Meet three of the Catholic Church’s newest faithful

Moira Cullings

As we approach Easter, catechumens and candidates throughout the Archdiocese of Denver are joining or coming back to the Catholic Church.

The Denver Catholic spoke with three men and women who have answered this call — a man who grew up attending a non-denominational Christian church but became an atheist, a Catholic who came back to the Church, and a former Lutheran.

Their stories of faith are different, but their common love of Catholicism brings a fresh perspective and new joy to the Church.

Candidate discovers ‘overwhelming sense of security and family’ in Catholic Church

Chase Carlson was only 13 years old when he started using drugs, and he didn’t stop until he was almost 22.

“I’ve overdosed twice,” said Chase. “I’m not dead. I’ve had a lot of things happen that should’ve killed me, and they didn’t.”

God had a greater purpose for his life.

After battling with drugs and leaving Christianity, Chase Carlson will enter the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Lakewood. (Photo By Moira Cullings)

Although Chase, a chef at Il Posto in Denver, had been baptized at eight years old, his family wasn’t devoutly religious. They attended a non-denominational Christian church, but as he grew up, Chase stopped believing in God entirely.

It wasn’t until he attended Alcoholics Anonymous for the second time that Chase opened his heart to believing in the possibility of a higher power. He began reminiscing on his upbringing as a Christian.

“I was still super adamant against religion,” he said. “You see the news — it’s pretty easy to judge the Catholic Church.”

But his boss at the time, who was a convert to Catholicism, asked Chase to go to Mass with him.

“That sounds a little intense,” Chase thought at the time.

But he was intrigued, and for the second time in his life, he stepped into a Catholic church to attend Mass. This time, he didn’t walk out halfway through the celebration.

Right away, “I had this overwhelming sense of security and family,” he said.

“I walked in. ‘I have tattoos on my face, on my hands,’” he thought.

‘“I’m going to get looked at weird.’”

But to his surprise, Chase had the opposite experience.

“At the end of Mass, all of these people are coming up. They’re shaking my hand. They’re like, ‘We’ve never seen you here before. It’s so nice to meet you.’

“For the first time in 10 years, I felt like I had a positive place to be, and I felt some sort of overcoming of God in my life.”

Chase started going to Mass every week.

“I really wanted to be a part of this,” he said. “I really wanted to learn more about it, and I wanted to understand the ritualistic aspect and where it comes from and why it is the way that it is.”

“I wanted to develop a relationship with God, instead of knowing that he exists and [simply] wanting him in my life. That’s how I found RCIA.”

Before starting his journey of becoming a member of the Catholic Church, Chase was still skeptical about some aspects of Catholicism, particularly because several of the Catholics he knew growing up claimed to be religious, but didn’t embody the Church’s teachings with their actions.

“I believe in God, but not that one,” said Chase. “That’s not what I think God’s about.”

Chase put those feelings aside and focused on the truth of the faith.

“Actually going to Mass, it was a whole different experience,” he said. “It just felt right.”

Chase used Google to find an RCIA program that met on Wednesday nights, which is how he found Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Lakewood.

“I love this place,” he said. “I got brought here for a reason.”

Chase has found help through both his sponsor and Christine Sullivan, who works in Adult Formation and Christian Initiation for the parish.

“Both of them were very much open-minded and really helped push me along the way,” he said.

Just like lifelong Catholics, Chase has faced challenges when learning about the Holy Trinity and frustrations when his prayers aren’t answered in the way he hopes them to be.

His favorite part of the faith is the ritualistic aspects.

“I love the sit, stand, kneel,” he said. “I love the prayers that we go through every time during Mass. I love the passion that comes out of the priest. It’s amazing to see so much energy and light come out of these guys.”

Chase has also been inspired by the universality and history of the Church.

“This is something that’s been happening for thousands of years,” he said.

“On Sundays, I always think about the fact that every hour of all Sunday long, everybody all over the world is hearing the same thing that I just heard in their own language.

“The teaching is the same for the day everywhere in the world, and it’s so cool to me that while I’m sitting there, somebody else is sitting at Mass on the other side of the world hearing the exact same thing.”

Chase is excited to become a member of the Catholic Church this Easter, and to feel fully a part of the faith he’s grown to love.

“I needed positive people to be around,” he said. “And I finally found somewhere to make that happen.”

After father’s death, sign brings Lutheran home to Catholic Church

When Lauren Josephson’s father passed away on Oct. 26, 2018, she traveled back to her home state of Pennsylvania to be with her family and help with the funeral arrangements.

Just three days after she returned home to Denver, something unexpected happened.

“A seminarian and a priest showed up to my door,” said Lauren.

Lauren Josephson grew up Lutheran but always felt a pull toward the Catholic faith. She was received into the Church at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Denver April 7. (Photo by Moira Cullings).

The two men asked her if they could pray for any of her intentions, and, unbeknownst to them, it was the sign Lauren needed.

Lauren had been considering joining the Catholic Church long before they came but hadn’t committed to it yet.

“There’s no greater sign than a seminarian and a priest showing up at your door,” she said.

Little did Lauren know that just a short time later, Austin Habash, that seminarian, would be her RCIA sponsor.

Lauren grew up Lutheran in a rural town. Her family sometimes attended Catholic Mass out of convenience, so Lauren was always familiar with the Catholic Church.

