CHARLESTON—Craig Monnell, of North Myrtle Beach, spent a very special evening with his family on April 4.
During the Easter Vigil at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, his wife Kim Monnell stood beside him as he became a Catholic. His son Bryan was an altar server at the Mass.
For engaged couple Anna Blizzard and Jeremy Hargis, that same night was a milestone on their journey toward marriage as they both entered the faith at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.
These three people are now known as neophytes — new believers in the Church.
The Mass of the Neophytes, which will be May 24 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, is in honor of them.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrates the annual liturgy for people who received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and/or Communion at the Easter Vigil.
According to diocesan tradition, the Mass is held each year on Pentecost Sunday, which marks both the end of the Easter season and the day when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the disciples.
There is no special rite or event during the liturgy. It is simply a chance for the neophytes to worship with others and receive the prayers and support of the bishop and their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Becoming Catholic was a logical choice for Monnell. He attended Methodist churches as a child but it had been decades since he felt connected. That changed 20 years ago when he married Kim.
“I called myself a ‘practicing non- Catholic’ because I attended Mass with her every week, and we have been very involved in my son’s activities at Holy Trinity School,” Monnell said. “I finally realized about a year ago it was really finally time for me to become Catholic.”
Monnell initially wondered if he would be able to balance RCIA with work and family activities, but quickly discovered the weekly classes opened a whole new world for him. He especially enjoyed learning more about Mary and her role in the life of the Church.
“It was a very good experience, an eye-opening one,” he said. “It really allowed me to be introspective about my own life, to think more about what I can do to help serve God and serve the Church.”
Blizzard and Hargis grew up Baptist, but in recent years had distanced themselves from the denomination. Hargis said he became frustrated because some churches he attended seemed more centered around the personality of the pastor than universal Christian teachings.
Blizzard, meanwhile, has been an Irish dancer for years and started reading books about Irish history and culture, which led to an interest in the faith.
The couple attended other churches but their search ended two years ago at a Catholic church in Augusta. Attending that first Mass together changed everything.
“I really felt like I was in a holy place,” Hargis said. “As I learned more about the Church, it meant a lot to know that the Mass I attended here was the same as … the other side of the world. I felt like the Catholic Church was a real family.”
They decided to attend RCIA at St. Mary Help of Christians.
Blizzard said she was moved to learn about Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, and receiving it for the first time at the vigil was a life-changing moment.
Miscellany file photo: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrates the Mass of the Neophytes in this 2014 file photo. This year’s Mass will be May 24 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.