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Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Catholics, new and old, celebrate Holy Week in more traditional fashion

The following story appeared in the April 16 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register

Bridger Thomas is baptized by Father Jerry Funke during the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Agnes Parish in Weiser. Standing behind him is his sponsor, JoAnn Karel. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Martell/St. Agnes Parish)

by Gene Fadness


The seeds planted that bring someone into the Catholic Church are as varied as the people themselves.

For the Eaton family, it was the tight-knit community at St. Joseph Catholic School. For the Pitones family, it was a friendly reception at a Christmas tree sale at Risen Christ Catholic Community in Boise. For Amy Dubaskis in Caldwell, it was an online search for Christian churches and a college class on the New Testament. For Bridger Thomas in Weiser it was chatting with a fellow “gamer” online, a young Catholic from Maine.

These are just a few of the catechumens who were baptized and candidates who were received the Sacrament of Confirmation during Easter Vigil celebrations across the Diocese of Boise.

Like so many dioceses worldwide, the Diocese of Boise welcomed the return of “near-normal” Holy Week observances: from Holy Thursday foot washings, to Good Friday Stations of the Cross and veneration, to the Easter Vigil fire and its accompanying Sacraments of Initiation; and, finally, to the Easter Sunday celebration of the Resurrection.

It was a stark difference from last year’s liturgies, mostly closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most of those who received the Sacraments of Initiation last year came into the Church on Pentecost Sunday. This year, the Easter Vigil returned to a public celebration along with other Holy Week observances, although still with adaptations to make the celebrations as safe as possible.

Below is a snapshot of some of the Diocese of Boise’s newest Catholics.

Bridger Thomas, Weiser

Nineteen-year-old Bridger Thomas is a “gamer.” The 2020 Weiser High School graduate plays computer and video games with challengers from across the country.

He met online a fellow gamer, Alec, 21, from Maine. Bridger noticed that Alec occasionally brought up his faith during their group chats. “One night he was talking to our whole group about something Catholic, and I got really interested in it.”

Bridger is not a man of many words, but don’t mistake that for a lack of initiative. His interest in Catholicism piqued, he decided to walk to St. Agnes Church in Weiser during an evening when the lights were on. He walked into an RCIA class already in session. Even though the class was a few weeks into their study, Bridger signed up, catching up on what he had missed from his instructors and his sponsor.

Bridger’s father is Matt Thomas, the Washington County sheriff in this southwest Idaho county that straddles the Oregon border. Even though Sheriff Thomas is not Catholic, he could see that his son was serious about his faith journey. He took Bridger to the home of a Catholic couple that the sheriff knew and trusted, Doug and JoAnn Karel.

JoAnn became Bridger’s sponsor.

“Out of the clear blue, his dad brought him over,” JoAnn Karel said. “I could see that Bridger was very serious about this, and his dad could see that he was sincere in what he was doing.”

Bridger’s studies only confirmed those things that his friend across the country, Alec, spoke of that initially drew him to looking deeper into Catholicism: tradition and morals.

“It is a very traditional faith, the original sect of Christianity,” Bridger said. “I also like that the Church emphasizes moral teaching. Everything it teaches is beneficial to you. Some of the cultural standards now days are detrimental to people, whereas the Church’s teachings are beneficial.”

The decision to become Catholic was not difficult. Attending Mass became something to anticipate. “I look forward to it every week. It’s my favorite part of the week,” Bridger said.

Even though JoAnn Karel was Bridger’s sponsor, his sincerity strengthened her faith. “He was very inspirational to my husband and me and our daughter,” she said. “I remember walking him through the church and explaining everything to him. Every time I invited him to Mass he said yes; to the Stations of the Cross, yes; to choir practice, yes. There wasn’t anything that he didn’t want to do.”

Bridger was baptized and confirmed by Father Jerry Funke at the Easter Vigil. His family was “very excited to see me get baptized,” Bridger said.

And, Bridger has kept Alec, the gamer/missionary in Maine, updated on his progress.

The Eaton family, Boise

Dylan and Whitney Eaton were not Catholic when they moved to Boise in 2007 and were not Catholic when they enrolled their sons Alexander, now 11, and Andrew, now 8, at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. The school’s academic standards and sense of community appealed to Dylan and Whitney, who are both attorneys.

“We were impressed with the school, its fantastic academic record and the emphasis on just teaching about being a good person and being a kind and contributing member of the community. That really resonated with us,” Whitney Eaton said. “They do a wonderful job with the kids.”

Dylan, a Twin Falls native, was raised Episcopalian. Whitney was not raised in a church but remembers attending Christmas and Easter services at Holy Family Cathedral in her hometown of Anchorage. The two met while attending Seattle University School of Law and moved to Boise in 2007, shortly after they married.

