One Boise family’s journey into the Church is a microcosm of the past year’s daunting challenges.
Joshua Shultz is baptized by Bishop Peter Christensen during a special liturgy last year during a time when churches across the state were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Shultz, an ICU nurse, sought and received permission to enter into the Church with his wife and five children due to the high-risk nature of his job and the uncertainty regarding the severity of the virus at the time. (Courtesy photo/Joshua Shultz)
By Gene Fadness
Last year’s Rite of Election ceremonies held throughout the state were among the last “open” events before the COVID-19 pandemic closed churches across Idaho, just as the faithful were preparing to celebrate the Easter liturgies when about 800 future Catholics were to be received into the Church. Idaho’s first COVID case was reported almost exactly one year ago, on March 13.
A year later the Diocese still adapts to a pandemic that, while lessening, lingers. This year, some Rite of Election ceremonies were among the first more open events on a larger scale that could be held as the state begins a hoped-for return to normalcy. Still, some parishes elected to hold their own Rites of Election with their priests rather than a deanery-wide event with the Bishop present. But for those more comfortable with a larger venue, Bishop Peter Christensen did travel through the Diocese, leading Rites of Election in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Caldwell and Boise.
The Rite of Acceptance, the Rite of Election and the Scrutinies that lead to the Easter Vigil are memorable and sacred events, especially for those entering the Church.
This is especially true for Josh Shultz, an ICU critical care nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise. Last year’s Rite of Election began a chain of events that made his entry into the Church and that of his family, even more remarkable and unusual than most.
His story is a microcosm of the unusual year experienced by many of the faithful.
The Shultz family with Bishop Peter. From left, Travis, Ethan, Natalie, Christin, Joshua, Trinity, Bishop Peter and Josiah.(Courtesy photo/Shultz family)
BISHOP PETER could not help but take notice when he heard these names called during last year’s Rite of Election at St. John’s Cathedral: Joshua Shultz, Christin Shultz, Ethan Shultz, Josiah Shultz, Natalie Shultz and Trinity Shultz. On his way out of the Cathedral, he grabbed Josh Shultz by the arm. “What’s your story?” the Bishop asked Shultz.
Shultz gave the Bishop a shortened version of his 10-year journey to Catholicism, one that took him from an evangelical and then Presbyterian background and five years of seminary study and a Masters of Divinity.
Shultz grew up in a devoutly evangelical home, his dad the worship leader for their congregation. “I knew the Bible from early on, which eventually led me to Catholicism,” he said.
Shultz married Christin, also an evangelical Christian. He became a registered nurse, but his love for the Bible led him to enroll at the Master’s Seminary, the seminary on the campus of the church founded by nationally known radio preacher and author, John MacArthur. He began to have problems with their view of scripture and transferred to Westminster Theological Seminary and, while there, he and his wife joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a denomination that broke away from the more theologically liberal Presbyterian Church USA.
While studying for his master’s degree, Shultz came across early teaching on issues such as infant baptism. Convinced that was the correct view of baptism, the youngest of their five children became the first one baptized as an infant. But that didn’t end the questions. If Rome was right on baptism, what else could it be right about, he wondered. His graduate thesis was, “Mariology and the Doctrine of Adoption,” a choice he later acknowledged, “was really a bad idea if you want to stay Protestant.” Despite his questions, he really wanted to stay Protestant. Not only did he love his church and his family, but he knew a conversion to Catholicism would create what might become an insurmountable rift with some family members on both sides of the family.
“Over 10 years, I tried to do everything in my power to take myself out of the Catholic argument. I tried to be Orthodox Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, anything but Rome,” he said. “I loved the church we were attending, and I remember praying, ‘Please show me where I’m wrong on this.’ ”
Shultz contacted other converts who had similar backgrounds in theological study: former Presbyterian minister Scott Hahn of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology; Dr. Bryan Cross of Called to Communion; Michael Barber of John Paul the Great Catholic University; and an Anglican priest near his hometown whose entire congregation had converted to Catholicism.
The more he studied, the more it seemed that con-version was inevitable. “There was that moment I remember driving home and being in tears about where I was at, knowing this wasn’t going to be an easy road,” he said.
Out of respect for Christin’s equally devout upbringing, Shultz determined he not would enter the Church without her. She was clearly not comfortable with many of the things he was saying throughout the near decade of his study. Thus his surprise and “huge relief” when, on a 10th anniversary trip to Stanley, Idaho, she told him she was willing to enroll in RCIA.