“I always felt most comfortable at Mass,” she said.

Lauren attended Mount St. Mary College and Seminary for two years before transferring to Colorado State. The Catholic faith had “always been on my radar,” she said.

In her 20s, Lauren focused on her career, and in her 30s, she settled down and started a family.

She had been attending Mass at various local churches up until the point when she received a visit from Austin and Father Geronimo Gonzalez. That experience solidified her decision to become Catholic, and after going through the RCIA process, Lauren received First Communion and confirmation on April 7.

“I’m just so excited to have gotten to this point, because it’s been so long,” she said.

One of the things Lauren loves most about the Catholic faith is having saints to intercede for her.

“To me, sometimes it’s easier to pray to a friend to ask for something if you’re in trouble,” she said. “The saints are incredible. Sometimes, they can be slightly more relatable depending on what challenges you’re going through.”

Lauren is grateful for the support of Laurel Eyers, who runs the RCIA program at St. Vincent de Paul.

“She’s amazing as a teacher,” she said. “She knows so much, and her love for God is infectious.”

She is also thankful Austin was her sponsor.

“He’s so amazing, so warm and welcoming,” she said. “He’s given me so many books to read. I don’t think you can get any better than a soon-to-be priest.”

Although the sex abuse crisis hits close to home since many of Lauren’s friends from Pennsylvania have been impacted by the state’s Grand Jury Report, Lauren sees more good in the Church than evil.

“Any company or organization always has some bad media,” she said. “There’s bad seeds, and I’m still understanding how it was dealt with.”

But Lauren is convinced this was the greatest time for her to enter the Church.

“I feel like now more than ever, there needs to be a better face and influence,” she said.

Lauren is excited to officially call herself Catholic.

“I always felt like the Catholic Church is the one church where all you have to do is love and ask to be forgiven,” she said. “That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

‘God’s trying to tell me something’

When Steven Sisneros was about to receive confirmation on March 30, he was anxious — until he began to pray.

“When we got to the church, I was a little nervous,” he said. “I had gone to confession twice in the last 20 days — more than I had in the last 20 years. I didn’t feel guilt in my heart, so I was open to receiving the Lord.

Steven Sisneros was raised Catholic but grew apart from his faith after his teenage years. He came back to the faith and was confirmed  at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Northglenn March 30. (Photo provided)

“I closed my eyes, I began to pray and then I felt the love in the room of the sponsors and the children’s excitement,” he said. “I prayed some more, and God just told me, ‘It’s going to be ok. I love you.’”

Steven’s journey up until that moment was full of ups and downs — from going through the motions to becoming passionate about and dedicated to his faith.

Growing up Catholic, Steven attended Catechism class as a child, but as he got older, his mom gave him the choice to continue going or not.

“At the time, as a kid you’d think it was a burden,” he said. “We’d try to find ways to get out of it. So I opted out, which I regret now as an adult.”

It wasn’t until years later when religion came back into the picture for Steven.

“When I went to college, I was kind of lost,” he said. “I started going back to church on a regular basis with a friend of mine.”

But when he moved to New Mexico, he didn’t know any Catholics and didn’t belong to a church, so he stopped going.

“It will always be there,” he thought. “So, I can go back. Or maybe I don’t want to go back.”

While in New Mexico, Steven met his wife, Irene, who was also Catholic. But the couple didn’t go to Mass together until right before they got married.

“We really didn’t know where we stood,” said Steven.

The couple had two boys but still weren’t regularly practicing their faith. It wasn’t until Steven’s best friend asked him to be his son’s godfather when Steven’s interest in the Church peaked.

“I thought about it, and then I took it seriously,” said Steven. “If I’m going to do this, I need to do it the right way.”

Steven began taking classes to learn more about the faith and attended Mass periodically. Right after his first godson was baptized, he had another request to be a godfather — this time from his cousin.

“I was like, ‘God’s trying to tell me something,’” said Steven. “I need to be in these children’s lives in one capacity or another.”

At this point, Irene and Steven had moved to Colorado and began attending confirmation classes at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Northglenn.

“It’s been enlightening,” said Steven. “It’s sad to say this, but I’m glad I’ve done it at a more mature age than as an adolescent because I really can have a better grasp of what I need to know now, as opposed to when I would’ve been younger and going through the motions.”

Steven said that although he was nervous before receiving confirmation, he heard God’s call clearly and was ready to accept it.

“Going through confirmation was heart-opening,” said Steven. “It makes me more aware of what I’m doing and how I’m speaking to people and [makes me] appreciate the voice of the Lord when we’re at Mass.”

Steven is grateful for the staff at Immaculate Heart who have helped him on his faith journey, particularly Director of Faith Formation Calysta Kohlrust and the parish priests.

“They really give you an outlet to have a relationship with God on your own,” he said.

And despite the negative media attention the Catholic Church has received, particularly with the sex abuse scandal, Steven sees the bigger picture.

“The negativity that comes through the media or through people you encounter is all isolated incidences,” he said.

“Bad things happen to good people every single day. The media will do whatever they can to make sure that if something bad happens, they’re going to put that in the forefront.”

Steven is now on the path to be a strong role model for the young people God has placed in his life.

“It took me a lot of sinning and a lot of soul seeking to really come back to the Church and understand that as a man, I need to be an example to my children and my godchildren,” he said.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”