By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
Harvey Ruiz is proof it’s never too late to return to the Catholic faith.
Although he was baptized Catholic, Ruiz had been away from the faith for nearly 50 years. Then some signs kicked in … slowly. He routinely passed by St. Ignatius Parish in Mobile and noticed signs for the “Catholics Returning Home” program advertised outside the church.
He didn’t take part that year. Nor did he attend the following year when the program and signs returned to St. Ignatius.
But he was ready two years later and the program has helped him return to the Church.
“I kept seeing those signs,” said Ruiz, who now lives in Gulfport, Miss. “It dwelled on me to get back into the Church and finally I called. I’m glad I did because it was really helpful.
“I hit some rough times in life and when things were rough, I knew that I must not be doing something right. So I was trying to do my daily prayers and read the Bible and that started dwelling on me with those signs.”
The six-week “Catholics Returning Home” program is held three times a year at various parishes throughout the archdiocese and begins in January at St. Agatha Parish in Mobile, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Citronelle, Our Savior Parish in Mobile, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Ozark and St. Columba Parish in Dothan.
The program is used throughout the country and was designed by Sally Mews of Wisconsin. Each 90-minute session touches on a specific topic, beginning with an overview of the series and followed by “Stories of Faith from Catholics Returning Home,” “The Church Today: Changes Since Vatican II,” “Explanation and Walkthrough of the Mass,” “Explanation of Reconciliation,” and “The Creed: What Catholics Believe.” There’s ample time for questions and answers.
“(Those who attend) are as different as our fingerprints, but the commonality is they all hunger for the Eucharist,” said CRH volunteer John Robb.
Robb said one of the benefits of CRH is it helps clear up misconceptions some might have about the faith.
“The problem is a lot of people think Confession is a big, huge hurdle when it’s really not,” Robb said. “That’s why the program is really helpful – to talk through misconceptions about their faith. Once they get the basic questions answered, it’s one of those ‘hit yourself upside the forehead moments.’ ”
Robb can relate firsthand to those who attend the program. He had been away from the Church as a young adult before slowly returning back in 1982 thanks to an invite from a Little Flower Catholic Church parishioner.
In 2008, Robb received a Master of Arts in Theology from Spring Hill College and didn’t want the education to go to waste.
He and the late Deacon Charles Fontana were looking at ways at bringing inactive Catholics back.
“One day just by happenstance, my wife is on a business trip to Montgomery, passed by Holy Spirit Parish and sees a big sign out front, ‘Catholics Returning Home,’ with a phone number. She called me and said ‘you’ll never believe what I just saw.’ ”
Robb said the program was already being offered in Montgomery and Dothan, and he helped organize it in the Mobile and Baldwin deaneries.
“Catholics Returning Home” helped Ann DeBrule return to full communion with the Church.
While she regularly attended Mass, DeBrule didn’t receive the sacraments because she thought her marriage outside the Church and ensuing divorce prevented her from doing so.
After 30 or so years of not receiving the Eucharist at Mass, she called Robb and it was discovered she needed to make a good Confession. She then attended “Catholics Returning Home” in 2011 to help reaffirm anything she may have forgotten.
“I’m so glad I did it,” DeBrule said. “Sometimes you need that person to knock you over the ledge and go.”
Now DeBrule is an active member of Christ the King Parish in Daphne.
“What’s really great is when they are serving at Mass, whether a lector, usher, Eucharistic minister,” Robb said. “I see that a lot. You know the 80-20 rule (where 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work)? the people coming back tend to be within the 20 percent. They don’t come back and sit in the back of the Church.”
DeBrule also had a little extra push from her aunt, Sr. Antia Thurley, V.H.M.
“She stayed after me and stayed after me and stayed after me — please get back in the Church,” DeBrule explained. “She called me literally to her death bed to remind me. She had them call me from work to come to see her. She didn’t speak to me. She just looked at me with those eyes – ‘You know what I want, do not forget.’ ”
“I know my aunt’s in Heaven going ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
— For more information regarding “Catholics Returning Home,” contact John Robb at 251-605-9170 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By ROB HERBST