open The Word” and reflect on the context, meaning, and personal resonance of Jesus’s life and teachings.

The energy and enthusiasm sparked by our weekly sessions sustained me through even the hardest of days doing field based social work with severely mentally ill adults, coping with my father’s Alzheimer’s, and discerning what the next steps of my career were. Through them, I learned how to make more room for God in my heart. This might explain why I found myself becoming more loving, calmer, hopeful, and spiritually stronger as the RCIA program progressed.

I believe that the insight, sense of belonging, healing and growth I have experienced is a unique function of the community and staff at St. Francis of Assisi Church. I strongly encourage anyone curious to learn more about the Catholic faith to explore our parish’s RCIA program—and for already confirmed Catholics wishing to deepen their spirituality and sense of community, to sponsor a catechumen. If your experience is anything like mine it will be nothing short of life changing.