By this time, the family had moved to Idaho, even though his job was still in San Diego where he would work one week there and then spend one week here.
ALTHOUGH IT SEEMED as if their arduous journey was about to end, that was not to be the case. The Rite of Acceptance at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian was happening on a weekend that Shultz was not in Boise. Christin called to tell her husband that she did not think she would be able to go to the ceremony.
“After the call,” Shultz said, “I remember realizing that we might be done and that we would be going back to the Presbyterian Church. I remember telling the Lord, ‘I think this journey is over. If you want us to keep going, you’re going to have to handle it.’ ”
However, Christin did end up going to the Rite of Acceptance. As she and her children received the Sign of the Cross on their ears, eyes, lips, hearts, shoulders, hands and feet, “something happened that is more Christin’s story to tell,” Shultz said. Christin called her husband back later that night. Having difficulty talking through her tears, she told Josh, “I know that this is what we are supposed to do for our family.”
“That was the first of several miracles on our RCIA journey,” Shultz said.
The next step was to start informing family. In January, about three months before last Easter, Shultz began writing letters to family members, knowing that the reaction would, at least initially, not be favorable. But, still the relief was palpable. Entry into the Church was now just a few weeks away.
At the Rite of Election at St. John’s Cathedral, the family all came forward, and all met the Bishop. Later that night, Shultz had that conversation with Bishop Peter who quizzed him about his family’s long journey that was about to culminate with an Easter Vigil that, while perhaps not attended by family members, would be attended by dozens of fellow RCIA students, their sponsors from California and many friends.
That Rite of Election and that encounter with the Bishop was one of the last public events in the Cathedral before the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of churches and the delay of the Sacraments of Initiation for new Catholics for an indefinite period.
For Shultz, the pandemic hit especially close to home because his job took him into the center of it. He worked 14-hour shifts for the first 12 days after the pandemic hit southern California. Because he did not want to possibly take the virus to his family or others, he slept in his van and showered in the hospital basement. The number of cases increased, including those coming into San Diego from across the border. He really wondered whether he, or the 30 to 40 nurses he supervised, would survive.
As troubling as the pandemic was, so also was the specter of closed churches and delayed sacraments. Now back in Idaho, he contacted his RCIA leaders. “I told them I was an ICU nurse and would really love to see this through with my family.” Shultz was told he would have to wait. He contacted priests in southern California who told him if he and his family could make it back down, they would find a way for his family to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. But flights were closed, and he worried about exposing his family to increased risk. The friend who was a former Anglican priest who had led his entire congregation into the Church suggested that Shultz write the Bishop and share his unique circumstance. On Holy Thursday, Shultz wrote Bishop Peter, but being Holy Week, he knew he might not hear back right away.
He watched a livestream of the Easter Vigil Mass with Bishop Peter almost alone in the Cathedral. This was supposed to have been the culmination of a 10-year journey, a night of celebration with family and friends. “Watching that Saturday night vigil was one of the darkest moments in my life. I have never had my spirit attacked that much. I couldn’t finish watching it.”
The following Tuesday, a call came from Bishop Peter. He told Shultz how his letter had moved him, especially the comment that he may not live to celebrate the Catholic faith with his family. The Bishop asked Shultz when he had to return to California. When Shultz said he would have to return just two days later (Thursday), Bishop Peter asked him if he could bring his family to the Cathedral the following night with just himself, his family and sponsors present. If they could do so, he would give them the Sacraments of Initiation.
Shultz immediately called his sponsor, Deacon John Gabriele in San Diego. He and his wife, Angie, drove all night to make the 14-hour trip to Boise.
Bishop Peter, with the help of Father Mariusz Majewski and Father Dominique Faure, heard their confessions, baptized those who needed baptism, confirmed them, gave them First Holy Communion and blessed their marriage.
“It was the most amazing night of our lives, having that peace with my wife and kids,” Shultz said. “It gave me so much confidence and joy to be able to go back to San Diego and minister to people as a nurse over the next year.”
Bishop Peter describes the night in the small chapel in the Cathedral’s basement as a “clandestine catacomb experience.” The Shultz family were not the only ones blessed by the experience. “For me, it was a resurrection moment,” Bishop Peter said.
Shultz now works full-time at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise. He and is family are parishioners at St. John’s Cathedral.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.