Sunday, March 04, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm
A little more than a year ago, Norman Erb-White was an Anglican priest serving a parish in Brownsville, Pa. Today, he is eagerly awaiting his first reconciliation March 11, on his journey to joining the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.
He isn’t alone in his journey. His wife, Deborah, and their children, Caleb, 18, Patrick, 16, Isaiah, 13, Thomas, 11, Cherish, 10, and Emily, 4, are making it with him. They were also in attendance for the Feb. 25 rite of election ceremony. As a former Roman Catholic, Deborah will rejoin the church after making her own reconciliation.
Norman was working toward a history degree, with an eye on ministry, when he met Deborah. He attended Mass with her. Looking back, he said the seeds of his conversion were planted when he realized that Jesus was “really there” in the Eucharist. But the couple was searching for a common tradition, and a friend suggested that they explore the Episcopal Church.
The family came to this area in 2002 so he could attend the former Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (now Trinity School for Ministry) in Ambridge. Thoughts of the Catholic faith persisted, but so did those of being a pastor.
“Why would God be calling me to the Catholic Church?” he remembers thinking. “It made no sense to either of us.”
He was ordained a deacon in 2006 and a priest in 2008 — just as there was a split in the Episcopal Church. He continued his ministry in the new Anglican Church in North America, but on a part-time basis, while he also worked for an insurance company. His first call was as an assistant pastor at a parish in Carnegie. He later helped a friend establish a parish in Oakmont. By 2013, his secular job had ended. Norman said the Anglican ministry has the opposite problem of the Catholic Church — more clergy than openings — and so finding a full-time parish position was difficult.
He was called to Brownsville in 2014. But despite the full-time ministry, he felt that something was missing. About 18 months into his tenure he was celebrating the Eucharist when he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him, “you don’t belong here.” He realized that, “I had to rethink everything.”
Norman sat down with Deborah and said that it was time for him to seriously consider the Catholic Church.
His process of leaving Anglican ministry was delayed by the pending retirement of Anglican Bishop Robert Duncan. Norman took his case to his successor, Bishop James Hobby, who graciously helped him establish contacts in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. As residents of Ambridge, Norman and his family entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at Good Samaritan Parish.
“We always decided that the family would be a single-faith family,” he said. “This is what we would do together.”
Deborah was comfortable with the decision, pointing to the influence of her mother, a devout Catholic with an active prayer life. “I never knew a time when I didn’t know Jesus,” she said.
Their lives have long been in harmony with Catholic teaching, Norman said, citing his wife’s strong pro-life stance and desire to have a big family. Two of their children are adopted. The first priority of the parents is to share their faith with their children.
“The certainty of the faith. The authority of the magisterium. The beauty of the liturgy,” Norman said. “Why would I not want my children to do those things?”
He said that the RCIA journey is “just the beginning,” and he looks forward to delving deeper into the Catholic experience of faith. Learning about beliefs that are not part of Anglicanism — such as purgatory — is especially interesting.
Norman is eagerly awaiting his first reconciliation because private confession is rarely practiced in the Anglican tradition. People need more spiritual and pastoral support, he said, and they can get that by visiting a priest over and over in reconciliation.
“If you want to live in the kingdom now, clean yourself up,” he said. It is an opportunity, he added, for pure grace.
For now, Norman is a stay-at-home dad while Deborah is employed as a social worker. He is eager to be of service as a layman in his parish, and will explore his options for ministry.
Father Joseph Carr, pastor of Good Samaritan Parish, has been tremendously helpful to him, Norman said, and he has gained a great appreciation for the responsibilities that Catholic priests must shoulder. While Norman sometimes struggled to tend to 50 or 60 parishioners, the typical Catholic priest tends to thousands.
“He’s putting out fires so much,” he said. “It’s like buying in bulk.”
That has helped him to understand one of the reasons for a celibate Catholic priesthood. “I understand the ability to dedicate yourself to that,” he said.
Father Carr spoke of the family’s witness in entering the church together.
“It’s a very brave thing to do,” he said. “Not only to come into the church, but to invite his family to do the same. How much prayer and thought must have gone into the decision?”
The Erb-White family is only part of the story of this year’s RCIA at Good Samaritan. In all, there are 16 catechumens and candidates.
“People feel welcome here and are open to exploring the faith,” Father Carr said. He credited the work of Susan DiPietro, catechetical administrator and RCIA coordinator.
DiPietro said the RCIA program has benefited from “Mondays with Mary,” a living rosary that joins 72 people in prayer. Most of the prayer has been directed toward people who have fallen away from the church and for the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative, she noted.
“It’s just snowballed,” she said. “I really believe in the intercession of Mary.”
Four people have already expressed a desire to be part of next year’s RCIA class at Good Samaritan.