The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock
Carolyn Chastain, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Charles Bushwitz, Elect, Mary Mother of God Church, Harrison Chris Magnante, Elect, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Daniel Earnest, Elect, Mary Mother of God, Harrison Evan Stice, Elect, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Greg P. Stephens, Elect, Mary Mother of God Church, Harrison (Left) Gwendolyn Drozal, Elect, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock, and (right) Candace Drozal, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Catherine Honea, Elect, St. Joseph, Tontitown (Left) Jack Romine, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock and (right) Natalie Romine, Elect, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Charla Roberson, Elect, Sacred Heart of Mary Church, Barling Josh Dedmon, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Kelly Rodgers, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Heather Rustin, Elect, St. Vincent de Paul, Rogers Lannie Reaves, Elect, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Jake Waters, Elect, St. Boniface Church, New Dixie Ben Mathews, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock and wife Heather Mathews, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock (Left) Samantha Gegner, Candidate, St. Raphael Church, Springdale and (right) Matthew Gegner, Candidate, St. Raphael Church, Springdale Susan Warren, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Joe Thrash, Elect, St. Joseph Church, Conway Trip LaDuke, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock Jenny June “JP” Prodler, Candidate, St. John the Baptist Church, Hot Springs William Walker, Candidate, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock (Left) Christy Hesslen, Candidate, Immaculate Conception Church, Fort Smith, and (right) Kevin Hesslen, Candidate, Immaculate Conception Church, Fort Smith Annette Walden, Candidate, St. Peter the Fisherman, Mountain Home Justin Taylor, Candidate, St. Benedict Church, Subiaco Meghan Cooper, Elect, St. Benedict, Subiaco Sandra Kay Pierce, Elect, St. John the Baptist Church, Hot Springs. Joining the Church with son, Aiden Nicholas Pierce (Elect), son Alexei Kristofferson Pierce (Elect), and husband Brad Pierce (Candidate). Danny Marsh, Candidate, St. Mary of the Springs, Hot Springs

Why am I becoming Catholic? RCIA students share journey

RCIA participants share their reasons, journeys for joining Catholic Church

Published: March 28, 2024      
Pope Francis inscribes a cross on the Paschal candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 8, 2023. 685 Catholics will enter the Church in Arkansas during the 2024 Easter Vigil. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

This year, 685 people are entering the Catholic Church in Arkansas. Several of these candidates and elect shared with Arkansas Catholic why they’re joining the Church. There were so many responses that we couldn’t fit them all in our printed paper — so we’ve included them here. Enjoy these testimonies from soon-to-be Catholics about their faith journeys.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19


“I’ve always been drawn to the Catholic Church and I feel this whole time in RCIA and the study guides and everything have brought me closer to God than I’ve ever been in my entire life — and I grew up the daughter of a preacher. This has been something that recently happened, where everything just came together.” 

Carolyn Chastain, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“My wife would bring me to Mass with her, but I wasn’t invested. What changed that was a mental health crisis I had last year. That was one of the darkest times of my life. I walked in my pajamas and flip-flops from Green Forest to Harrison. I didn’t know where I was going. I hitchhiked a little bit of the way and I met a guy who told me he’d gone through dark times, and the best thing he found was going back to church and finding his faith. I didn’t know where I was going, and I asked him to drop me off at Mary Mother of God Church. We said a prayer together, and I saw that as God slapping me back onto the right path. I decided to buckle down and get serious about my faith. I’ve been doing RCIA, and it has genuinely helped me.”

Charles Bushwitz, Elect

Mary Mother of God Church, Harrison


“I’m joining the Catholic Church to deepen my existing relationship with God in a more structured way. It’s been really really nice and really beneficial. My girlfriend is Catholic, and we’re hoping to have a Catholic wedding. That’s important to us. Everyone has been really welcoming. It’s been a really fulfilling experience — I hoped that it would be at the outset, and it’s been all that I could have hoped for and more.”

Chris Magnante, Elect

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I’d been a Protestant for most of my life, and at one point, I went through a really bad time. I drive a truck, and was parked at a rest stop in Chattanooga when I met a Dominican nun. I talked to her for a while. When I got back in my truck, I felt illuminated again, like the light had come back on. I started researching, and now I’ve made a change for the better. I remember a sermon from years ago, where the pastor said, ‘Don’t let Jesus pass you by.’ People would flock to Christ to be healed because they never knew when he was coming back around. That’s how I felt when I talked to that nun. I didn’t want Jesus to pass me by.”

