By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
HYANNIS, Mass. — Each year on Holy Saturday during the Easter vigil, thousands of people are baptized into the Catholic Church across the United States. Each individual has his or her own backstory and reason regarding their decision to join the Catholic Church, but for Ryan Barabe, it was more than just being a student at St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis; it was a personal journey for a young man who had no strong religious upbringing who transferred to the school as a freshman, and by his senior year had found his calling to the Catholic faith.
“You’ll see kids becoming confirmed with their class,” said the school’s principal, Christopher Keavy, “but Ryan really sought out the Christian life from the beginning.”
Barabe transferred to St. John Paul II High School for its academics, and was already friends with a few of its students. Soon after his arrival, Barabe began to make waves as the school’s quarterback, becoming noticed by a few colleges and ultimately committing to Nassau Community College in Long Island, N.Y. But even as Barabe racked up the points for his football team, he was looking pointedly at his life off the field and where it was leading.
“My entire family is not religious at all, so I had no religious background before coming here,” explained Barabe. “I think it’s just over the course of the couple of years, my three theology teachers and other people weighing in on me. One of my friends, he’s a great Spiritual person — he actually lives his life Spiritually. He doesn’t hide that; he makes it known. I take after that, he’s a Spiritual role model.”
Learning the Catholic faith on an academic level has also made an impact: “How can it not be God? That’s the only solution I’ve come to,” said Barabe.
And while many young adults would have been content with exploring new ideas and then not following through, Barabe suffered a tragedy that propelled him into taking the next step: “I think the biggest moment where I decided that I really, really wanted to become really faithful in my life was last year in February when one of my friends passed away from a car accident,” said Barabe.
As family and friends gathered together to offer support and grieve, Barabe recalled the reaction of the young man’s mother to the loss of her son: “His brothers aren’t religious but his mother is, so she weighed in and said, ‘He’s in God’s hands now,’ and I started believing that he’s in Heaven now. That played a big role in my taking the next step into becoming a Catholic.”
Barabe enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation program, and began to meet regularly with the school’s chaplain, Father Ron Floyd, who built on the school’s theology curriculum and helped Barabe create a stronger connection with the school’s lessons on Scripture.
Father Floyd said that he stressed that practicing the Catholic faith means “making your yes mean yes; it says in Scripture let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. We talked about the reality about how so many people call themselves Catholics, who that doesn’t really mean anything for, and if you’re going to do this, you’re really going to have to do it with the commitment to doing the whole thing.”
That lesson really stuck out, said Barabe, and that Father Floyd helped him understand that a Catholic’s actions mean more than just words — that to be a Catholic is “to be present at Mass, not just physically but Spiritually and mentally,” said Barabe. “Don’t just say you’re Catholic or you’re Christian, you actually have to live what is being taught to you and what you believe.”
And during the Easter Vigil, Barabe lived out that message alongside his sponsor, Scott Jordan, who, as the junior varsity basketball coach, had not just gotten to know Barabe through basketball but also through one of his sons, who played football with Barabe.
“Ryan is a very, very nice young man,” said Jordan of his first impression of Barabe. “Eager to learn and he really would just look you in the eye and say, ‘What do I need to be doing to make myself better?’ He’s just that type of kid.”
When Barabe asked Jordan during a basketball practice to be his sponsor, Jordan didn’t hesitate to agree: “I was just [thinking] this is so awesome, a young man making a decision like this, having no religion on either side. When Ryan makes a decision, he thinks about things and this is what he really wanted.”
The two men attended the Easter Vigil at Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich, Jordan’s parish, and Jordan recalled seeing Barabe’s reaction as the time drew near: “When we were in the side room and I could see him getting a little fidgety, knowing this is the beginning. This is huge. I think he understood that and that’s what he was nervous about and knowing that he was going to make this journey, and this was the start of it.”
“Going into Saturday, I heard it’s the longest Mass of the year,” said Barabe. “That it’s big and a lot of people fill the church, that it’s pretty epic with the candles lighting the church. I’ve never experienced anything like that; so going in I was kind of nervous, sweaty palms and butterflies. Then I saw that a couple of my friends had shown up, Mr. Keavy came, my family came and my sponsor’s family came. Just seeing all the familiar faces and knowing in the back of my mind that I’m there for the best of reasons possible; I just kind of calmed down and everything just worked out.”
Throughout the whole process, Barabe’s family has been supportive at every turn, and during the reception held after the vigil, Barabe saw the impact of his decision when his older sister, who was so overwhelmed by the love and acceptance her brother received during Mass, went over to talk to the RCIA director at the parish.
“She’s going to do the RCIA program too,” said Barabe of his 20-year-old sibling. “She had gone to church before and certain things didn’t work out, and then she saw how awesome it was at the church that I did it at, so she’s going to start doing it.”
Barabe’s personal journey is “very affirming,” said Keavy. “To many of our students who are cradle Catholics, it provides a nice wake-up call to our faith. In a way, Ryan’s decision helps support his peers in their own faith, and in the same way, his peers helped him find his faith; it’s really a mutual relationship.”
Being part of a Catholic school and seeing his fellow classmates be “normal kids and doing good things, being involved in sports, but also taking their faith seriously” helped provide everyday role models for him, said Keavy, and now Barabe “is a role model; it’s very gratifying to see Ryan really embrace everything we hope for.”
College will provide new opportunities but also new challenges, and having grown in the faith in a Catholic school surrounded by his peers, Barabe now will have to continue living out his faith in a new environment, but Keavy has confidence in Barabe, and that “having just acquired the faith, I think he’s in a stronger position than maybe some of his peers who take the faith for granted.”
Jordan also has every confidence in Barabe, but that won’t stop him from checking in on a regular basis.
“I think I’m going to be on the phone with him about once a week,” said Jordan. “I just want him to know that there are a lot more kids out there like him, and he’s got to search for them and when he finds them he gets a good network. He’s a guy who thinks before he acts and when he knows it’s right, he goes 100 percent, and he knew this was what he really wanted. I know he’s going to be a great Catholic.”
Drawn to writing and taking every creative writing class offered at the high school, Barabe said he will major in communications. He’s already reached out to the football coaches at Nassau and while the school itself is not Catholic, he has offered to lead a prayer before every game.
And while many high school students feel graduation marks a new beginning, Barabe said he already feels like he’s begun a new chapter in his life: “Something about my attitude and the way I walk now, it’s a Baptism of new life. I really feel like I was given a new life and a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”