Father-daughter share faith journey supported by pastor, parish, school
Meet Jason and Zoey. A dad-daughter duo whose journey took them to some unlikely places, including into the arms of Christ.
We met in October, as a few Serra Club members worked to create a sacred space amidst the cameras, teleprompters and anchors’ desks at WOWT for the filming of that week’s Mass for shut-ins. Father Walter Nolte, pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha, arrived with our altar server and her father.
It was clear this priest and spirited sixth-grader were pals, and Dad looked on with gratitude. Jason and Zoey were very new to the Catholic faith, and Father Nolte was an inspiring companion.
A few years earlier, Jason, retired from the Navy, moved to northwest Omaha with his young daughter. A single dad, he needed to find a daycare for Zoey. Friends suggested the program affiliated with St. Bernard School. Zoey wasn’t that impressed; it wasn’t new or fancy. Plus, they weren’t Catholic.
Yet, Jason admits that the relatively low cost clinched his decision. As the year progressed, they both discovered a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere, and Zoey met her first Nebraska friend. Father and daughter grew increasingly fond of the school and decided Zoey would remain at St. Bernard for elementary school, too.
Almost immediately, and to Jason’s surprise, Zoey began to announce: "Daddy, I want to become a Catholic." And for three years, he said "no."
He knew this was a lifelong commitment, and he wanted her to understand the meaning of her request. So during those years, she joined her classmates as they prepared for the sacraments, but she didn’t receive them. Jason and Zoey attended Mass regularly even though Jason felt a bit embarrassed, not knowing when to sit or stand.
Eventually, Jason realized that Zoey really was grounded and engaged in her faith and wasn’t wanting to become Catholic so she could wear a pretty white dress, get her hair done and be like her friends. It became clear that she loved the gift of her faith.
So in April 2015, Father Nolte baptized Zoey. She received her first Communion. She became a Catholic. A photo captures Zoey walking down the church’s aisle, seemingly into the arms of Christ. It was what she wanted for herself – and for her dad.
That very day, she informed Father Nolte, "Daddy will be Catholic next year." This was news to Jason.
In June, the calls started as parishioners and Father Nolte invited Jason to RCIA. Jason said Zoey was nosey enough to interpret the calls’ intent and offered her own encouragement. He finally agreed and Zoey’s prophesy came true as her dad was confirmed early this year, with Father Nolte presiding and Zoey as the proud altar server.
Father Nolte has been an important guide to the pair. Their friendship was clear that night in the makeshift sanctuary. Yet what touched me most was how proud Jason and Zoey were for the gift they had given to the other; he unintentionally, and she with every intention.
As we enter this Thanksgiving season, let us recall the gift of our own faith and thank God and those who helped us walk into the arms of Christ.
Shannan Brommer is director of the archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.