Daniel Earnest, Elect

Mary Mother of God, Harrison


“I’m entering the Catholic Church because I believe that it is the Church founded by Christ. I’m in love with the tradition and liturgy and everything about it.”

Evan Stice, Elect

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“My mother is Catholic and I always considered myself spiritual, but last year I had a very bad motorcycle accident. After the accident, I had a clear vision of doing the rosary with my mother, so I started going to Mass and learning the rosary. It’s been slow building. I had cancer five years ago and lost my job as a chef. That brought me closer, then the motorcycle accident pinpointed which path to follow. I had moved in with my mom after my dad’s death to help her. She taught me how to sew and I started quilting. The sewing and rosary have been a big part of my rehabilitation, so God puts exactly in your path what you need for the next step.”

Greg P. Stephens, Elect

Mary Mother of God Church, Harrison


“A little over a year ago, I was called into faith and worship, which slowly developed, through research, into the Catholic faith. That’s just what I felt like God was calling me to do to practice my faith. It’s certainly been a journey, and a lot of self-discovery, but it’s been really beautiful and eye-opening. I feel like it’s made me a better person and built up relationships that I would not have been able to build up otherwise.”

Gwendolyn Drozal, Elect

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I have been called to the Catholic Church for the past 20 years. 12 months ago, the Lord pulled me really, really hard and said, ‘Now’s the time.’ And he has stood beside me over the last 12 months. I couldn’t have done it without Debbie King, our RCIA coordinator. She has impacted my entire family, and it's been beautiful to go through this RCIA process and strengthen my marriage, strengthen my ability to be a mother, my relationship with my children is stronger and it’s been beautiful.” 

Candace Drozal, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“When I grew up I was in a town surrounded by Baptist churches. Going to church on Wednesdays and Sundays felt more like a social obligation than to glorify God. I never felt at home in church and that led me to have a very distorted view of Christianity and sin in high school and college until I met someone who introduced me to Catholicism. He, being Catholic himself, educated and corrected all my incorrect assumptions often said of Catholics and led me to join him in further research and education through YouTube videos and Catholic ideology when we started dating … Everything makes so much sense and there is so much evidence backing up all the little details. Maybe it was my experience and my timing, but I couldn’t imagine finding a home in a different church.” 

Catherine Honea, Elect

St. Joseph, Tontitown


“I came to the belief that this is the only Church that Jesus Christ founded. I didn’t feel the presence of God anywhere else except for my first Mass. I had to keep coming back. I have to get confirmed. Salvation matters.”

Jack Romine, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I was raised in a non-religious household and considered myself to be an atheist. I was very closed-minded and did not want to learn anything about the Church until I met my husband. He told me that he was a Christian and we should look into the faith, so I started asking him lots of questions and praying. We got married in May of 2023, and both of us were on our own journey to figure out what denomination was best suited for us and what we wanted to raise our children in. Jackie had brought up Catholicism, and for some reason, I was immediately thinking, ‘Yes.’ We joined the RCIA class last September and it was the best decision that we have ever made. I have never since doubted my relationship with Christ or his Church.”

Natalie Romine, Elect

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“Three years ago we experienced a crisis. (My boyfriend’s) car was hit head on as he was driving to work, and he suffered serious injuries… His faith and his family’s faith in hard times gave me the desire to get baptized and go to Communion… I am looking forward to receiving the Eucharist for the first time at the Easter vigil. It will make me feel closer to Jesus and the void in my soul will be filled. I have been spending extra time in prayer during Lent as I prepare for baptism, going to the Stations of the Cross each Friday and becoming more involved in the activities of the parish.”

Charla Roberson, Elect

Sacred Heart of Mary Church, Barling


“I’m entering the Catholic faith because I feel like for so long I was just lost. Then I finally wanted to do better. I was dealing with a lot of dark times at one point in my life, and now I’m coming back into the light. It’s been a great blessing — the RCIA classes, the Cathedral and all of the people are just great. It’s been a journey.”

