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Mantecan came home to Catholic church
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For a long time, Kevin Sandle felt there was something missing in his life. But he couldn’t figure it out, nor could he put a name to it.

“It’s kind of like, if you talk to somebody and they say they love someone and you ask, ‘why do you love them?’ And it’s just hard to put it into words. It’s just something you feel inside,” said the 42-year-old former security manager for Comcast in the Bay Area who has called Manteca home since 2001.

Three years ago, Sandle finally discovered what he felt was missing but could not articulate: his return to his Catholic faith.

And he has his mother in Medford, Oregon, and a program called “Catholics Returning home” at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca to thank for that discovery – or maybe more appropriately, re-discovery.

Born and raised a Catholic, he went through the gamut of sacraments – baptism, confirmation, confession, holy communion. He received his first communion at the Holy Ghost Church in Rochester, N.Y., where he was born. At St. Catherine Church in Morgan Hill in the Bay Area where they lived when his family moved to California in 1980 due to his father’s job in computers, he was confirmed.

“I didn’t go to Catholic schools but you go to (catechism and confirmation) classes on the weekends and become friends with the priests. And when we came out here (to California) I got involved with the (church) youth group, went on ski trips and had just lots of fun with the youth group at St. Catherine’s,” Sandle recalled.

“But as I grew older,” he said, and due to “some other complications” that occurred in his adult life, he drifted away from that deep Catholic upbringing and ceased going to church and receiving the sacraments.

Couldn’t go to communion

He had been away from the church for “10 plus to 15 plus years” when his pivotal moment of rediscovery happened while he was visiting his parents in Oregon about three years ago. His mother and step-father moved to Medford after they retired from their jobs in the Bay Area and are very active in their church there. During that visit, said Sandle, his mother made a very subtle challenge. He had gone to church with them, “and  just when we got to church, she asked if I was planning to go to communion or not, and I said yes. And she said, ‘I don’t think you can.’”
In retrospect, Sandle said, “She wanted me to make that decision, I guess,” about receiving the sacraments again.

“It was kind of a shock. I thought, ‘why is my mother telling me this now? (about not being able to receive communion),” he said. “It kind of shocked me that I wouldn’t be able to participate in communion.”

Until that time, he has not given it any thought, Sandle said frankly.

But that was enough to get him thinking.

High praise of the process

So when he came back to Manteca, the first thing he did was to place a call at the parish office and talk to the pastor, Father Patrick Walker. It just so happened that the “Catholics Returning Home” was also being offered for the first time at that time, and he immediately signed up for that.

“I couldn’t have asked for better people to take me through the process, like Deacon Harvey (Parolari),” Sandle said. “He’s very easy and open to speak with. Now, I’m going back to church and doing it for my reasons and for what I feel is right.”
As the class says, it’s like “coming home – you get a comfortable feeling,” he said.

Attending the six-week Thursday evening classes is purely voluntary, and like going to college, “you get what you put into it. I felt like it was just an appetizer to get you re-introduced to the church. (The program) starts your feast of whatever you want it to be,” he said.
It’s also a matter of “growing up and learning life’s lessons. I was away from church for so long” and have lost focus on his faith, he added.

“Now I’m back to going to church, and six weeks ago I went to confession. But I’m not eligible for communion yet,” he said. “To receive communion, you have to be following the 10 Commandments and, basically, free from sin and not knowingly sin again.”

Part of the reason he is not able to receive Holy Communion right now is because of the status of his marriage. His wife comes from a very devout Baptist family – her late father was a pastor her brother is also a pastor. But just as he was a non-practicing Catholic, his wife is also a non-practicing Baptist. And the fact he “got married outside the church” is another hurdle toward his journey to receiving holy communion.

“I’m still struggling to have my marriage recognized by the church. It’s important to me to receive communion again and I can’t do that,” he said.

As to what his wife thinks about the steps he has undertaken to return to the fold, Sandle said, “she fully supports me. She’s not doing anything that prohibits me to do it, or anything like that.”

However, she is not interested in converting to the Catholic faith and she has not been going to church with him.

Coming home to the Catholic Church
But since he made that phone call to the church office three years ago and took part in the class, he has fulfilled the objective of the program which is to return home to the Catholic faith, and stay.

“Even though the class was small – there were about six to eight people – it was very easy, it was nonjudgmental,” Sandle said.

“It’s been very good. Everybody, so far, that we have worked with in the class seems to be happy with the information that we’ve given them,” Deacon Harvey, who is part of the team overseeing Catholics Returning Home, said of what the program has achieved in the last three years.

“We want to offer everyone the opportunity to return to the Catholic church; what we’re offering is kind of a welcoming thing,” he said.

Parishioner Marion Elliott who is one of the program facilitators – he’s in charge of the current six-week program being offered after Easter – said Catholics Returning Home is for “people who have been away from church for a while and want to come back or at least find out” what’s happening in the church today.

“We’re not interested in counseling or anything like that. We’re trained to refer them to the proper persons in the diocese,” he said.

So far, the program has served 60 people.

The sessions are offered twice a year – one just after Christmas and the other after Easter.

The current session meets April 16 through May 21 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the ministry building located on the west side of the church.

For more information about joining the class, call the church office at 823-7197, Marion Elliott at 823-3462, or Deacon Harvey at 599-6719.