|Rhonda and Larry Jones|
November 5, 2010. Canandaigua, NY. As a little girl growing
up in a Conservative Jewish family, Rhonda Jones believed in
God, but from a safe distance.
She believed in his
goodness enough to pray to him earnestly over a certain
beloved tulip in the spring, but she also knew that
God was to be feared. Every year, at Rosh Hashanah,
God wrote in his Book of Life who was going
to live and who was going to die in the
coming year. On Yom Kippur, they had to apologize for
all of their sins, including some rather impressive ones whose
names she didn’t understand. If there was one thing she
was sure about, it was that God was to be
respected from across a chasm of distance and majesty.
in Ithaca, New York, her childhood was bright and cheerful.
Her parents were friends with people from every background, including
the members of the small Jewish community there and the
Catholics with whom her dad had grown up playing sports.
And although Rhonda was usually the only Jewish girl in
her classroom every year, she always felt welcome and “special”
for being different. The community, enriched by the presence of
Cornell University, was remarkably diverse, with students and faculty from
all nationalities, religions, and backgrounds.
At age 13, Rhonda decided to
plunge more deeply into her Jewish faith. She joined the
United Synagogue Youth (USY), learned Hebrew, and prepared for her
Bat Mitzvah. During junior high and high school, she remained
very involved in USY.
Going to college at the University of
Rochester in western New York was a totally different experience,
however. At that time, the university student body was about
50% Jewish, and those students came from mostly Jewish high
“The girls dated only Jewish guys and their shoes
matched their purses,” Rhonda recalled. By contrast, her friends were
from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Meanwhile, one of her
older brothers had married a woman from an actively practicing
Jewish family. The two tried hard to steer Rhonda into
greater and greater practice of the religion and urged her
to marry a Jew, which she did while completing a
PhD in clinical psychology.
Because of her own experience with
bereavement following a miscarriage in the middle of her first
pregnancy, she proceeded to specialize in helping women with pregnancy
and neonatal loss and counseling clients with bereavement.
lasted ten years, ending in divorce with two young children.
It was shortly after that painful separation that she met
|Rhonda and Larry with their four children and their respective spouses.|
Larry had been widowed for over three years, and
had two children of his own. His wife Lucy had
died of a heart attack, leaving him with a two-year
old and an eight-year old.
Though grieving the loss of
a loved one takes a lifetime, Larry’s sadness was accompanied
by joy and peace. When Rhonda first met him, he
surprised her by saying that he was “extraordinarily blessed.” She
soon came to discover that behind his playful and ingenious
sense of humor, there was a heart filled with prayer
and concern for others. Larry was a sincere Catholic and
he lived his faith with an attractive mixture of spontaneity,
fidelity, and joy.
Drawn to each other from the start, they
decided to get married, first by a judge and shortly
after by a Catholic priest, as Rhonda’s first marriage had
been declared null. Together with their children they formed an
interreligious household. Rhonda’s two children attended Jewish “Day School” and
learned Hebrew. Larry and his two children went to Mass
on Sundays. His children attended Catholic schools during the week.
The families celebrated both Passover and Easter, Christmas and Hanukkah.
On one occasion, the two parents looked on with amusement
when the younger son (Jewish, age 4) and the older
son (Catholic, age 14) argued about the proper way to
It was a different kind of Brady Bunch. There
was mutual respect and celebration of each other’s traditions, and
no pressure to convert on either side.
Shortly before Rhonda met
Larry, a Catholic friend of her mother’s back in Ithaca,
a certain Mary Mancini, had been praying fervently for Rhonda
to find someone she would be very happy with for
the rest of her life.
“I was just so touched that
she would want to do that,” said Rhonda. “It was
the first time I felt in a whole new way
such confirmation that there really is a God who listens
to our prayers. When I heard about her prayers, I
knew that God had answered them.”
Little did Rhonda know
that there were more prayers lifted up on her behalf,
and that God was busy answering those, too.
Zacchaeus, come down!
later, as Rhonda and Larry were building up a network
marketing business, she was busy attending networking events so that
she could recommend them to the folks in their networking
business. One of the events on her agenda was an
ecumenical service on Sunday.
“Ecumenical, my foot,” she said, looking back.
It was purely non-denominational Christian. But she attended anyway, keeping
an open mind.
At one of the talks, a preacher expounded
on the Gospel passage of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, who
had climbed up into the sycamore tree to be able
to see Jesus better over the crowd. Something about that
Gospel passage worked its magic: there was a kind of
instant recognition that touched her heart.
“When I heard all of
what Jesus did for Zacchaeus in so few words, I
immediately knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the one we
had been waiting for,” she said.
After the conference, she
called up a Methodist minister friend and asked him what
to read. He suggested she start with one of the
“What’s a Gospel?” she responded.
Another friend gave her a biography
of Jesus that presented the main Gospel narrative in chronological
order. As she read it, she found herself weeping. Then
her 8th grade stepdaughter performed in a Passion mime at
school, and again, she couldn’t stop crying through the entire
This was no longer a God to be feared from
a distance. This was a God who warmly invited her
to come closer, just as he had invited Zacchaeus. And
it was a God who himself had “come down” from
heaven to earth out of love.
She was seriously
considering converting, and she chose Catholicism to practice her Christianity
with Larry. But Rhonda, not understanding the Mass at all,
was reluctant to attend Larry’s church because she found the
Mass there to be too traditional.