Josh Dedmon, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I have several family members, cousins and extended family who are Catholic. My sister and brother-in-law joined about six years ago, and I even have one cousin whose husband is a deacon, so I’ve been exposed to the Catholic Church from years ago. But I knew when I came into the Cathedral for the first time that I was in awe of the beauty of the Cathedral and sanctuary and everything that it has. I just felt at peace when I walked in the doors. I felt like this is the place that I should be. And I’d been looking for a new church home, so it fit the bill.”

Kelly Rodgers, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“My husband and children were my inspiration for wanting to become Catholic. As our children began learning their catechism, I was intrigued and wanted to gain a deeper understanding about God and the Catholic Church so decided to start RCIA. I was eager to have a closer relationship with God with the hope of eternal life. Since starting on my journey, I've had so much peace that I've never experienced before in my life. Free from fear and worry and full of joy and hope.” 

Heather Rustin, Elect

St. Vincent de Paul, Rogers


“I’m 30 years old and I have no Catholics in my family. I grew up in not much of a religious home, but that led me to a life of addiction and sin and just being straight lost. Jesus left the 99 for me, and I gave my life 100 percent to him. He’s the founder of the Catholic Church and I’m drawn to him. And I walk into his church, the Cathedral, on a Sunday and it just opens up and you see the beauty, the organization, just the mystery of the Catholic Church itself, and all the worries and problems that I have in my life — all of it goes away, because I’m in his home, brought here by him, saved by him, and I’m right where I belong.” 

Lannie Reaves, Elect

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I am joining the Catholic Church because I am interested in becoming closer to God and developing a greater understanding of the Catholic faith and traditions. I am most excited to receive the sacraments. I am proud to become a member of the St. Boniface Parish and look forward to growing within the church. The online RCIA classes have been a wonderful experience and have worked great with my schedule. I’m thankful for this opportunity.” 

Jake Waters, Elect

St. Boniface Church, New Dixie


“With the secular culture seemingly crumbling around us, I needed a rock for myself and my family. I wanted something better for my family and for my children to have a solid philosophical grounding for the future and their lives. What attracted me to Catholicism was a community here in Arkansas and around the world and its philosophy, in particular, the emphasis on natural law, historical grounding of the faith, and the depth of philosophy. Much of what Catholicism teaches can be concluded through reason, and I have reached many of the same conclusions through reason before becoming Catholic. That’s not to say there aren’t parts of the faith that I find challenging, because there are, but even with those parts, I know they have been thought on in detail, so I can trust their conclusions.”

Ben Mathews, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I feel like I need a good foundation for my children. Coming here has been like finding a new family. I didn’t even know I needed it until I was here, and now that I am, I feel like I can’t live without it.”

Heather Mathews, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I’ve been searching for a faith and a church for many, many years, and my father was very much against Catholicism so I never looked into it. In the last year or two, I decided to look into it, and it just made sense. The Catholic Church is the first church.” 

Samantha Gegner, Candidate

St. Raphael Church, Springdale


“I grew up being raised as a Lutheran, but around my 20s, I stopped going to church except for special occasions with my parents. I met Sam five and a half years ago. I was still spiritual but hadn’t thought of joining another church. When (Sam) looked at joining the Catholic Church, I decided to join her and go through the classes. I’m starting up that part of my life again and relearning everything again.”

Matthew Gegner, Candidate

St. Raphael Church, Springdale


“I grew up in the Methodist church, and as I’ve moved into my life and adulthood, really just seeking this foundational and solid place, something that attracts me about the Catholic Church is that not that many things have changed since the beginning. Also, everybody has been more than welcoming, and this was where I was supposed to be for a long time. I’m also converting because my fiancé comes from a very devout Catholic family, and so we’re getting married in the fall here at the Cathedral. That was also part of the process of us thinking of the family life that we wanted, and what we wanted our married life to be.”

Susan Warren, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I'm the only one not Catholic in our family, so that has kind of weighed on me a little bit. And then during the COVID pandemic, everybody was getting sick and several people were passing away and I thought, ‘Gosh, what's going to happen?’ I got to thinking about it, I probably need to do something and get right with the Lord. So I talked to my wife and I thought, well, I'll just join the Church and get things started right. We’ve always (gone) to church. … I wasn’t really left out of anything, but in a way, I kind of have been. I want to be a good example for my family.”

Joe Thrash, Elect

St. Joseph Church, Conway 


“I’m becoming Catholic because most of my family is Catholic and I moved here from Texas two years ago.” 

