From RCIA to Catechist: A Conversation with Peter Costello

I grew up in Mankato, the oldest of three boys. We were members of a small Lutheran church in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), headquartered in Mankato and which Bethany Lutheran College (BLC) is associated. My father has worked for Bethany for 40+ years, nearing retirement in the next year or two. He was active in volunteering in our church, on the school board and different church committees. My mother used to do daycare for a few friends and church families until my youngest brother started school. She is still active in the church choir. I went to K-8 Lutheran grade school, Lutheran High School and Bethany for my first two years of college.

When I was ten years old, I had my first experience of God answering prayer. It was a very simple prayer, during an at-bat in a baseball game. The answer came immediately and proved a better outcome than I ever expected. I had another of these answered prayer experiences later in my young adult life. From these moments on, I never questioned the existence of God, only His plan for my life.

In 2003, I moved to Minneapolis to go to the U of MN for mechanical engineering. After a year or two, I realized I was missing that regular occurrence of daily life and community connected to faith. At this time, I found Christian talk radio and books by some Reformed Christian authors that were intellectual and philosophical to stimulate my engineering mind but that also taught a way to follow Christ and live a Christian life that I had been lacking from my Lutheran upbringing.

After completing college, joining the Army Reserve and returning home from a year deployment to Iraq, I was looking for work and a living situation in the Cities. I met (my wife) Kelly through a mutual friend at a Gopher football game in 2009. She was living downtown Minneapolis and was a regular Mass attendee at the Basilica of St. Mary. I started going to Mass with her on occasion while we were dating. Early Fall of 2011, we became engaged. Kelly asked if I would consider going through the Basilica's RCIA program as a way of getting involved in the community, making new mutual friends and as a sort of marriage-prep scenario as we would be getting married in her previous parish in Mitchell, South Dakota. I agreed to it as a learning experience for myself, and because I did not have to commit to joining the Catholic Church at the end of it. I joined RCIA as a candidate, and Kelly joined as a sponsor.

Through that RCIA year, a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions I had about the Catholic Church were answered. I learned that the teachings of the Catholic Church were not only biblical, but also consistent from the early Church forward. However, with about three weeks left before Easter, I did not feel called to join the Church at that time. There were still a few teachings that I did not believe to be correct, or that I could not commit to in good conscience.

What was the process like for you/ what your biggest questions?

What I liked most about the RCIA process was the small group intimacy and discussion. Though nearly fifty candidates and catechumens were in RCIA at the Basilica, we were most often split into groups of three or four plus sponsors for topic discussions. At OLP, the most I have seen is four at one time. The other thing about the process is that it is treated as a journey that does not end with Confirmation but that continues after entering into full communion in the Catholic Church. Therefore, there was also no pressure to enter the Catholic Church if you were not ready at the end of that year.

Though many of my first objections about the Catholic Church were answered that year, my biggest obstacles were the specifically Catholic teachings about Mary, such as her assumption, perpetual virginity, and most especially her immaculate conception. As I worked through those obstacles, I came to believe that because many of the Church's other teachings are so intertwined with its theology of Mary that I decided if I could trust the Church, then the Holy Spirit would eventually lead me to accepting all of its teachings, even those I was unsure of.

What was the most powerful moment for you in your RCIA journey? 

I consider my RCIA journey to be about three years long, from when I started RCIA with the Basilica to when I came into full communion with OLP. My first memorable moment was at the fall retreat of the Basilica's RCIA. We listened to the five RCIA team leaders tell their faith journey stories. One of the leaders was a Presbyterian convert. His journey shared similarities with mine. One major influence he pointed to was Scott Hahn. About a year later, I would start reading and listening to Scott Hahn's works. Another year later, I would finish his book A Father Who Keeps His Promises at which point I knew I would join the Catholic Church. Along with other books, writings from the early church fathers, Relevant Radio, Catholic friends and many personal experiences, Scott Hahn book-ended that major year of my journey of conversion. Soon after, I inquired about starting RCIA at OLP. During RCIA here, at OLP, the most powerful moment would come during the half-day retreat we did on Palm Sunday weekend that concluded with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Having peace after going through my first ever Confession gave me clarity to see the changes that God had made in me and in my outlook toward the Catholic Church over the previous two years.

How did you decide to be an RCIA Catechist?

Short answer, Joy Biedrzycki asked, so I had to say yes. A year after I was confirmed, Joy was preparing for another RCIA class. I think another catechist had stepped back, and she wanted another male to be part of the team. I enjoyed both my RCIA experiences so much, and I believed sharing my knowledge and faith journey could help others experiencing their own questions about God, faith and the Catholic Church. After being a part of this ministry for six years, I love being able to get to know new people and have meaningful discussions around important questions that they, that we all have.

What would be your advice to anyone who on the fence about starting the RCIA process?

If you're not Catholic, if you were baptized but were maybe never confirmed, or if you've been Catholic your whole life, if you have questions about the Catholic faith, ask. Come find Anne Marie, Elizabeth, myself or your closest Catholic friend. We would love to answer or help you find answers for any questions you might have. If you are thinking about joining the Church, the RCIA process offers a way to join with others who also have questions but are feeling led into the Catholic Church. We put no pressure on you to commit to joining the Church. The Holy Spirit calls and leads us individually at different paces and different life stages into communion with the Catholic Church. As catechists, we act as guides and enjoy sharing that journey with you. And if you have been Catholic your whole life or perhaps only a few months, if you have faith questions or feel called to share your faith journey with others, consider being a sponsor for a new RCIA candidate.

Elizabeth Pike, Director of Music & Liturgy