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Shauna takes the final step to belonging

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Shauna Thomas used to get quite teary when she’d attend Mass and could only receive a blessing from the priest at Communion time.

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“I felt like I belonged but I wasn’t quite there yet,” she said.

Last month Shauna was baptised, confirmed and received the sacrament of Holy Communion at St Joseph’s Church, Brighton, after a 12-year journey to the Catholic faith.

“It was very special – I couldn’t believe it when Fr Peter (Sheedy) gave me my certificate and I turned around and saw all these parishioners smiling back at me and clapping,” Shauna, 76, said.

“So many parishioners came up to me and wished me well, they really embraced me and made me feel part of the community.

“I feel more at peace now, and like ‘one of them’ when I go to Mass.”

In 2003 Shauna retired from a 32-year career as a developmental educator at Minda and began babysitting for her goddaughter’s daughter, Jorjia Kleemann. When Jorjia commenced school at St Teresa’s, Brighton, Shauna started helping out in the classroom and has continued doing so ever since, even when St Teresa’s moved to McAuley Community School at Hove.

“I do all the little extra things the teacher doesn’t have time for like reading and making games and laminating,” she said.

Shauna also accompanied the students when they went to the adjacent church for liturgies and over time she became interested in becoming Catholic. Of Scottish Presbyterian heritage, she never had any formal religious upbringing but always had “this belief”.

In 2015 she approached the assistant principal (Religious Identity and Mission) at St Teresa’s, Marianne Loftus, who she’d known since she was a child, and found out what was required but didn’t take it any further.

“Last year I got very sick with shingles in the ear and spent five weeks in hospital, so I had time to contemplate and really reflect on life,” Shauna said.

“I was a bit down in hospital, and I thought I have to stop thinking about what might have been and move forward.

“I talked to Clare Thewlis (Brighton parish pastoral associate) and as soon as I got out, I decided it was the right time to go ahead with it.”

She spoke to her husband Graham, who isn’t Catholic, and he was very supportive.

“He said if you feel this is what you want to do, then do it,” she said.

“I’m from a big family and my younger siblings also said that if that’s what I wanted, they would support me.”

She began the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program with three parishioners from St Ann’s who were already baptised and she thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and the homework, as well as attending Mass.

Her sponsor was Michelle Highman, the first teacher she volunteered for at St Teresa’s. She has three young sons now and the two have kept up their friendship, with Michelle accompanying Shauna on retreat and at the Rite of Election at St Patrick’s Church on March 1.

Shauna’s baptism and confirmation was supposed to take place at Easter but was deferred to last month because of the coronavirus restrictions.

She said it was wonderful to see so many teachers she had worked with at her baptism.

“I didn’t know how popular I was,” she laughed.

Shauna also praised Clare for the “little touches” like organising for Jorjia to read and for her and Michelle to process into church with Fr Sheedy.

Having chosen Mary MacKillop for her saint’s name, Shauna was looking forward to celebrating her feast day on Saturday August 8 and Sunday Mass as a fully-fledged Catholic.

A Mass for new Catholics is scheduled for September 20 at the 11am service in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral. The Archdiocese has 21 RCIA candidates being baptised this year and another eight being accepted into full communion.

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