By Becky Aubut
FALL RIVER, Mass. — About 60 candidates will see the conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River in a few weeks, and Matthew Haggerty, parishioner of St. Jude’s Parish in Taunton, will be among those receiving the Sacrament.
Born Catholic, Haggerty was baptized and received First Communion but “I stopped going to CCD in either sixth or seventh grade, so I was almost there,” he said. “I think like some kids, going to catechism on Sundays, it was never really something I was particularly excited about. I think it was at that point when my parents gave into my [saying], ‘I don’t want to go this week; I don’t want to go this week.’ I think they felt if you don’t want to go, then don’t go. In a weird way, it was a personal decision.”
Most candidates have been baptized and received First Communion and then drift away for myriad of reasons, said Deacon Bruce Bonneau, assistant director of Adult Evangelization and Spirituality at the Office of Faith Formation in the Diocese of Fall River, but regardless of the reason for their coming back to the Church to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, Deacon Bonneau said he likes to remind them of a deeper intention: “God got you here for a reason, you just haven’t figured it out yet.”
Deacon Bonneau helped design a curriculum for the adult Faith Formation classes that focuses on the pillars of the Catholic Church, and wants candidates to connect their Baptism to their Confirmation; “They’re already members of the Catholic Church,” said Deacon Bonneau. “The question is are we fully participating?”
“In the first class with the deacon,” said Haggerty, “he said that regardless of the reason you’re here, I just hope that later you’re going to look back and see that there was a larger reason that was bringing you back. When he said that to me, I was struck.”
Haggerty felt an instant connection to the deacon: “He’s awesome. He’s just a great guy and I enjoyed him. If I was reluctant at all to come back, it was from growing up and I always felt as if I was being lectured to, whether rightly or wrongly, that was my perception. Coming back with Bruce was incredibly refreshing. A lot of this might have to do with my age and coming back as an adult with life experiences, but to come back and meet with Bruce — he was so open, thoughtful and passionate in the discussions, that I felt like I was engaged in a positive way.”
Haggerty was initially asked to become a godparent by his best friends, and he said that his friends understood that it would be a commitment of time to attend classes, so they didn’t want to pressure him.
“They said that this is entirely up to me,” Haggerty said. “They said you would always be viewed to us and through the eyes of our family as the godparents, but it would only be technically my wife. She would be able to stand by and in the eyes of the Church, go through the ceremony. They left it to us.”
That spawned a conversation between Haggerty and his wife, and personally where they wanted to go with his attending classes. Married only six months ago, they realized that maybe there was a bigger picture.
“We started talking about how we would raise our kids,” he said. “We decided that we would want them to be raised with something, and because we were raised Catholic, that something would be the Catholic Church. We decided that I would go to classes and get confirmed.”
So for five nights, two hours each night, Haggerty and others have been attending classes.
“I spend time correcting misconceptions,” said Deacon Bonneau, “many of those are around the annulments and the participation in the Eucharist, and Sacrament of Reconciliation. The complaint usually is that the Church is rules and regulations; that it’s all about form and not about content. What I try to tell them is the Church has teachings and there are reasons for the teachings. You don’t have to agree with them, but [the Church] didn’t just come up with these things. It’s their image of the institutional Church, and most of the information they received had not really been from formed people themselves.”
Ginnelle Aiello, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Fairhaven, was brought up Catholic and received the Sacraments of Baptism and First Communion. She went to a Catholic school up to fifth grade and is also going to be a godparent after she is confirmed: “I’m certainly glad I did it; it’s brought me closer to Jesus,” she said.
As a child, Aiello admits she really didn’t understand “the story of Jesus in the desert, and how He suffered for 40 days” and now she appreciates His suffering for our sins: “It wasn’t something I really thought of until the Confirmation class.”
This past year a retreat was added to the fall and spring adult Faith Formation classes. The retreat isn’t to make the program longer, it’s to make the experience of it more comprehensive, said Deacon Bonneau.
“I thought [the retreat] was beneficial because this isn’t just about information, it’s about transformation,” said Deacon Bonneau. “I really thought it should be part of the process and it’s been really well-received. It highlights the whole commitment aspect, and for the most part many of the candidates had never had a retreat or a reflection experience at all, which is any eye-opener for them — and a nice one. It’s an aspect of Catholicism that, I think, many people don’t see.”
Haggerty has never attended a retreat, and is eager to learn from that day’s speaker, Father John Spencer, a Jesuit priest who has extensive experience in pastoral ministry and is currently vice president of Mission and Ministry at Emmanuel College in Boston. Haggerty admits that he was already leaning towards coming back to the Church because of Pope Francis. As a socially progressive person, Haggerty said he felt the dialogue has changed from the Church’s perspective, and has been following the pope over the last couple of years.
“I find him incredibly refreshing and then to show up and be in class with Deacon Bruce; if it was someone else, I’m not sure I would feel as positively now as I do had it not been him,” said Haggerty. “If I could just offer some praise for the deacon; I really feel like I could have walked in somewhere else and not had the experience that I did. Depending on the person who introduces you, or reintroduces you, can have a huge impact. I would encourage the Church to be thoughtful about that. Who are the people who we want to be pounding the pavement, if you will; I think Deacon Bruce is exceptional at reintroducing people to the faith.”
Haggerty hopes to be able to carve out time in the future to take an active role in volunteering at his parish but until then “the one part of the Confirmation classes I appreciate most is the responsibility to humanity, and the acts of charity and giving back. That’s always been there but to come back and review it at age 30, it’s finally at the point where it means more to me than when I was 12.”
For more information on upcoming adult Faith Formation classes, go to the Office of Faith Formation’s website www.FallRiverFaithFormation.org or call the office at 508-678-2828.