Angela Valles’ journey to the Catholic Church was a long time coming, and she attributes her decision to the Holy Spirit, who worked quickly and powerfully in her life.
She grew up as the daughter of two United Methodist Church ministers and even attended seminary herself for a time. Then she was married and had a son, who is 22.
When we spoke earlier this week, Ms. Valles, 54, said she sampled other mainline Protestant branches, including Episcopalian, Presbyterian and even joined a Baptist congregation, but said she never personally experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Last year, she met a woman who suggested she visit a priest at Mount Alvernia, the Franciscan retreat center in Wappingers Falls, for spiritual direction. He told her God loved her the way she was, and if she wanted to learn about the Catholic Church she should inquire about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at her local parish. So she went to St. Joachim-St. John the Evangelist Church in Beacon.
About that time, she saw a blurb in the parish bulletin about Discovering Christ, a seven-week program that helps Catholics learn about their faith through expert teaching, personal witness talks, music and small-group fellowship over dinner with other Catholics. Ms. Valles was one of several hundred to attend last fall’s sessions at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie.
From the first gathering, Ms. Valles said she knew it was the start of a different faith experience. She paused for a moment to collect herself, as she said she often did while attending Discovering Christ. “It was an all-consuming and overwhelming feeling that I was home. I knew I was in the right place,” she said.
She formed quick connections. One woman from Beacon named Kitty, who was part of her small group, made a powerful impression after only a couple weekly meetings. “She said, ‘Angela, I prayed for you all week, because I thought about you all week.’ I was so taken by that. I thought, ‘She doesn’t even know me.’”
About the same time, she met with Sister Kathleen Maire, O.S.F., a pastoral associate at St. Joachim-St. John the Evangelist, to learn more about the RCIA program. “She looks like the total embodiment of love,” Ms. Valles said of Sister Kathleen.
She also was full of praise for Father Richard Smith, the parish’s pastor. “Both of them together. He’s so compassionate. He has such a loving spirit. They nurtured me and made me feel at home.”
She completed the RCIA in time to enter full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil when she received the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation. Her aunt, Gloria Garcia of Corpus Christi, Texas, was her confirmation sponsor.
Ms. Valles, who is divorced, said participating in Discovering Christ, before she was even a Catholic, was integral to her decision to become one. “If it wasn’t for Discovering Christ, I probably wouldn’t have become Catholic,” she said. “It healed me. It gave me hope and unconditional love. It brought me to Jesus through Mary…It transformed my life.”
The talks she heard about finding Christ and forming a relationship with Him had a lasting effect on her. During her confirmation, she said she promised Jesus that He could do “whatever He wants to do with my life.”
“I went 30 years without feeling the Holy Spirit in my life,” she said. “I want to share it with as many people as I can.”
Last week, she had a call from Cardinal Dolan, who welcomed her to the Church. “He said I was an example to him and to the diocese, and that the Church needed me.”
This weekend, Ms. Valles will finish Following Christ, the second component of the ChristLife evangelization process, at Holy Trinity Church in Poughkeepsie. In our conversation, she said some fellow participants have said they want to be deeply touched by the Spirit as she is. Ms. Valles noted everyone’s faith journey is unique, and while no one’s experience is exactly the same, all grow in their faith and become “like a family” by session’s end.