Jen and Aaron Gutgsell (Left); Kaely Piller and Adam Swallow (Right). COURTESY PHOTOS

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Family a key factor in drawing recent converts to the Catholic faith

Family ties are the ties that bind – especially, it seems, when it comes to faith.

Two people who entered into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter described family as the key factor in their journey to the faith.

For Adam Swallow, who received the Eucharist and confirmation at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Omaha during the Easter Vigil, it was the example and influence of his fiancée and sponsor, Kaely Piller, and her large Catholic family that drew him.

“Kaely was the biggest inspiration for me, just because of the way she talked about (her faith), and the way she was so passionate about it,” he said.

Spending time with the Piller family was also an immersion in Catholic community, Swallow said. “It’s cool to watch them and learn. … (It’s) just the way they carried themselves, especially Kaely’s mother.”

He noted her attendance at daily Mass, and how she lived her faith in her relationships with family members. “I saw what it did for her,” and it was very motivating, he said.

SOMETHING MISSING

For Jen Gutgsell, who was baptized Catholic as a child but was not raised in the faith, it was the sense of something missing in her current family’s life together that prompted her and husband, Aaron, to recognize the need for God and a faith community.

She recalled occasionally attending Mass with her grandmother at St. Rose Church in Omaha and the impression it left.

“The Eucharist was always a big part of it,” she said, “and that he’s (Jesus) with you at all times. It just was always something that felt deep to me.”

Her husband had been Catholic, and he even has two uncles who are priests of the archdiocese – Father Michael Gutgsell, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Springfield, and Father Stephen Gutgsell, administrator of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun.

But during an earlier marriage that ended in divorce, he had drifted away from the faith.

“He wanted to go back to the faith he was brought up in,” she said, “and so, as a family, we decided that this is the path that we want to take.”

So, as a couple, they attended Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) with Aaron as her sponsor, and their two youngest children attended Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC) at St. Columbkille Parish.

As for two older children by Aaron’s previous marriage – one will begin RCIC in the fall and the other is still deciding.

The couple also took the necessary steps to resolve the issues with Aaron’s previous marriage. He rejoined the Church and their marriage was convalidated at St. Columbkille on March 13.

And during the Easter Vigil at St. Columbkille, Gutgsell received the Eucharist and confirmation, and their two youngest children were baptized, with the older of the two also receiving first Communion.

A STRONG FOUNDATION

Gutgsell said sharing one faith as a couple is critical to a stable marriage, and joining the church was “the missing piece.”

“When you and your spouse share a faith, I think it makes (the marriage) stronger,” she said.

For Swallow, building a strong faith foundation for marriage and a future family was also important in his decision to become Catholic.

“When you’re going through struggles, you’re having a disagreement, you always have your faith to fall back on,” he said. “It makes a stronger relationship.”

He also noted the need for children to experience consistent faith practices within the family. “I think it’s important that we’re both guiding them in the same direction, rather than one of us pulling them one way, and the other pulling them in the other.”

A NEW LIFE IN FAITH

Swallow, who was baptized and grew up in the Methodist Church, had little awareness of what the Catholic Church teaches.

But, between his fiancée, her parents, five siblings and their spouses, and 14 nieces and nephews, Swallow found plenty of resources for learning – even from the youngsters.

As Catholic school students, they talked with him about saints they were studying, and through those discussions, he settled on his confirmation name: Joseph. It’s an especially appropropriate choice since he had recently become a carpenter himself and will be married on May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

And Gutgsell, who previously practiced no religion, now watches a televised Mass every day before leaving for work and is striving to develop a vibrant prayer life.

“Just finding the time to sit myself down and pray, that’s something I’m working on, but I feel it’s going to grow tremendously the rest of my life,” she said.

She also appreciates her new faith community at St. Columbkille. “Having that extra community where people believe the same things that we do is helpful,” she said.