At the age of five, in 1927, Jane Derda moved to Indiana and became a member of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Now, at 95, she is just as active in her parish community as she was then. She participates in anything from Bible studies to faith sharing groups; one of her favorites among these is the diocesan-wide program “Why Catholic? — Journey Through the Catechism,” which is welcoming new participants as it begins its fall season.
Deride participates in Why Catholic at her home parish of Corpus Christi Catholic Church; however, that was not her initial parish. When she was 5 years old, her family transplanted from Ohio to the west side of South Bend, where they attended St. Adalbert Catholic Church. She recalls growing up as a parishioner at St. Adalbert, where she would bring her prayer book, in her first language of Polish, to the 40 Hours Devotion before the Blessed Sacrament. She remembers participating in special prayer services during the war, such as an intercessory service for Our Lady of Sorrows.
Forty years ago she first became a member of Corpus Christi. At the time, Mass was still offered in the basement of the school. Later, she moved into the neighborhood where Corpus Christi is located and raised her five children, then in their teens and early 20s, with her husband, Tony. A seamstress by profession, Derda would occasionally find herself using her gift of sewing and embroidery for creating alter cloths, church banners and vestments.
She recalled a tornado that tore through the neighborhood the same year the new parish was built.
“It took my roof and part of the garage. When the tornado started coming, I ran into the basement,” she said. “Father Horvath was afraid the new church would become swept away. He stood outside on the hill, looking west over the neighborhood. The tornado rushed by church without causing any damage to the brand new building.” Forty years later that church is still standing, and Corpus Christi is a vibrant faith community led by Father Daryl Rybicki.
Why Catholic is one of the many groups in which Corpus Christi parish members are invited to participate. Derda has been an active member of this faith-sharing group since its first season in the fall of 2015.
The Why Catholic program is divided into noncontingent seasons, and invites Catholic adults to deepen their faith through study of the catechism and community with others. Running for six weeks in the fall and six weeks in the spring, parishioners are invited to participate in just one six-week session or to remain active in the journey for the entire four years of the journey. Each year has a theme: the upcoming theme explores the Creed.
Across the diocese, various parishes host Why Catholic groups. Individual groups contain roughly six-10 members and meet in group leaders’ homes. With many groups at each parish, Why Catholic planning committees place participants into a group according to their availability.
When Derda talks about her experience with Why Catholic, she shares that “I’ve always loved Jesus and the Church. These have always been my first loves. This group deepens this love. You meet people on the same journey as you. It is so interesting to listen to everybody. The more you listen, the more you find out and go deeper. Everybody has their own experiences and versions of things that they bring to the table.”
“This is about getting people together to grow in faith,” added Debbie Green, Corpus Christi parishioner and a Why Catholic group leader. “Often we come to church but don’t even know the person sitting next to us. This brings us together as a parish community. We have people from all Masses coming together. If someone is sick, we pray for them. We’ve done service projects. Our group has become a family inside the church. And then when you go to church, you know more people. We are becoming a family.”
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