ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) — In 1957, Sarah Wessel’s great-grandmother, Isabella Brooks, hand-stitched a wedding gown for her daughter Mary Ann Kelsey. After the wedding, the satin gown was wrapped in blue paper and placed in a cedar chest, where it remained perfectly preserved.
It was taken out again in 1985 for Sarah’s mother, Carolyn Page Wessel, and now it’s Sarah’s turn to wear it this September.
But before she wears the dress for her own wedding, there is another event the 21-year-old is eagerly counting down the days to — her entrance into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil.
“I just want the sacraments so badly,” said Wessel, a senior math major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “I am really looking forward to receiving Jesus’ Body, Blood, soul and divinity,” she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.
Wessel was baptized in the Episcopal Church, which she said fostered a deep love of Jesus and a serving heart.
“I remember going to the same church through my entire childhood and teenage years,” said Wessel. “I felt like they were my family members. I truly love them and I see their love for God.”
When she started college, she still desired the closeness she felt at her church back home. That’s when she met Hunter Miller.
In June 2017, she was sitting with her friend at the Sugar Shack Donuts and Coffee shop in Fredericksburg. Seating was scarce, so she invited Miller and his mom, Norka, to join them.
“We talked a little bit about God and our lives, and then it was time for him to go to Adoration and confession and he invited us to come,” said Wessel.
Despite not knowing what Adoration was, they agreed. “I remember thinking, ‘I feel like God has a purpose here,’” she said.
That night ended up being very good for Wessel and Miller. His mom taught her the Rosary and they spent quite a few hours in Adoration.
“It was wonderful,” said Wessel. “Pretty much every single time after that we went to church to pray.”
Their courtship took off from day one and so did their talks about marriage and becoming Catholic.
“I knew that he really wanted me to be Catholic. He loved the Catholic Church. But for a little under a year, I was in denial. I asked him to take a step back in pressuring me and to allow God to make the change within me and call me so that way I would be converting for God and not for someone. He clearly understood.”
For several months, Wessel said she just “let it be.” She continued going to her Episcopal church while also attending Mass with Miller. Soon, however, she started praying the Rosary and going to church on her own.
“I really fell in love with Adoration,” she said, “because it is a time where it can be silent and I can feel God’s spirit within me. I don’t even have to think of anything and He fills me up with His love. I truly desire that and seek it.”
After months of prayer and one particularly bad week that left her feeling alone and empty, she received a moment of clarity when she felt she should become Catholic and be engaged to Miller when that question came. And it did a few months later.
“I was like, ‘I have to do this. I can’t be happy without it. I can’t be fulfilled without the Church. I’m going to do it’ and after that, I felt so much better,” she said.
While she was relieved that the spiritual warfare inside her was over, she was apprehensive about talking to her parents since she hadn’t kept her parents updated about her decision to become Catholic. Her newfound passion and determination surprised them.
“They didn’t understand at first,” Wessel said but added that her mom “just poured out love.”
That following September she started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and has been counting down the days to the Easter Vigil ever since. She also has taken a more active role in the community by becoming the service chair for the parish young adult group.
“God is calling us to be saints and there are no exceptions,” said Wessel. “In college, this is a time where everything is changing and I am so grateful that Jesus called me into the Church at this time. Because it really helped me to realize the goal of life and who I am supposed to worship in all of my actions, and that is God.”
— By Ashleigh Kassock, Catholic News Service. Kassock is a contributor to the ARLINGTON CATHOLIC HERALD, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.