As Briony Waite sat outside of the University of Maryland Chapel on a fall day after class, she thought to herself, “There has to be some reason why I am here.”
After sitting there for about an hour, wondering why she felt so drawn to that spot, Waite, a junior at the University of Maryland, texted the first friend she could think of who was religious, asking, “If I talk to God now, is He listening?”
Her friend responded, “Yes,” and Waite, who had never thought about praying before that moment, added, “Even if I don’t feel like I deserve it?”
“He’s always listening,” her friend said, “Especially to people who don’t think they deserve it.”
Waite, who is double majoring in psychology and criminal justice, is now one of the 1,118 people in the Archdiocese of Washington who will enter the Catholic Church this Easter, after she completes an accelerated version of RCIA.
After she texted her friend that day in early October, the two girls prayed together and went to Mass together that Sunday. Waite e-mailed Lisa Lytwyn, a campus minister at the University of Maryland’s Catholic Student Center, to find out more about the Catholic faith.
The two met up and talked, and Lytwyn told Waite that she would need to wait until the next school year to enter RCIA, since the class had been running for about two months already. This initially didn’t bother Waite, because she was still just getting started learning about the faith.
But after a few more meetings with Lytwyn, she began to think that was too long to wait, because she wanted to be able to participate in the Catholic Student Center community as a full Catholic during her last year in college. So, Lytwyn offered to meet with her personally and catch her up on two months worth of lessons in three weeks.
“I was so amazed she would offer to do that,” Waite said. “…Lisa is so crazy busy, she has things going on all the time, but she didn’t hesitate to take time and sit down with me and talk about it.”
Waite went home to Massachusetts for winter break and planned to decide whether she was going to join the RCIA class when she returned to school. Since no one in her family practices any faith, Waite went to Mass by herself, and began to question whether she was doing the right thing when she saw the congregation full of families going to Mass together.
She prayed that God would show her if she was making the right decision. Then, one day, as she was sitting in her car waiting to go into daily Mass, she picked up her Bible to read. When she went into Mass, the Gospel passage was the same one she had just read.
“That was kind of…not even a gentle nudge,” Waite said with a laugh.
Over the break, Waite also talked to one of her friends from home whom she hadn’t spoken to in a while, and found out that just two days before she had thought about praying while sitting outside of the chapel, her friend had felt an urge to pray for her, and did.
“We hadn’t been talking at all around that time, and she just somehow thought of me in that moment and it was right when I needed God,” Waite said. “…Those two things together; I couldn’t turn my back on that.”
Still, Waite was concerned about what would happen when she became the only member of her family who is Catholic.
“I was really concerned going into this that I was going to have my Catholic life and then my other life…that weren’t really going to be connected,” Waite said.
Waite brought this concern up to Lytwyn, who told her, “All you have to do is focus on making Jesus the center and everything else is going to fall into place.”
When Waite is baptized at the Easter Vigil this year, she is going to be surrounded by her friends, many of whom she said have not stuck with their faith in college and were confused why she would make this choice. She did not originally expect them to go, but she sees their desire to attend to be confirmation that her faith can blend with the rest of her life.
“The fact that they’re all coming anyway and still sticking by me with it makes me think it really is all going to fall into place,” Waite said.
Waite went through a time where she felt angry with her parents for not raising her with faith, and frustrated that so many Catholics who are raised in the faith don’t appreciate it now. Over time, she has come to accept it and hopes her conversion will help the rest of her family eventually come to the same place.
“All I can do is pray for them and try to use my experience to make that change for them,” Waite said.
At one point, Waite was also angry with God, because she felt that He had left her for most of her life. She asked Father Rob Walsh, the chaplain of the Catholic Student Center, whether Jesus died for her, too, even though she wasn’t baptized yet. Father Walsh told her yes, He died for her too, and Waite realized, “He has always wanted me, and now I am just turning to Him.”
Before she started RCIA, she would stop and appreciate the weather on a nice day or follow her conscience, without knowing that God was behind those things, she said.
“I didn’t know I was following Him before, but I was. Even before I went to the chapel or texted my friend or came to RCIA,” she said. “It’s not that He ever didn’t love me, and not that He ever didn’t want me, but now I recognize that.”