She had previously attended a
special Mass at a Catholic church in Rochester, NY for
couples who had lost babies during pregnancy. Larry knew that
she had a good experience there, and although some aspects
of the liturgy did not sit well with him, he
switched parishes so that they could worship where Rhonda might
feel more comfortable. Before long, they began forming new friendships
and getting involved with the community, occasionally attending daily Mass
When Rhonda joined the RCIA program, she met
with mixed reactions. On the one hand, Larry was beaming
with joy. But her two children were uncomfortable with her
“It was hard for me because I did not want
to hurt my children, but I also felt that I
had to claim Christ. People would ask me, ‘Why don’t
you wait five years?’ But I felt that I had
to be honest and coherent -- that I had to
do it,” she said.
When she told Larry’s previous parish priest,
who had married them and now was dying of cancer,
he wept for joy.
The Body of Christ… broken
few months after she had completed the RCIA program and
entered the Church, Rhonda and Larry faced a painful surprise.
priest, who had brought her and 20 other people into
the Catholic faith, went into schism, bringing about 90-95% of
the parish with him. A very small number of people
stayed, including Rhonda and Larry. Up until then they had
become familiar with the many wonderful things the parishioners were
doing for the community. In a way, this counterbalanced some
of the growing expressions of ideology and hopes (not in
conformity with the Magisterium) expressed by various parishioners and leadership.
The months following the schism were something of a nightmare.
An attempt by Larry to offer the breaking-away parishioners a
way to return, save face, and be faithful was immediately
|Members of the schismatic Corpus Christi parish stand beneath their banner.|
rejected at a meeting. The diocese sent another priest in
to care for the remaining members of the parish, but
he faced constant agitation from schismatic protesters.
At the new
priest’s first Mass, the people who sided with the old
priest decided to disrupt it by “striking from serving.” One
of them was Rhonda’s RCIA sponsor, a religious sister.
others tried to distribute Holy Communion, the agitators gave dirty
looks. One stood directly in front of a substitute Eucharistic
minister with his arms crossed, blocking others from receiving. When
Larry saw that happening, he planted himself in front of
a protestor with his own arms crossed so that the
minister could sidestep him and distribute Communion.
Weekly, another woman protester
climbed up on the altar and stood there through the
Mass with her arms crossed in silent protest of anyone
who was attending the Mass.
The name of the schismatic parish
was Corpus Christi.
All throughout, there was a huge banner above
the altar that said, “Can’t Hold Back the Spring.” It
was the battle cry of the schismatic group, which was
in favor of women’s ordination, gay marriage, and the open
distribution of Communion to anyone who wanted it, even non-Catholics.
In fact, Rhonda had been receiving the Eucharist for months
before her baptism. The parish omitted prayers for the Pope
and the Creed was not recited during Mass.
new priest came in to the parish, Larry asked him
if he would like him to take down the banner.
The priest hesitatingly acknowledged that he didn’t want it up,
so Larry took it down. But when the schismatics found
out that Larry had silenced their battle cry, they threatened
him with arrest, and he had to find someone in
the diocese to give it to. It was put back
up soon afterward.
Later, when the bishop was in the
hospital, protesters walked in a circle outside his residence in
protest. Larry also showed up and walked in his own
circle, by himself, holding a paper plate with the words
“For the Bishop” written in black marker.
At around that
same time, the couple had to leave town to attend
to dying relatives in other cities, including their daughter-in-law, who
died of cancer at the age of 26. Rhonda and
Larry traveled for months.
When they came back, the TV
cameras were still everywhere, searching for a story and exploiting
the controversy. Exhausted by grief and angered by the circus,
they decided to leave the parish and look for a
true community of faith, which they found at Immaculate Conception
parish, a vibrant and faithful African American church in the
Years later, after moving to from Rochester to Canandaigua
in the Finger Lakes, the couple met Regnum Christi consecrated
members who were vacationing at the Notre Dame Retreat House,
which happened to be across the street from their house.
“We just wanted to be with them as much as
we could,” said Rhonda. “We fell in love with them.”
By talking to other Regnum Christi members, Rhonda started watching
EWTN and was given Scott Hahn resources to continue learning
her faith. She discovered St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy
chaplet, learned the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and
began reading and listening to tapes. Scott Hahn’s work was
particularly interesting to her, since he was able to explain
the Jewish roots of Catholicism.
That next April, while on her
first silent retreat, she presented a prayer that she had
been carrying in her heart as a wish: she wanted
to have a relationship with Mary.
As she prayed, all of
the Mary’s in her life suddenly came to the forefront
of her mind “like a news reel.” She realized that
all throughout her life, there had always been women named
Mary who had been there for her.
There was Mary
Mancini, who had prayed that she would find the right
man to marry; the Mary who used to help her
mom at home; Larry’s mother Mary; Maria Lucía, Larry’s first
wife’s mother, who had remained close to them; and others.
“There were so many Mary’s who had watched over me
my whole life. I was just dumbfounded. Mary was there
all the time,” she said.
As she and Larry continue to
grow in their faith, now as Regnum Christi members, they
feel that their past battles have strengthened and sharpened them
to seek the essentials and not to be dismayed by
the storms that arise. What they cling to is Christ
and his Church.
Looking back on the almost 25 years
of their marriage, Rhonda remembers one more important detail. Larry
walked with her at every stage of her journey across
the divide from Judaism to Catholicism, and guided her through
the chaos of a schismatic parish, but he never once
pushed her into a decision she was not ready to
After she had been Catholic for some time, it occurred
to her to ask him, “Larry, did you ever pray
that I would become Catholic?”
His answer was simple. “Of course.”
article is part of a series about God’s action
in the lives of Regnum Christi members who turned to
him in prayer. If you have a story to share,
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