Catechetical Institute instrumental in former minister’s return to Church

| October 26, 2017 | 0 Comments
Barbara Heil

Barbara Heil

Barbara Heil was a Pentecostal minister, but she spent years studying different aspects of the Catholic faith.

“I had this hunger and thirst,” she said.

Though Heil had been baptized Catholic as an infant, her mother stopped practicing the faith, so Heil grew up without it. Heil became involved in Protestant churches through friends, and she became a Pentecostal minister and missionary.

Through her ministry and missionary work, she encountered charismatic Catholic priests and religious sisters in the mission field. Their authenticity sparked a desire for Heil to learn more about Catholicism, she said.

Heil read about the early Church fathers and the doctors of the church. She also spent time debating on the forums for the Coming Home Network, a website for exploring the Catholic faith.

She had explored what fellow former Protestant minister Jeff Cavins calls “a heap of Catholicism,” random parts of the faith, but not the whole picture. Cavins, now a nationally-renowned Catholic biblical scholar, formed the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in 2007 to help Catholics see the faith as one whole story.

The institute, now in its 10th year, also helped Heil find her place in the story presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which led her return to the Church in 2013.

In 2011, she felt that God was calling her to look into auditing a class through the University of St. Thomas. On the university’s website, she came upon the Catechetical Institute at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. She didn’t recognize the term “catechetical,” but something struck a chord.

“The Lord, to me in my heart, said to me ‘that’s your class,’” Heil recalled. “I didn’t even know what a catechetical institute was.”

In contacting the institute, Heil was directed to Assistant Director Kelly Wahlquist.

“She’s telling me, ‘Oh, this [institute] is for Catholics,'” Heil recalled.

Heil then told Wahlquist her story about being a minister “but falling in love with the Church.” Wahlquist referred Heil onto Cavins, who himself had returned to the Church after serving as an Assemblies of God minister for years. Heil told Cavins her life story, and then he shared his.

“I was amazed,” Heil said, “because I had been in the Assemblies of God at one time and to find out he had been an Assemblies of God pastor, I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this happened to anybody else.’ I felt like I was the only one in the universe.”

Cavins permitted Heil to join the institute although she had not become Catholic and didn’t plan to.

“Jeff told me … ‘You’re going to love the first pillar [or section of the Catechism], but you’re going to have trouble with the later pillars, but just hang in there,’” Heil recalled.

Heil’s fascination with the faith heightened from day one with the institute’s opening Mass. Though she had been to Masses around the world, she witnessed how engaged the institute students were in the liturgy, which struck her. She had a similar experience on the first day of class.

“I saw something that I had never seen … in nine or 10 years of visiting Catholic churches … and that was a room full of hungry Catholics with their Bibles and their Catechisms ready to learn the Word of God and what the Catechism teaches about the Catholic Church,” Heil said. “I was in love.”

She enjoyed the first pillar sessions, which cover the story of salvation, for its biblical nature. She saw the similarities to what she calls “orthodox” Protestant denominations that adhere to the Gospel.

“That floored me [that] this was from the Catechism itself. I had a lot of misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church actually taught, because I had learned a lot of erroneous things,” Heil said. “Everybody else [in Christianity] basically came from this.”

Small group meetings at the institute’s class sessions also impacted her. She could see that people in her groups were in different spots in their faith journeys, but “they wanted to know their faith, wanted to live their faith,” and also cared for each other.

“They didn’t realize that I was watching them, and I was learning from them,” Heil said. “Their lives were speaking to me.”

As Cavins warned, the second pillar sessions on the liturgy and the sacraments became harder for Heil. She said she would keep “her heart open” and “read everything that was suggested” by the instructors. Things started to make more sense to her.

The sacrament of reconciliation particularly bothered her. She believed that a person could just go straight to God, and she had seen that work in people’s lives whom she ministered to.

“Why would I go to the priest when I can go to Jesus?” she asked.

Father Steven Hoffman’s presentation at one of the institute’s bi-semester formation mornings influenced Heil’s view. She came to understand the Church’s teaching on the sacrament — a priest stands in the person of Jesus to forgive sins — and how to make proper use of it. She saw the scriptural connections, “the logic [and] the beauty” of the sacrament.

“I literally right then and there was ready to go to reconciliation right after Father Hoffman’s talk,” Heil said.

She still didn’t plan to rejoin the Church, though, but a thought during the summer in between her two years with the institute hinted toward a new direction — sort of.

“I woke up one morning, and I said to myself, ‘Before I die, I think I’d like to become Catholic,’” Heil said. “That’s how far I got.”

During the third pillar on Christian morality, a couple in her small group, Dave and Sharon Altman of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, encouraged her to join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Heil said they were the first Catholics to evangelize her through invitation. She only had to call the parish’s RCIA director and sign up.

“Every week I would come back and Dave would ask me, ‘Did you call Randy [Mueller],’ and every week I would say, ‘No, I was busy,’” Heil said.

After enough weeks of anticipating the question, Heil called Mueller right before a class in November. She admitted she knew RCIA had begun in September, but Mueller insisted she join.

By the time the institute reached its fourth pillar on Christian prayer, Heil’s RCIA classes were also coming to a close with the rite of sending and confirmation on the horizon. She also made a pilgrimage to the Vatican that year during Easter and received her first Communion at the Easter Vigil Mass with Pope Francis.

After graduating from the Catechetical Institute, she resigned from her Pentecostal ministry organization and married a Catholic man in Iowa. She began a new ministry, From His Heart Ministry, to evangelize and form Catholics.

“It really became a gateway or a bridge,” Heil said about leaving Protestant ministry. “A lot of lapsed Catholics that were ministers in other churches were suddenly asking me a lot of questions that I was able to answer because I had gone to the Catechetical Institute.”

Heil’s mother also returned to the Church late in 2013 after sharing about her experiences.

Related:


Heil appeared on EWTN’s Journey Home earlier this year:

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