Trip LaDuke, Candidate

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“I’m covered in tattoos, I have long black hair, I have tattoos on my face, I have a different look. I never really felt like I was accepted because of the cover of my book, and I always felt very welcomed by the Catholic Church. I feel called to publicly join the Catholic Church so I can be an example for people like me, who do believe in God but don’t feel comfortable or don’t feel welcome. There is so much stigma, and I want to be an example of someone who, you can look like me and you can dress like me and have crazy hair and have tattoos and still be an example of a moral Christian life.”

Jenny June “JP” Prodler, Candidate

St. John the Baptist Church, Hot Springs


“What attracted me to the Catholic Church is its rich history. It’s authority comes directly from Scripture and Jesus Christ, and I think that it’s the one true Church.”

William Walker, Candidate 

Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock


“We were members of the Church of Christ. I’ve been looking back and rereading my past journals, and it seems so clear now what God was doing, but at the time, it was not. I just kept feeling like he was preparing me for a big change. Our middle daughter went through RCIA last year, and it just opened up this whole avenue of beautiful conversation to have with her. I’m a big reader and started researching and reading and praying, and it’s been a very beautiful journey.”

Christy Hesslen, Candidate

Immaculate Conception Church, Fort Smith


“It all started around our daughter Hannah converting to Catholicism and my ignorance of the Catholic faith. All I knew was what I’d been told by my Protestant friends, so we started asking her questions, wanting to learn more to understand and be open-minded. I was a former elder in the Church of Christ, and I learned through RCIA and our studies that taking the Eucharist means something different for Catholics, and I think that’s a really powerful thing.”

Kevin Hesslen, Candidate

Immaculate Conception Church, Fort Smith


“I am becoming a Catholic because I have known and admired a woman for 17 years who is a devout Catholic… I started attending Mass with her, and here I am, in RCIA. Catholic teaching, tradition and perspective fill long empty places in my heart. I can pray with my deceased loved ones and pray to saints. I can fall and get up again. I have hope for myself and others. I have access to hundreds of years of thought and prayer to bolster what I learn. Most of all, I went from believing in God to believing God — to believing that I am his.”

Annette Walden, Candidate

St. Peter the Fisherman, Mountain Home


“I was brought up Protestant, and I was always interested in the Church and the history of the Church. As I got older, I fell out of religion and got into philosophy, particularly existentialism. Of course, I was living the way that all of that brings about — a very terrible life. One day I made the decision that I was going to change and pursue the Church like I always wanted to. The Church and Jesus really give you a good thing to lean on when you’re going through life. I’m going to Mass and saying the rosary every day. I’ve never felt more at home and stable in life.” 

Justin Taylor, Candidate

St. Benedict Church, Subiaco


“I grew up in a home where I knew about God, but I did not understand the meaning of his presence in my life. I met my husband in 2016. He grew up Catholic and we went on to baptize our son Catholic. I started to do my own research on the Catholic faith and started to attend Mass with my husband and his mother. My first Mass was overwhelming in all the best ways possible! I felt such peace in my life I had never experienced before. Last fall I told my husband I was ready to make the commitment to our Lord and get baptized. I could not imagine my life any other way. I am beyond blessed that I get to enter this community. The way the Church heavily honors the Eucharist, apostolic traditions and the sacraments has pulled me and my family closer to God.”

Meghan Cooper, Elect

St. Benedict, Subiaco


“I’ve always felt drawn to the Virgin Mary. After my Dad’s passing, I found out that he had been baptized Catholic, and it had me wanting to learn more about his faith. After doing research and studying, you learn that Jesus started the Church. And I really wanted to get my family involved. I began reading the Baltimore Catechism, and I called St. John’s, and they welcomed us in. It was like what I always thought church should be.”

Sandra Kay Pierce, Elect

St. John the Baptist Church, Hot Springs


“My son Zach Marsh converted to Catholicism in April 2022 after attending RCIA at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Georgia. Zach invited me to join him in listening to Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz. My favorite reading was CCC 811-822 — the Church is one, and how the Catholic faith accepts Christians like me that have been baptized in the faith. That section spoke to me so much. My conviction grew so strong that my desire to become a Catholic grew more and more. The hardest part was telling my close Baptist family that I was going to RCIA. God has blessed me for following him as he has led me.” 

Danny Marsh, Candidate

St. Mary of the Springs, Hot Springs


Read more stories like this one in our Easter and RCIA 2024 section.

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