“When I started going to church with him, it was a completely different experience for me,” recalls Olivia. Even though nobody knew her, she felt welcomed. It was everything she thought church should be: warm, loving and inviting. “That first day I left Mass, I knew in my heart I would become Catholic some day.”
She began going to church regularly with Chris and asked him a lot of questions about the faith. In the beginning the questions were simple, like “Why do you kneel?” and “Why do you stand?” Then the questions turned to deeper subjects like beliefs about the saints and the Eucharist.
When Olivia and Chris got engaged in 2006, Olivia considered becoming Catholic. However, she didn’t jump into it right away. “I didn’t want to become Catholic because I was getting married. I wanted my heart to be fully into my decision, free of any outside influences.” She admired the faith she saw in Chris’s family and knew that after she and Chris were married, she would want to build their family upon that same rock of faith.
Olivia and Chris were married in the Catholic Church on April 12, 2008. “It was absolutely beautiful,” Olivia says. “I remember reading my vows and thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t Catholic yet, because it felt like I was. It was then, at that moment, that I realized that I needed to make my conversion a priority in my life.”
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Olivia Brey
Parish: St. Francis of Assisi, Manitowoc
Favorite saint: St. Francis of Assisi
Words to live by: “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” — George Iles
After they returned from their honeymoon, Olivia and Chris began to serve the parish community by preparing food for the high school teens in the LifeTeen program every week. It was through this service that Olivia met Fr. Daniel Schuster and discussed entering into the RCIA process.
“Fr. Schuster was a really great person for me to learn from and lean on,” Olivia relates. “It was easy for me to want to be Catholic, but to actualize it was more difficult because my whole family was Lutheran.” When Olivia told her family about her decision, she found them to be “beyond supportive.”
Olivia started the RCIA process in October of 2008. “Through RCIA, I not only found a lot of answers about the church, but also about myself, what I wanted out of life and how I could make God a part of all my decisions,” says Olivia.
Olivia was confirmed Catholic on April 11, 2009. The next week at Mass, she and Chris had a “mind-blowing experience.” Olivia believes that if she had gone through RCIA at any other point in her life, she wouldn’t have been prepared for it. “There was this electric energy going through both of us the whole time. I had never prayed deeper or felt closer to God.” Olivia’s faith soared and her prayer life deepened.
Then the bottom fell out. On June 24, 2009, Chris unexpectedly died.
Olivia struggled through her mourning and prepared for Chris’s funeral. “That’s when I realized how Catholic I really was,” she says. “It was very important to me that Chris have his last rites and that he would have a Catholic funeral and burial. I wanted to do everything to prepare Chris to be taken into Jesus’ arms.” The faith in which Olivia was confirmed two months earlier carried her through the depths of her loss.
“There’s a point where you can choose to turn away from God because he took everything away, or you can wrap yourself in Jesus because he’s the only person who can understand the pain,” Olivia says. “I felt Jesus holding me while I struggled with the difficulties I was going through, because I knew he had suffered, too.”
Olivia’s faith has become an essential part of her life. She still volunteers her time and talent for the teenagers at LifeTeen. Her daily prayer has become a “very centering and grounding part” of her life. Most importantly, her faith has taught her to be more conscious of the bigger picture in life.
“When I have those moments where I really realize what Jesus did for us, it becomes easier for me to just live my life in the present,” says Olivia. “It has been such a beautiful experience to really be at rock bottom and see myself being carried by something I can’t see and can’t touch.”