The more they got involved with the St. Joseph’s Catholic School community, the bigger the draw to Catholicism.

“The general sense of impressing on the kids of being a good community member and good friends to one another reinforced in us to accept the things that the faith teaches,” Whitney said. And, her sons, were coming home with some teaching for the parents as well.

“Our second-grader is dropping wisdom on us all the time,” she said of her son, Andrew. When she quizzed him about his experience at Confession as he was getting ready for his First Holy Communion, Andrew quickly put an end to that discussion. “Mama, that is between me and God,” he said. “He is so excited to join the Church and receive Holy Communion and fully participate,” Whitney said.

The Caldwell college congregation

When young Catholics know their faith and aren’t afraid to discuss it, conversion happens. When families model Christian living in their day-to-day lives, conversion happens.

Amy Dabulskis is the latest, and perhaps not the last, of a number of students at the College of Idaho who have joined the Catholic faith over the last two years. Her Confirmation is the most recent in a ripple effect of conversions that came about largely to witnessing by C of I student Keegan Harris and his parents, Kerry and Tammy Harris and their extended family. Kerry Harris is a deacon at Our Lady of the Valley at Caldwell and Tammy works at the college.

Keegan Harris has been involved in a campus ministry group of both Catholics and Protestants. He decided, along with friends, Josh Fritz and Drake Kuykendall, to become roommates who would encourage each other in their Christian walk.

Keegan and his family’s sharing of the gospel led to the conversion of his girlfriend, Taya Wilson and of Josh Fritz, both from Protestant backgrounds. They also were having an influence on Amy Dabulskis, but her journey was interrupted by the corona-virus pandemic and a study abroad in Spain. Even though Amy had started her study of the faith before Taya Wilson, her delay into being received into the Church this year, meant that Wilson, a Catholic for slightly less than a year, could be her sponsor. “Talk about coming full circle,” Wilson says.

Keegan Harris, above left, was instrumental in the conversions of Taya Wilson, center; Josh Fritz, right

Taya Wilson, Caldwell

When Wilson was young she attended the United Methodist Church in her native Caldwell, influenced primarily by the faith of her grandparents. Her parents divorced between her fifth- and sixth-grade years, which created an opportunity for her to switch schools to Greenleaf Friends Academy in Greenleaf, again at the prompting of her grandparents who wanted their granddaughter closer to them and at-tending a Christian school.

Wilson was soon involved in the Greenleaf Friends Church and, after high school, in the Star Friends Church, in youth groups and music ministry.

After graduating from Friends Academy, she enrolled at the College of Idaho to study accounting and religious studies. Her religious studies course-work led her to question the evangelical belief in a seven-day creation period, which led to other questions about literal Biblical interpretation.

Her New Testament course also led her to conclude that the books of the Bible were determined by the Catholic Church.

It also so happened that her roommate, Emma Powley, was a Catholic who took her faith seriously. Wilson started attending a campus ministries group at the College of Idaho, where she met and later started dating Keegan Harris.

While visiting Harris’ parents, Deacon Kerry and Tammy Harris, she noticed the book, “Why We’re Catholic,” by Trent Horn and asked to borrow it.

She determined that she would take RCIA at Our Lady of the Valley at Caldwell, as did Harris’ room-mate, Josh Fritz.

“All of a sudden I was completely surrounded by Catholics,” she laughs. However, because it was a boyfriend, a pastor’s son, that prompted her to join the Star Friends Church, she was determined not to join Catholic Church just because of roommates or boyfriends. “Going back to my youth group days, one of the major reasons I would go was the social aspect of it. I didn’t want to do that again.”

As part of her search, she listened to Catholic radio and podcasts on her daily commute from her home in Caldwell to her job in Boise. She read books given her by Harris and his family and prodded them with questions.

She attended Mass at Our Lady of the Valley on Saturday night and at her Friends Church on Sunday morning. “I was ready to leave (the Friends Church), but didn’t want to leave.”

Even though she was part of the music ministry at her church, “I felt like the service centered around the pastor and the music with Jesus almost being on the side,” she said. “One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is that Jesus is the center and the focus of worship.”

A Catholic Mass, she observed would have the same readings and liturgy no matter where celebrated. And even if the priest or deacon “went off the rails,” with the homily, the “Mass is still the Mass and the focus is still on Jesus and the Eucharist.” Wilson said she says she loves the reverent way in which Father Mike St. Marie, the pastor at Our Lady of the Valley, celebrates the Mass.

“Over the past two years, my focus has drastically changed from going to church primarily for the social aspect to now going to worship and grow closer to Jesus,” said Wilson.

Another powerful attraction for Wilson was the draw of Catholic family life, as exhibited by Harris’ extended family.

