By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T
PAOLI – Each year during the Easter Vigil, the Church rejoices in welcoming new Catholics to the faith. At St. Norbert Parish in Paoli, the night was especially joyful as four members of the same family were welcomed into full communion with the Church.
Michael and Terry Mandarino met through their professions. Michael is an orthopedic surgeon, and Terry an operating room nurse. They were each previously married and raised families. Michael’s three children Michael, Kim and Christopher are all grown, and Terry’s son, Kristian, is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy.
Michael was baptized Catholic, and although not practicing his faith at the time, made prayer a priority in his daily life. Terry had been baptized in the Lutheran church. They were married in a civil ceremony 21 years ago.
After seven years of marriage, they decided that they still had some parenting to do, and they sought to adopt children who needed a loving home. They adopted an infant girl named Kahle, who was born to Nigerian college students attending school in America. She is now 13 years old.
Two years later, the Mandarinos adopted an African-American infant boy named Kahse, who is now 11. Both children were baptized Episcopalian, and blossomed in academics, arts and sports.
In 2007, Deacon William Masapollo, who is a permanent deacon at St. Norbert Parish and a friend of the family, asked them: “What is the legacy you want to leave your children?”
They decided that becoming members of one faith community was the answer. They sought full membership in the Catholic Church.
“In today’s world, children need all of the guidance they can get,” Terry said, “and the Church is very important in helping them live good lives.”
Father John J. Noviello, O.Praem., who is parochial administrator of St. Norbert Parish, guided the family through their preparation in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and Children.
While Michael and Terry worked through the marriage annulment process, Terry, Kahle and Kahse attended RCIA classes. Michael chose to attend RCIA with his wife to refresh his understanding of Catholic teaching and tradition.
Their previous marriages were annulled and their civil marriage was blessed by the Church in March 2008.
The Mandarino family faithfully attended their RCIA classes beginning in September 2008, and on the first Sunday of Lent 2009, they were present at the Cathedral for the Rite of Introduction and the Rite of Election celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali.
Finally, on Saturday, April 11 of this year, at the Easter Vigil Mass, the Mandarino family was unified in one faith.
“Words can’t explain the joy we felt,” Terry said, “and the Easter Vigil is the most beautiful Mass of the year!”
Kevin Hughes, director of the parish’s RCIA program, and Kerry Puia, director of the program to prepare children, took great pleasure in preparing the Mandarinos for their reception into the faith.
“They showed genuine enthusiasm throughout the entire process,” said Puia, also a convert.
One part of the faith formation that was very meaningful to the family was the choice of a confirmation name, and they researched holy people who would inspire them.
Kahle, with her Nigerian heritage, chose Monica, after the saint from northern Africa. Kahse wanted the name of a caregiver to honor his father’s profession, so he took the name Damian.
Terry thanked “Deacon Bill, Father John Joseph, Kerry and Kevin for all they did for our family. They were so selfless and we now have the unity we were seeking as a family.”
“We don’t see ourselves as ‘newsworthy,'” she added, “but if our story can help another family traveling the same road we did, it’s well worth it!”
George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.