We continue this week with an introduction to the women and men who will become fully initiated Catholics for the first time at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, April 16, at 8 PM at St. Mary’s. Today, we meet two of our catechumens, a term that means people who are not only new Catholics, but also new Christians, being baptized for the first time as followers of Jesus Christ.
MaKenzie Philo was raised in Amsterdam by a Catholic mom and Lutheran dad. Both of her parents were from devout families. Her mom was a descendant of Italian immigrants and was raised going to weekly Mass, and her dad was the youngest of seven kids and was named after the Lutheran ministers his mother most admired. They felt the most honest way to raise MaKenzie was to allow her to learn about their religions (and the world of religion beyond) and then allow her to choose. So, they didn’t baptize her or direct her toward any one religion.
MaKenzie and her husband Stephen (grandson of longtime parishioner Terry Collyer, who was raised in Montréal, and has lived Glens Falls since the 1940s) baptized their infant daughter Madisyn at St. Mary’s this past August. The timing of Madisyn’s baptism and the death of MaKenzie’s dad in 2020 caused her to reflect on her faith.
“I have spent my whole life studying different religions and wanting to be Catholic,” she said.
“I feel that I am already a part of the Catholic Church,” she added. It feels almost as if receiving the sacraments is the outward formality to express what’s happening inside her heart and soul.
When MaKenzie is baptized, confirmed and receives Eucharist for the first time, Grandmère Terry will be by her side as her sponsor (and inspiration).
Ilona Reilly can barely talk about her journey toward the Catholic Church without crying. Through a friend’s invitation and a miracle of God, and signing up for a Small Group this past Fall (during the “Living with Purpose” series we had at St. Mary’s), Ilona realized that her true home was in the Catholic Church.
Ilona was raised in the former U.S.S.R., what is now modern Kazakhstan, where religion was forbidden. Her father was secretly baptized an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Her mother, as the Soviets required, was an atheist. So Ilona was without a faith.
Her spirit was always drawn to the English language and Western culture. In movies, she often saw Catholic scenes and images and was drawn in by them. In December 2019, she had a life changing visit to the Vatican. “Seeing [Pope Francis] interacting with people, witnessing how humble he is… it still makes me tear up. That’s when I seriously started wondering if I should get baptized,” she said. “That experience still remains the highlight of my entire life.”
We suspect that highlight is about to be replaced with an even bigger moment, when her husband John, son Dylan, daughter Melanie, and sponsor Melissa Wilkinson witness Ilona be baptized, confirmed and share in the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil on April 16.
Ilona, MaKenzie and the others who are becoming one with us this Easter are part of a great river bringing the fresh water of young faith into our parish. Please continue to pray for them, and the six others approaching full initiation into the Catholic Faith this year.