Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

Staying with her aunt for the summer, 12-year-old Linda Kinch was moved to set up a makeshift prayer corner in her room – suitcase stood on end and some candles placed on top. For any Catholic, this might seem like a normal childhood response to maintain a connection to something familiar and comforting.

For Linda, however, it was not. Linda’s family did not practice religion; in fact, she had never been baptized. While her mother’s family has roots in northwestern Wisconsin, she grew up “as a service brat” mostly in Texas and Oklahoma.

She believes her action that long-ago summer was fruit of a deep desire for religion and spirituality as much as it was a recollection of an experience she had at the age of 8. Walking home from school, her friend, a Catholic, asked Linda to stop in at the church with her to say a prayer. They lit candles and Linda recalled, “There was just something about the environment and that tradition that struck me and stuck with me for years.”

Linda Kinch, a resident of Webster and member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Grantsburg, was received into the Catholic Church this Easter. She received the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation in the weeks before Easter and first Communion and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil.

What makes Kinch’s story unique is that what she finally discovered in the Catholic Church is the result of a lifelong journey of searching for spirituality and religious identity with a strong sense of community.

As a young married woman living in Denver, Kinch would ride her bike to work, passing a Hare Krishna temple along the way. She was captivated by the chanting and singing she overheard. When some devotees once left information at her apartment, she was struck by their dedication and committed spiritual life.

After her marriage ended in a divorce, Kinch moved with her toddler son and began living at the temple.

“You give up everything,” Kinch explained. She was only allowed to own three saris and a stainless steel bowl to eat from.

She learned and followed a strict Hindu lifestyle and had no exposure to the outside world except for those who were assigned to collect donations and give out flowers and books. Jobs were given based on a person’s talents. The daily schedule was very regimented with prayer and study dispersed between meals and responsibilities of community life.

Kinch is still grateful for the self-discipline and detachment she learned during those years. There were a lot of things about the lifestyle she misses, like the devotion.

“That’s something that you don’t see in Christianity,” she said then emphasized, “I really liked that everything that you did reminded you of who you are – including the forehead marking and dress. It’s obvious to others who you are and you’re always reminded of it.”

Even with all she learned and appreciates from the experience, Kinch admitted there are elements she still misses, but “I didn’t find God there.”

She did find her second husband there. After living at the temple in Denver, they spent time living with Hare Krishna communities in Hawaii and Texas, then left the movement and moved with their four children plus her first son back to the Grantsburg area. Unfortunately, those years were also filled with mental abuse and manipulation, and Linda was left to raise five children as a single parent.

During 10 challenging years, Kinch prioritized her children and provided a life for them by putting herself through nursing school and then working. They attended a Pentecostal church, and Linda’s experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking and praying in tongues has been comforting and enriching, but she was still missing some of the traditions reminiscent of those candles in the Catholic church she saw as a child.

A significant turn toward the Catholic Church came through Kinch’s hobby and side business of breeding cats. Everyone she knew in the area was Pentecostal, including her current husband who helped her raise her children – now all middle-aged, one developmentally disabled – and has been supportive of, though doesn’t personally understand, her conversion to Catholicism.

Through the sale of a kitten to a man in New York, Linda developed a friendship. It started as compassion, as he had recently lost his father and beloved cat, but turned into an evangelization of sorts as the friend would share things here and there about his faith. This friend introduced Kinch to the work and teaching tools of Fr. Mike Schmitz, Fr. Chris Alair and the Divine Mercy. He shared about things like liturgical feast days – and while Kinch still struggles some with Catholic’s devotion to Mary and the saints, she appreciates the identity and constant reminders their lives and celebrations provide.

“As a Protestant, there’s really nothing other than going to church that reminds you day in and day out who you are,” she shared.

One thing led to another, and as her interest and knowledge grew, Kinch was continually drawn in to this religion where, “it seemed like there was always something going on to remind you that you were Catholic.”

Encouraged by her friend – and his mother, who she also got to know especially during the pandemic watching Mass via livestream at their Stanton Island, New York, parish – Kinch contacted Dcn. Stan Marczak and over the last two years, “things fell into place.”

Kinch did acknowledge, as with any new church she has attended, there has been a struggle to feel welcomed and get a sense of community right away. She knows the disconnectedness of the culture, especially post-pandemic, doesn’t help, but she has ideas and initiatives to share. Given her experience with the Holy Spirit, Kinch has been encouraged to make a connection with the diocesan Charismatic Renewal groups.

“The Eucharist is the highlight for me,” she concluded. Pentecostals have communion as a representation, but Kinch said, “I want the real thing.”

Through the varied elements of her personal history, Kinch is convicted that “God makes all things good.” She ended sharing an anonymous poem she remembers her grandmother always loved and left an impression on her, like those candles in the Catholic church.

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving, between my God and me.
I do not choose the colors, He weaves so steadily.
Oft times he weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God roll back the canvas and explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful in the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

Linda Kinch was received into the Catholic Church at Easter. (Submitted photo)