ABOVE: Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis greets Dusty, back left, Addison, Brooklyn and Julie Clements during the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 18. At far right is Dalton Renteria, Julie’s son and Dusty’s stepson. All five are catechumens from Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. (Dave Hrbacek/CNS, via The Catholic Spirit)

By Dave Hrbacek
Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — When Dalton Renteria visited the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul for the first time Feb. 18, he was struck by the large crucifix behind the altar.

“We went around the back; I just looked at the backside of it, and it was very, very cool to look at,” said the 18-year-old, who asked his family to go with him for a closer look.

“The light was hitting it perfectly because it wasn’t shining over the cross, but it was just perfectly behind,” he said. “So it looked like the cross was in the middle of the light, and it was very symbolic.”

Dalton, who didn’t grow up with a crucifix in his home, is a catechumen in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. He is joining the church with his mother, stepfather and twin sisters March 31 during the Easter Vigil.

The cathedral experience had a powerful impact on him, and it deepened his joy and excitement for the completion of his journey into the Catholic Church. His Feb. 18 visit was for the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, part of the RCIA process, during which the family was presented to Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Dalton had to fly in for the rite; he lives with his father in Washington state. His mother and stepfather, Julie and Dusty Clements, and his twin sisters, Addison and Brooklyn, moved from Idaho to St. Paul last summer. Dalton, who had lived with them, decided to stay out west with his dad.

The family’s move to Minnesota played a providential role in the family’s decision to become Catholic. Dusty, 41, did not regularly attend church growing up, while Julie, 40, was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but quit practicing the faith by the time she was in college in the late 1990s. However, while living in Idaho, where Dusty was working at Boise State University, the couple had decided to try to find a church.

“We didn’t know what direction we were going; we just knew we wanted to have that (church) in our lives,” Julie told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “We both felt like it was good — good for the kids, good for our family.”

They were still looking when Dusty took a job in fundraising for the University of Minnesota.

Before the move, he told a Minnesota acquaintance he was looking for a school for his first-grade girls and a church community to join. That acquaintance recommended Nativity for both. That prompted Julie to call Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School Principal Kate Wollan just a few weeks before the start of the school year.

An hourlong phone call with Wollan left her anxious to enroll the girls there. After the move, the school served as a natural conduit to bring the faith into their home.

“The kids have been like sponges with everything, like learning about the faith and Jesus,” said Julie, who works in sales. “Addison would start reciting the Lord’s Prayer. They don’t say that in the Mormon Church. Growing up, we never said the Lord’s Prayer. That’s a pretty big prayer for a 6-year-old to come home and recite.”

Julie then took her daughters to a Saturday evening Mass at Nativity in early September. It was a first for her. “I loved it. I walked into Nativity, and I was just in awe.”

Her daughters, likewise, were captivated by the experience, and Julie and Dusty decided their family would pursue RCIA. Shortly after that, they called Dalton and talked to him about joining the Church with them. He quickly agreed, as he had been attending Mass with his Catholic girlfriend before moving from Idaho to Washington.

Nativity RCIA Director Randy Mueller has had a few families join the Catholic Church together, but this one is the largest.

“It’s beautiful to see because they’re excited to find a church community that they can come to as a family,” he said. “They really feel like it’s making a difference in their lives. It’s really bringing them together as a family.”

“I am excited,” Julie said, noting that the other family members are, too. “It’s a big step for all of us.”

The only thing missing will be first Communion for the girls. Dusty and Julie decided Addison and Brooklyn would wait until next year when they are in second grade, so that they can receive the sacrament with their classmates.

That hasn’t dulled the twins’ enthusiasm. “(I’m) really excited because we get to be in God’s family,” Brooklyn said.

Addison added: “I’m so excited I could blow up.”

As Dusty has studied the faith and prepared for the Easter Vigil, he’s already noticed a difference in his life.

“It’s been a huge help to us,” he said. “For me, (in) moments at work or otherwise, you can reflect on things you’re learning through the faith. That helps carry you through. … I think it’s better prepared us for what’s ahead.”

Dave Hrbacek is on the staff of THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.