Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Writer’s Note: The young men in this article will be received into the church on the Easter Vigil, March 30.

Every Easter, parishes across the Diocese of Superior welcome unbaptized persons as new Catholics or baptized Christians into full communion with the Catholic Church. This spring, two converts give additional cause for gratitude as they are young men who will both receive all three sacraments of Initiation.

Hayden Walters, 19, will be received as a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Rice Lake. Caleb Plamann, also 19, will become Catholic as a parishioner of Holy Family Church in Woodruff.

Hayden was raised Baptist and non-denominational, but “didn’t really believe in religion” when he was younger, thinking “it was just some legend that had passed down.” He ultimately came to Christ in 2020 “after looking into all religions.”

Walters shared that one of his favorite quotes is from St. John Henry Newman: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” which he said directly relates to how he found Catholicism.

“I got really into theology and wondered why there were so many denominations,” Walters said, adding that he “wanted to see if my theological views were correct.

“I ultimately came to the conclusion that my non-denominational/Baptist views were not at all the same as what Christ instituted, nor what the early church believed shortly after Christ.” Particularly interested in topics such as Church authority, Eucharist and salvation, the young man spent a year looking into Catholicism and praying before beginning the OCIA process.

During that time, Walters’ involvement with the Warriors for Christ club at Rice Lake High School connected him with Kelly Effertz-Orr, who runs the club. Effertz-Orr became a resource the student could talk with and ask questions. Although he had a few friends he knew were Catholic, only one was really practicing the faith, Ben Drost, with whom he had grown up playing sports. Drost is now Walters’ sponsor.

He acknowledged that social media, especially YouTube, played a role in his learning about the Catholic faith.

“I watched so many (videos) of Fr. Mike Schmitz, Fr. Mark Mary and Sr. Mary Grace on the ‘Ascension Presents’ YouTube channel. They explained the Catholic faith for what it is and broke down assumptions and misconceptions I had against Catholicism.

“Over the course of my year looking into Catholicism, I wouldn’t doubt that I had watched hundreds of hours’ worth of content on YouTube answering my questions and thoughts,” Walters said.

Besides YouTube, he read a lot of Church history from multiple sources on the internet and acknowledged that, without the internet and media sources, “I have no idea how I would have gained so much knowledge on church history, teaching and doctrine in such a short span of time.”

When asked what his young adults peers are looking for that he’s found the answer to in the Catholic Church, Walters responded, “I think that my age group is thirsting for something that Christ offers through the Catholic Church.”
Walters admitted when he used to question why Catholics would go to a priest for confession, “Though at that time I didn’t understand the Biblical reasoning for confession, it mainly came out of fear. I was uncomfortable revealing my sins to someone other than God himself. Yet my views have changed so much on the sacrament.”

“I think my age group needs confession,” he said, emphasizing that need “to reveal our shortcomings to someone in a vulnerable place. … In a world where we make our lives seem perfect on a screen on social media, I think it’s crucial for people, my age specifically, to have a place where they can stop pretending they have their whole life together and that it’s picture-perfect.”

Born in Minoqua, Plamann’s family moved to the countryside between Hazelhurst and Rhinelander. There was a small Lutheran church he remembers attending infrequently as a boy. His initial familiarity with the Catholic Church came through attending Boy Scouts at Nativity of Our Lord Parish through middle school.

He didn’t go to church at all during high school until his senior year. Plamann clearly remembers the day when his devoutly Catholic friend David casually invited him to a “nice service” that Sunday, followed by a pancake breakfast.
“Sure, what’s the harm?” Plamann responded and shared his reaction pulling up to the church, “Wow! This place is cool.
“But when I walked in,” he added, “I had never felt what I felt – this place is a home away from home. It just felt amazing.”

Plamann, who graduated last year and sells cars at the Rhinelander Honda dealership, said that he’s been at Mass every Sunday or Saturday Vigil Mass since. At last year’s Easter Vigil he saw a couple people baptized, and immediately “hit the website” looking for information.

“Who can I call to get that done?” he asked himself and joined the OCIA program soon after. At this year’s Easter Vigil, Plamann will be baptized, receive his first Communion and be confirmed.

He said his parents have been supportive; although they’ve never practiced a specific Christian belief system, they are believers and followers of Jesus. They have even been somewhat responsive to their son’s invitations to attend Mass with him.

“I’m planting a seed and starting to see it grow,” he said.

Plamann is most excited about receiving all three sacraments of initiation on the same night. “That’s my high point,” like a grand slam, he acknowledged.

He said he hasn’t really experienced many struggles with what he’s been learning. “I’ve tried to listen and listen and take in as much as I could,” he added.

When asked what he believes stands in the way of other young people seeing religion as something worth pursuing, he responded that actually, a number of his other friends, also raised by atheists or non-religious parents, are now on the path into the Catholic Church through OCIA.

“What I think is that, a lot of people my age – helped by the influence of TikTok” are discovering the church. He recognized the app can be harmful and dangerous in many other ways that go against God, but for those who have found a niche of Christian and Catholic edits showing up on their home pages, they are being evangelized.

“Once kids find themselves in that niche, it’s a good way for them to relate because everybody’s on their phones now. … I can definitely tell you this – Christ isn’t going anywhere,” he emphasized. “When I come to work and talk to my co-workers and people that are my age … He isn’t going anywhere, despite what some people want and some think. People my age are still believing and still spreading the word.”

Plamann concluded, doubling back on God’s presence in the lives of younger people. “It’s something that a lot of older people might overlook.” He admitted the challenge for two generations with such a large age gap to relate, “but when you bring both of them to church… and when our prayers are said together, it interweaves us.”

“That’s what I’ve found going through this program,” he said and shared about his experience standing up before the congregation during his scrutiny Masses. “Afterwards there’s been a bunch of people welcoming me, but there’s been a few older ladies who’ve come up to me crying, so happy that there’s someone younger” carrying on the faith.

“I can promise you this,” Plamann concluded, “I’m gonna be bringing as many people my age, younger and older than me – anyone that I can to church. Anyone that I can.”