Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

Vallerie Inocencio recently completed a busy junior year at Atlee High School. In addition to her studies, she was a member of the track team and held a part-time job. Add time with her friends and her parents, and her days were full.

But in the midst of that busyness, she made another commitment; she entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond.

“There never was a moment I didn’t want to be there,” she said.

Starting last September, and through this past Lent, Inocencio came to the parish’s 11:15 Mass each Sunday morning, and participated in the formation that led to her receiving the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and Eucharist — at the Easter Vigil, March 31.

RCIA was not just another item on her “to do” list.

“I wanted to learn more and more (about Catholicism); I wanted to get a lot closer to God,” she said, noting she “was always questioning about Catholicism because I didn’t know much about it.”

RCIA not only helped her learn about faith and the Church, and “made me feel closer to God,” Inocencio said, but her nervousness about coming to church evaporated once she became part of the program.

“Right from the beginning, entering the church, I already felt accepted into it, and it felt like a big family,” she said.

She didn’t walk alone. Her parents, Mitch and Ferrie Carlsos, committed to RCIA and journeyed with her. Mitch, baptized as a Baptist early in life, entered into full communion, while Ferrie, who had been away from the Church since early childhood, was confirmed during the Easter Vigil.

Mitch was familiar with the Church — his grandmother was Catholic — but he didn’t attend any church regularly.

“I was sort of on the outside looking in,” he said. “But there was always a longing in me.”

Mitch said when he and Ferrie married, they talked about attending church, but they went through a “sampling other faiths.”

“But we knew the Catholic Church was the answer,” he said of what they learned from that experience. “I never could put my finger on what was missing until RCIA. I feel it is where I belonged.”

For Ferrie, the impetus for reclaiming her Catholic faith came when her brother and sister-in-law’s baby was baptized.

“There was a spiritual family at Our Lady of Lourdes. They were really welcoming; it just felt right,” she said.

Through RCIA, Ferrie was able to “feel her way around” as she refamiliarized herself with Catholicism

“It was helpful in learning about the Church,” she said. “It was a gradual process of easing back into it.”

As for their daughter taking the initiative to join the Church, Mitch spoke proudly about Inocencio’s decision.

“At 17, if I was given that opportunity, there’s less than 1 percent chance I would have done it,” he said with a laugh. “It’d be so easy to go around with the crowd, it’d be easy to delay this. It takes courage to take on a major commitment. I’m as proud as I can be.”

Steven Cottam, youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes, asked Jessie Naloney to be Inocencio’s sponsor. While Naloney said she wasn’t sure how she’d do as a first-time sponsor, she accepted the invitation. Not only did RCIA “refresh what I knew” about Catholicism, she said, but she got to see the faith come alive in Vallerie.

“When I talk to Vallerie, she’s excited to live her faith; she excited and on fire with God,” Naloney said.

According to Ferrie, parents and daughter are experiencing a difference in their family life following RCIA and their entrance/return to the Church.

“I see God at work every day,” she said. “We are more prayerful. It has been a calming process for us.”

Cattam saw how the family engaged with each other through the RCIA process.

“Despite their different backgrounds, they have all walked alongside one another through their formation process,” he said. “(They celebrated) Easter as a family united in faith.”