Baptized at 81: For St. Anastasia parishioner, all it took was a question

Fred Brown, 81, stands with his wife, Marian, and St. Anastasia pastor Fr. Steve Wertanen after his baptism and first Communion on Jan. 8 at the Troy parish. Brown, a longtime Massgoer but never initiated into the Church, wanted to pre-arrange a Catholic funeral at St. Anastasia, but ended up becoming Catholic at Fr. Wertanen’s suggestion instead. (Courtesy of Florence Parent)

For longtime Massgoer, pastor’s inquiry was push he needed to take the plunge

TROY — Ever since Fred and Marian Brown were married 25 years ago, they attended Mass together on Sunday. But now, they can receive holy Communion together, too. At the age of 81, Fred was received into the Catholic Church in January.

Marian was born and raised Catholic, while Fred had never been a member of a church of any denomination. Still, he went to Mass each Sunday and participated in activities at their parish, St. Anastasia in Troy. Both had been widowed previously.

Last December, as the couple discussed details to pre-plan their funerals, they wondered whether Fred could have a Catholic funeral even though he had never joined the Church or been baptized. So Marian contacted Holly Michelcavage, the worship and sacramental coordinator at St. Anastasia, to explore the couple’s options.

“When Marian called to ask if Fred would be able to have a Catholic funeral, I knew that even though he couldn’t have a Mass, we are allowed certain provisions in cases like this,” Michelcavage said. “I told her I’d have to talk to Fr. Steve (Wertanen, pastor of St. Anastasia) and get back to her.”

When Michelcavage took the question to Fr. Wertanen, he responded with a question of his own:  “What’s holding Fred back from becoming Catholic?”

“So I called Marian and asked her to talk it over with Fred. I told her we could certainly make provisions, but Fr. Steve wondered why Fred wouldn’t want to receive the sacraments — why you wouldn’t want those graces,” Michelcavage said.

Twenty minutes later, Marian called and said Fred wanted to be baptized in the Catholic Church. But there was one hitch: Not only did he want to receive his sacraments, but he wanted to do so before they left for their annual winter trip to Florida in January.

The yearly trip was one factor that had kept Fred from enrolling in RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) in the past. He had considered becoming Catholic, but knew he couldn’t commit to the classes that typically begin in fall and extend through Easter.

Fr. Wertanen wasn’t the first person to ask Fred the question; Marian had asked him previously. So had his son, who joined the Church before he married his Catholic wife, and whose family belongs to St. Regis Parish in Bloomfield Township.

“It’s been in the back of my mind for a time,” Fred Brown said. “I thought it would be nice to receive the Eucharist with my grandkids.”

Fred had just one month to prepare for his entrance into the Church. Michelcavage says that while most candidates are required to take RCIA, there are exceptions in place for extenuating circumstances, including age.

Regina Simony, the adult faith formation coordinator at the parish, helped Fred prepare by giving him books and CDs to review on his own, including one about the Jewish roots of the Eucharist and the Jewish connection to the Catholic faith.

“I always thought we should believe in just the Old Testament because that’s where it all started,” Fred said. “But I listened to that CD a few times and I connected the dots between the two religions and the Old and New Testaments. I thought that was very interesting.”

On Jan. 8, with his family around him and Marian by his side, Fred was baptized and received the Eucharist for the first time. The group had gathered that weekend to celebrate Fred and Marian’s anniversary.

“It’s still new to me,” Fred says. “People in church who’ve seen me every week noticed that I started receiving first Communion.”

Now, Fred says, if he knew someone who was considering becoming Catholic, he would tell them to do so.

Michelcavage encourages everyone to invite others into the Church.

“For me, that’s what really came to light from all of this — that Fr. Steve simply asked the question. All of us have to put it out there,” she said. “You never know what they’ll say, and there’s nothing to lose by asking, but everything to gain.”

Fred looks forward to sharing the faith with his wife and especially with his grandson, who will receive his first holy Communion in May.

“I think it’s wonderful and I’m so proud of him,” Marian Brown said. “To have him go to up for Communion with me is so special after 25 years.”