A grandma’s wish, a teen’s search: Visitation senior confirmed before Christmas

| Christina Capecchi | December 14, 2017 | 1 Comment

From left, Convent of the Visitation seniors Mary Kenny, Hannah Bursey, Julia Carlone, Molly Rosenfield and Meg Pryor celebrate Carlone’s Dec. 8 first Communion and confirmation at an all-school Mass at the Mendota Heights school. Courtesy Visitation

A teen’s fervent spiritual quest will reach a pinnacle at midnight Mass this Christmas, when Julia Carlone sidles up next to her grandma and participates in the Dec. 24 liturgy at All Saints in Lakeville for the first time as a fully initiated Catholic.

It was a longtime dream sparked by her devout 75-year-old grandmother, Diane Spande, and inspired by her experience at the Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, where the 18-year-old from Lakeville is a senior.

Carlone was baptized Catholic but raised Lutheran. Since arriving at “Vis” in seventh grade, Carlone began an earnest examination of the Catholicism permeating the school, particularly influenced by the Visitation sisters and religion teacher Mary McClure, Carlone’s sponsor.

As she studied the Catholic faith in school, Carlone endured alternating periods of yearning and confusion. Some nights, praying as she brushed her teeth before bed, she felt distant from God. “All I wanted to do was further cultivate my relationship with my Creator,” she wrote in a reflection. “Suddenly I had a solution: confirmation.”

That epiphany took hold junior year, propelled by the richness of the faith and her desire to participate fully. She was also awed by the stories in “Extraordinary Ordinary Lives,” Elsa Thompson Hofmeister’s book on the Visitation sisters.

McClure was instrumental in her journey toward confirmation, Carlone said, meeting regularly to field questions and facilitating a modified Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at nearby St. Joseph in West St. Paul that was adapted to complement her studies in religion class.

“Julia’s faith has developed in such a natural way,” McClure said. “Aware of her surroundings, she has a freedom to take in all that is beautiful and allow it to touch her life. Within this past year, Julia has demonstrated both a depth of inquiry and a delightful candor in all her questions.”

Carlone recalls those questions vividly. “The Trinity was really confusing to me. But now, because of Ms. McClure, I could give a presentation on it!”

As part of her RCIA preparation, Carlone also worked closely with school chaplain Father Mark Pavlak, associate pastor of St. John Neumann in Eagan.

“Julia’s pilgrimage of faith has been so edifying to all of us but in particular to her peers at Visitation,” he said. “When this young woman decided to be fully embraced by the Catholic Church, it not only increases her faith, but also the faith of those around her, as if to say, ‘Perhaps there is something to this after all.’ As members of the body of Christ, we all rejoice and are honored by Julia’s fiat.”

She made her official yes at a Dec. 8 all-school Mass, where she was the first among the assembled student body to receive holy Communion and was also confirmed. The arrangement was arrived at, with permission, because Carlone did not want to wait until Easter, the traditional time for RCIA candidates to enter the Church, and because it felt fitting to receive the sacraments at the place where her faith was cultivated.

That faith is a powerful antidote to the stressors of adolescence, Carlone said, including her looming college decision. It also reminds her to resist the commercialism of Christmas.

“I finally decided an Apple watch is not what I should be focusing on, and I’ve moved on from that,” she said.

Her grandma, who taught her the rosary, had always dreamed of having her family take up a pew at midnight Mass. Over time, that vision became Carlone’s.

“It’s sentimental,” she said. To be there with her grandma — singing and worshipping and receiving Communion together — will be unforgettable. “I get giddy just thinking about it.”

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