“I had experienced a lot of Christians growing up who said and did all the ‘right’ things, but were often unwelcoming and indifferent at home,” Wilson said. But when she started spending time with Keegan’s parents, his aunts and his grandma, she said, “There was something different about them and that was authenticity, love, and care stemming from Jesus, that I hadn’t really felt before. And although I wasn’t willing to let the emotional side of me make all my decisions, I wanted what they had, and I wanted to be that kind of Christian. That emotional aspect really gave the logical side of me the kick-start it needed to take the things I was hearing and reading seriously. I believe that being authentic and loving can bring even the most skeptical and analytical people into the Church.”

Josh Fritz, Caldwell

One couldn’t help but observe the young man who entered tiny St. Michael’s Church in Mullan, Idaho, to attend a Mass in the summer of 2020 with about a dozen other people, most at least four decades older than him.

When this writer, a guest homilist, asked Fritz what brought him to Mass that day, he said he was in Mullan visiting his grandmother. Because his grandmother was Lutheran, he was attending Mass by himself in the tiny church. When he said he was from Caldwell, he was asked if he knew Keegan Harris.

Turns out he and Harris were room-mates at the College of Idaho, and Harris played a large role in Fritz’s decision to become Catholic just a few months earlier.

Fritz grew up in a committed evangelical household, his parents members of Discovery Church in Boise. When he enrolled at the College of Idaho, he started attending Faith Lutheran Church primarily because he didn’t want to have to drive to Boise every Sunday for church.

Due in part to the faith imparted by his parents, Fritz became involved in the campus ministries program at the College of Idaho, where he became friends with Harris, Kuykendall, Dabulskis and Wilson.

He and Harris had some fairly intense theological discussions. He agreed to take RCIA, “at first, almost as a joke,” and to attend Mass with Harris.

The Mass wasn’t “terribly off-putting,” he said, because it reminded him of attending the services at his grand-parents’ church at Christmas.

And that same book that influenced Wilson, “Why We’re Catholic,” was an even more powerful draw for Fritz.

“I finished it in about three days. I loved the explanation about the difference between evil and good. It made so much sense that it was mind-blowing.”

Like Wilson, he also started listening to Catholic podcasts.

His evangelical parents quizzed him about the Catholic belief regarding Mary and the Saints. “I had no problem with the intercession concept,” he said. “At my old church, we were always praying for each other. At the end of the service, there were always requests for prayers for other people, so it wasn’t too big a jump for me to include also the saints in heaven,” he said.

Fritz, an avid runner who will graduate this year with a degree in health and human performance, attends Our Lady of the Valley, but also attends the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist when he is visiting his parents in Boise.

Amy Dabulskis, Caldwell

Growing up on a family farm in the north-central Oregon community of Wasco, Amy Dabulskis’s family did not have time for church. “We worked on Sunday,” she said. However, that did not mean she not have faith and curiosity about matters of faith.

After she enrolled at the College of Idaho, she googled different churches in Caldwell and decided she would try the Southern Baptists. She was baptized into that faith when she was 20.

She also began attending the campus ministries group at the College of Idaho where she met Harris and his band of seekers. Her college “Introduction to New Testament” class was her introduction to the Catholic faith. “The history of it really started to draw me in,” she said.

After she had been friends with Harris a couple of months, she began to ask him questions about Catholicism. She attended a few of the weekly Masses celebrated on campus by Father Mike St. Marie. But, by the time she had determined to take RCIA, the class was already well into its year.

So, instead of RCIA, Dabulskis opted for a year’s study abroad in Spain. Part of that experience included attending Mass at the Salamanca Cathedral, built in the 14th century. “That really got me deeper into what was becoming my faith.” While in Spain, she stayed in contact with Harris, Wilson and Fritz, hearing about their strange RCIA year during a pandemic.

Upon her return to Caldwell, Dabulskis started RCIA again, now a year behind Wilson and Fritz, which enabled Wilson to become her sponsor when she was confirmed at this year’s Easter Vigil.

“The Vigil was amazing, to see all the tradition behind it,” she said. The candles and somewhat lengthy readings that summarize the history of salvation especially appealed to her.

Some unique Catholic teachings that many Protestants may struggle with such as the Immaculate Conception and the existence of Purgatory appealed to her. “The inclusion of purgatory as preparation for heaven made a lot of sense to me.” She also likes the fact that the “hierarchy of popes and bishops gives the Church structure and stability.”

Her family and friends have been supportive of her decision. “Being on a college campus, we all have to deal with people who are different from us, but we are all friends. I have friends who want me to be happy and are happy that I’m continuing in my faith journey.”

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.


