A lifelong friend, campus ministry, FOCUS missionaries and a priest were all influences leading Rhonan Brownfield to embrace Catholicism.
The following story appeared in the January 27 Idaho Catholic Register.
Rhonan Brownfield, center, with Father Emil Parafiniuk, chaplain at St. John’s Student Center, and his sponsor, Cooper Dow, on the right, at his November baptism.
By Gene Fadness
POCATELLO – Those who have doubts about the necessity of campus ministry at Idaho’s colleges and universities may want to consider the story of Rhonan Brownfield, a convert to Catholicism thanks, in large part, to campus ministry at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
It’s a sad, but true, story that young adults often lose their faith on college campuses. But it was on a college campus in Pocatello, particularly at St. John’s Student Center, where Rhonan Brownfield found his faith.
Raised in what he describes as an “agnostic home,” in Meridian, Brownfield graduated from Renaissance High School in Meridian and chose Idaho State University to major in civil engineering and minor in mathematics. Going to Idaho State with him was Colt Higby, a childhood friend, a fellow student at Renaissance High and a parishioner at Holy Apostles Parish in Meridian.
A math tutor on campus, Brownfield’s interest in engineering and mathematics may not have seemed conducive to things spiritual. However, he was also observant of the culture around him, which led to what he calls “a general curiosity about Christianity.”
“I think the biggest draw to Christianity for me was a general perspective on the culture by and large, looking at the degradation of our culture and our history,” Brownfield said. “I was trying to figure out my path in life, what I valued and what I didn’t. The more I dug into it, the more I realized the roots of my values were in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Seeking to be true to those values, Brownfield said he initially intended to visit the Protestant, non-denominational ministry on campus. “Ultimately, there were many factors that influenced my decision to pursue Christianity – a desire for meaning and a hope for goodness in the world.”
Brownfield is baptized by Father Parafinuik.
A big influence for him was, “The Case for Christ,” by atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel. “This book lays out the argument for the existence and divinity of Jesus in a way I had never encountered before, and it made me confront the reality that not to believe in Christ requires just as much faith as believing in Him,” Brownfield said.
Also influential was his lifelong friend, Colt Higby, who invited him to visit the St. John’s Catholic Center on the ISU campus, the beginning of what he calls a “slow crawl” to Catholicism.
“Over time, I began to learn more about the faith from the FOCUS missionaries and slowly grapple with the harder questions I had,” Brownfield said. “Many times I stepped away, feeling as though I couldn’t move forward with it. Yet no matter how much or how frequently I did so, I always found myself being drawn back by something I could not at that time describe, some sort of aching in my heart that told me I needed to go back.”
Brownfield enrolled in RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) in the fall of 2021. He read “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis and listened to the Bible in a Year podcast by Father Michael Schmitz.
However, even after about eight months’ involvement with RCIA, Brownfield was not quite ready to commit to Catholicism.
Brownfield receives an anointing on his hands. The Idaho State University student completed RCIA in the spring of 2022, but still had doubts. He tried RCIA again this school year, when he met Father Parafiniuk, who helped answer his remaining concerns. (Courtesy photo/St. John’s Student Center)
“I was struggling with some of the more uniquely Catholic theological ideas such as the veneration of saints and the idea of sainthood and with more baseline teachings such as the Trinity,” he said.
“I felt like I wasn’t at the place I wanted to be and whether I could be the Catholic I wanted to be. I did not want to go through it insincerely. I didn’t want to be at a fake-it-until-you-make-it stage. I wanted to do with the fullness of my heart.”
So, rather than enter the church during Easter 2022 with the rest of his class, Brownfield determined he needed more time for prayer and study.
He turned to FOCUS missionary Cooper Dow for help, and Dow became a spiritual advisor for him. “I have nothing but appreciation for him and for all he did for me,” Brownfield says of Dow.
During this academic year, Father Emil Parafiniuk, a Polish priest who had just transferred to the Diocese of Boise, became the chaplain at the St. John Student Center in Pocatello.
“By the time I met him, I was already committed to going through RCIA a second time and being baptized,” Brownfield said. When Father Parafiniuk learned that Brownfield had already taken RCIA, “he pulled me aside and asked if he could walk me through the final stages,” Brownfield said. “I don’t know if I would gone through it had he not been there for me.”
Father Emil Parafiniuk of the St. John Catholic Student Center in Pocatello confirms Rhonan Brownfield and, below, welcomes him into the Catholic Church. At the left in both photos is Cooper Dow, the FOCUS missionary who is Brownfield’s sponsor. (Courtesy photos/St. John’s Student Center, Idaho State University)
After a Sunday Mass on Nov. 13, Brownfield was baptized and confirmed by Father Parafiniuk, with Cooper Dow as his Confirmation sponsor. “Pretty much the entire community was there. It was very moving, to say the least. I was literally encircled by the entire community.”
Brownfield’s family, while not Catholic yet, has been supportive. “I can’t speak gratefully enough about how my family has been receptive to all this. They’ve been supportive the whole way through.”
Since becoming Catholic, Brownfield says he has “felt a sense of peace and belonging that I had never expected.”
“My relationship with God has reached a place that it never could have before. More importantly, I now know who I am as a son of God.”
That reality, he said, made him realize that “I am now directly ac-countable to Him for my sins, which I need to bring to Him in Confession.” That has been a challenging part of becoming Catholic for him. “But, paradoxically, it has also proven to be the most rewarding, because I can feel His presence and His mercy in my life more directly,” through Confession, he said.
“I have experienced a kind of love I simply lack the words to describe, and I am immensely grateful for it.”
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