By Melanie Sisinni

          Most Catholics are aware of the three sacraments of initiation. Traditionally, infants are baptized, and their parents begin a journey of learning and preparation, moving toward holy Communion, and eventually, confirmation, when the children become full members of the Catholic faith.

              There is a mix of Catholic and non-Catholic students at diocesan Catholic schools. Some children have been baptized, and some have not. But all are welcome at the weekly school Masses attended by the students. Through weekly participation in these Masses, 7-year-old Devyn Faulkner started conversing about baptism with her parents, Danielle and Jared.

              “She enjoys going to church through school every week, and one day she came home and asked about baptism and what that means, and asked if she could do that too,” said Danielle. “She wants to be a part of the community at church, and she wants to be involved with it.”

           Jared said he and Danielle had several discussions with Devyn about the sacrament of baptism.

          “She kept coming back to us and bringing it up,” said Jared. “I always do everything I can to support my kids, and when she showed interest, I thought, ‘This is a fantastic thing for her, and I support it 100 percent.’ We started reaching out to the church and seeing what information we could get and how to go about it.”

Devyn Faulkner, 7, is preparing for baptism during the 2023
Advent season. Photo/Danielle Faulkner

           The Faulkner family contacted Our Lady of Peace School in Erie, where Devyn attends first grade, to see how to start the faith formation process. The school put them in touch with Tammy Mang, Our Lady of Peace Parish Faith Formation director.

           “The first thing I do is find out where they’re at — just because they are in the school doesn’t mean they are parishioners. Then I try to find out if this is the first baptism in the family and if they have done the pre-baptism class,” said Mang.

          Mang said during the COVID-19 pandemic, baptism classes at OLP Church went online, which seems to work out better for candidates who can complete the course on their own timetable.

          Because the Faulkners were not registered parishioners at the time of their inquiry, Mang arranged for them to meet with OLP pastor Father Rich Toohey to discuss the responsibilities of the sacrament of baptism. Father Toohey said it’s becoming more common to see individuals and parents coming to the church for sacraments at different times, and the church welcomes them.

          “We’ve really tried to be intentional and not have it be something where they get scolded for not doing it the way they were ‘supposed to,’” said Father Toohey. “We’re welcoming. They’re responding to the Spirit in this moment.”

          One observation from Father Toohey was that the baptism of school-aged children often brings parents back into the church and makes them feel re-invested in their faith.

          “At my last parish, St. Joseph in Warren, we had it happen several times where a child that came up through the Catholic school not only wanted to become baptized but wanted their parents baptized, and we saw where their parents would do it with them,” said Father Toohey. “It sometimes is an opportunity to start a whole new experience of faith and church with families.”

          The Faulkner family are now registered with OLP Parish. Since Devyn is in first grade and not yet at what the church calls ‘the age of reason,’ she and her little sister Alexis will receive the sacrament of baptism during Advent instead of waiting until Easter.

          Mary Hickin, director of Faith Formation for Catechesis and Sacraments for the Diocese of Erie, says the church welcomes anyone who desires to receive sacraments. Though there may be some work before a candidate is ready, it is joyful work.

          “Your pastor and faith formation leader are always there to guide and help you,” said Hickin. “Your parish families are excited to see people enter into sacraments and will offer prayer and support for you. All you need to do is take that first step and reach out to the parish. You will be welcomed and embraced by your parish and our Church.”

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          If you are interested in faith formation to receive Sacraments of the Catholic Church, contact the parish where you attend Mass or contact the Diocese of Erie Office of Faith Formation at 814-824-1222.