OGDEN — The faith journey for the Phillips family crossed the threshold of St. James the Just Catholic Church after the oldest child, Braxton, turned 8.
“I looked at my wife and said, ‘Well, he needs to be baptized. I said, ‘He’s 8 years old,’” said Bronko Phillips, who was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although he had left the church, he prayed nightly with his son and instilled in him a belief in the Heavenly Father.
Bronko’s wife, Bridgete Phillips, occasionally had attended church with her devoutly Catholic mother, but had never received the sacraments. When Bronko told her to choose either her church or his church in which to raise their children, but that he felt the LDS church was not the same one he grew up in, Bridgete took her mother’s suggestion and enrolled Braxton and their 4-year-old daughter, Breauna, in religion classes at St. James the Just Parish.
“I think the first thing that attracted me was just my mom’s strong belief – even though she hadn’t gone [to Mass] in so long, she was very devoted” to the Catholic faith, Bridgete said, adding that she has always had a belief in a higher power.
Deciding that she should go to church if her children did, Bridgete attended the first RCIA class. Afterward, she told Bronko that she thought he would enjoy the classes because they taught many of the things he believed in.
After leaving home to enlist in the U.S. Navy, Bronko had questions about faith that the Mormon church couldn’t answer. His military experience while serving during the second Gulf War made him realize he needed to do something about his faith life, so he explored many of the Eastern religions and philosophies. He also read the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran, but he never felt comfortable in their houses of worship, he said, except for the Jewish temple. However, at St. James the Just Catholic Church, “when I finally came here, this finally felt like home,” he said.
“It just felt right when we came here,” Bridgete agreed, noting that their son loves the religion classes and their daughter is very fond of her religion teacher.
St. James the Just Parish is welcoming and not judgmental, the couple said.
“It felt like home. It really did,” Bridgete said.
Although at first it was a chore to attend Mass every week, it didn’t take long before they wanted to go, she said. “Now it’s a family thing. We love it. It feels right.”
The family extends to her parents. While her mother has a devout Catholic faith, she didn’t attend Mass regularly because it was difficult to get to church, Bridgete said. However, when the Phillips family began the RCIA process, Bridgete’s father, Guy Gillet, joined them. He, too, will be baptized into the Church at the Easter vigil.
“We brought the whole family along. It’s a big thing for us,” Bridgete said.
Bridgete’s mother was ecstatic when she learned the Phillips family was taking RCIA classes; her mother will be the children’s godparent, Bridgete said. “She’s been over the moon about it… and it brought her back, too. … I think it’s strengthened a lot of relationships – all of us as a family, my mom, my dad.”
On the other hand, Bronko’s family was hurt by his decision to convert to Catholicism, he said, particularly because they were sealed in the Temple and can trace their roots back to the founding of the Mormon church. However, one day his father sat down him down and said, “The pope ain’t going to go to hell, so I think you’ll be OK,” Bronko said.
The path to the Catholic faith wasn’t entirely smooth for Bronko, who struggled to understand the Trinity. A visiting priest explained it in a way he understood, and now “I just can’t wait to participate in the Eucharist” and join the Knights of Columbus, he said.
The RCIA process has been a blessing for the family as well as Bridgete personally, she said. “I think I have a more positive outlook on everyday life situations, and our family’s closer.”
At first she felt awkward and embarrassed to pray, she said, but “I got more comfortable with the thought of praying and with thought of actually being answered.”
She is growing in her acceptance of being a person of faith and of having her children raised in the Church, she said. While she originally began the RCIA process for her family, “I’m doing this for myself too now, and for my family. … I feel right. I feel like this is the right choice. I’m doing the right thing. … It has brought me a lot of joy, more inner peace, which makes me a better mom, a better wife, a better worker.”
The Church’s teachings have answered her questions about faith and also eased her fear of death, she said, because she is comforted about what will happen after she dies.
The RCIA process has brought the couple closer, as well as improved his relationship with his mother-in-law, Bronko said. “Since we’ve been going to church, the blessings I think that our family has received has just been tenfold. … I’ve never in my life felt happier. I’ve not felt the closeness with my family that we have, until I started coming back to church. It has been a great blessing.”