RCIC draws entire family closer to God and Church

The following story, by Viviana Ochoa, is one of a series of stories that appeared in the April 16 Idaho Catholic Register about converts who were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

Viviana Ochoa The following essay is by Viviana Ochoa, who is 17 and a senior at Meridian High School. Viviana tells us that the pandemic made her entire family “feel distant” from the Church and others. Her mother went to the website for Holy Apostles Parish and Meridian to learn more about that parish. Viviana and her brother, Diego, 12, enrolled in RCIC, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Children. Viviana was confirmed at the Easter Vigil and Diego received his First Holy Communion. by Viviana Ochoa Ever since I was a little girl, I considered myself Catholic, although I never really knew what that truly meant. I knew there was a God who loved me and sent His son to die for my sins. I knew that praying and going to church was important. However, I never took it seriously. When I did pray, it felt like it was more of chore rather than a blessing. Now, I cannot wait to talk to God in my journal every night before I go to bed! After spending the past year mending my relationship with God, with the help of RCIC, I have realized that being Catholic is a gift. Through RCIC, my family and I not only grew closer to God, but to each other as well. Quarantine was difficult, as I assume it was for everyone. I felt as if the world was crashing down on me and that I was in a deep dark hole, with no ladder to get myself out. Turning to God, became my ladder. Growing closer to God helped me connect with my family to the point where we now have open conversations about God and the Bible, eager to learn something new every day. Getting confirmed was a long process, but I would not trade this experience for anything. It helped me say good-bye to the broken girl I was before RCIC. If you are a teen-ager reading this, you may think that becoming Catholic may seem difficult or not ‘cool,’ but let me tell you God is the easiest person you will ever talk to and the coolest person you will ever meet. I consider God my best friend who has helped me understand who I am in Christ. In times where I felt no one on Earth was able to help me, I turned to God who was right by my side all along. To those wanting or considering becoming a member of the Church, I pray that you let nothing stop you, as God will be with you every step of the way.

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.


Family in search of a Christmas tree also finds a church home

The following story, by Kassie Pitones, is one of a series of stories that appeared in the April 16 Idaho Catholic Register about converts who were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

The Pitones family are back row, from left, Johana, Julyen, Fernando, Kassie and Izak. From, from left, are Meiah and Gazelle. A son, also named Fernando, is serving in the Marines. (Photo courtesy of the Pitones family) By Kassie Pitones Thanksgiving is always a big holiday in our house. Not only do we give thanks for all we have but also, we look forward to our annual Christmas tree harvesting trip after Thanksgiving. As that weekend approached in 2019, my daughter came down with a fever so we did not want to go on our usual family drive to the forest around Idaho City to harvest a tree. Looking at local listings, we noticed that a church was inviting families to a Christmas tree sale for trees grown on the church property by parishioners. My husband was initially concerned that the church-grown trees might be limited in size and selection, but we decided to give it a chance. We grabbed our cutting tools, loaded all the kids and followed our GPS directions to Risen Christ Catholic Community in west Boise. Christmas trees of all sizes greeted us as we pulled in off Lake Hazel Road. Fanning out, we soon found the perfect tree, aided by the helpful volunteers. Per family tradition, each child got to take a cut to fell the tree and help load our prize onto our vehicle. While I went to the tent to pay, it began to snow. The cashier kindly let me know that we all could go inside the church social hall where warm drinks and snacks were available. The mere mention of hot chocolate was enough for us all to join the friendly group inside. The social hall was abuzz with activity, snacks in one area and beautiful holiday wreaths in another. As I was picking out a wreath for our door, a man named Jerry introduced himself and welcomed us to Risen Christ. Everyone seemed so hospitable. My husband even commented, “This seems to be the kind of church we’ve been looking for.” Not knowing we were in a Catholic Church, I noticed a sign on a nearby table, “Do you want to become Catholic?” I mentioned the sign to Jerry and he then introduced us to Deacon Ted Vermaas and his wife, Ludee. They explained about the “Becoming Catholic” series that Risen Christ had started and invited us to check it out. When we had finally warmed and were ready to head out, I remember Deacon Ted telling my husband, “See you at church tomorrow!” On the drive home to Nampa, we were filled with joy. Not only had we found the perfect Christmas tree, but we also felt strongly that we just might have found the church home we have been longing for. We had been asking the Lord for guidance. My husband, a retired U.S. Marine, and current federal employee, had found a good job that brought our family of eight, with children ages 7 to 21, to Idaho in 2013. We are very family-oriented and have raised our children in the Catholic way, even though the younger children and I had not yet been baptized. Beginning in 2019, we were searching for a church to call home. The children were asking for it and my husband was missing the church community. I, too, was ready to truly become Catholic. Now with a parish we could call ours, we started attending Mass at Risen Christ. I enrolled myself in “Becoming Catholic” and the children in religious education classes. Through all of the challenges of the year 2020, we’ve grown in our faith and as a family. This Easter 2021 brought us all together: cradle Catholics, the newly baptized, family members from out of state, and our loving Risen Christ community. We’ve truly come home! 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.

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