Winners of diocesan essay contest on the meaning of the Eucharist will attend National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July

Friday, Apr. 12, 2024
Winners of diocesan essay contest on the meaning of the Eucharist will attend National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July Photo 1 of 4
Sarah Brinkerhoff, Saint Paul Catholic Center
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utah Catholics have been moved by the various events in the diocese focused on the Eucharist. Some of them recently shared their feelings and experiences in a Diocese of Salt Lake City-sponsored essay contest. From those entries, four writers were chosen to receive scholarships to attend the National Eucharistic Congress, to be held July 17-21 in Indianapolis, Ind.

The scholarships are funded by a grant from the Catholic Extension Society.

The essays come from several parishes across the state. Although the contest was open to all Catholics over the age of 21, it was primarily young adults who submitted entries, said Father Christopher Gray, the diocese’s point person for the Eucharistic Revival and pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Park City.

“One of the things that caught me in a way that I really wasn’t quite expecting was the regional diversity of the applicants,” Fr. Gray said. “Since so much of what we do is based around northern Utah, it was surprising to receive from St. George. I was very happy that it did what was supposed to, which was to do this bringing together the whole diocese, and I was very happy with that.”

Among those who won a scholarship to the National Eucharistic Congress is Sarah Brinkerhoff, 37, a parishioner at St. Paul Catholic Center in Hurricane.

A cradle Catholic, Brinkerhoff fell away from the Church as a young adult but returned when, as a young mother, she sought to give her son a grounding in the faith. With limited Church formation resources in her area, she helped organize catechism classes for him and others in her parish.

When a very painful experience with plantar fasciitis kept her homebound and gave her time for reevaluation and prayer, she realized she wanted to be more active in the faith for herself.

“During one of the times attending Mass though, I remember having a deep yearning of God,” she wrote in her essay. “I remember wishing I could get something, anything. … I just wanted to feel him in some way. I was hopeless with life at this point. I had so much pain from my feet problems. … My life had changed drastically and I felt empty, all alone.”

Through listening to the sermons on Bishop Robert Barron’s podcast, she found renewed hope and peace, she said.

When Brinkerhoff  heard about the Congress she felt a desire to attend, but thought it would be impossible. However, when she saw a notice about the contest in her parish bulletin, she immediately went home, sat down and wrote her essay on the spot, she said.

“It has only been in the last year that I have realized the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” Brinkerhoff wrote in her essay. “It has opened my eyes to a whole different level of worship and adoration. I feel full now that I know, and it gives me a sense of a lasting joy I never had. I physically feel the filling of my soul, when I receive the Eucharist. It’s a nourishing feeling knowing God loved us so much, that he made this plan for us, to save us, in sending his only son to save us from the sins of this world.”

“The Eucharist invites us to a closer relationship with Christ, which to me, seems to be the ultimate goal,” Brinkerhoff wrote. “God needs to know us, and we need to know him. And with Jesus as our mediator, he draws us near to him where we can begin to know and understand him. It’s where we are able to build that relationship with God.”

Another essay writer is Annie Voegele, 27, a parishioner at St. Ann Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Voegele moved to Utah two years ago because she loves the mountains and heard about the great Catholic community here, she said.

A nurse, Voegele often feels spent physically, mentally and emotionally when her shift ends, she said, adding that she finds rest and grace through visiting Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration at the St. Ann chapel each day after work.

“This past year, through the diocese’s initiatives, I have been led into deeper contemplation of the ‘Eucharistic heart of Jesus’ and all the imagery and depth this image holds,” she wrote in her essay. “The Eucharistic revival in our diocese has cultivated revelation and reflection for me through four new titles for Jesus’ Eucharistic Heart: Giver of Rest, Divine Recipient of All People, Giver of Eternal Life and Divine Connector.”

“The Eucharistic Revival in Salt Lake City has meant greater connection to the Catholic Church geographically present to us,” she wrote. “The depths of the revival was most especially felt during the Eucharistic Rally this past summer. The Eucharist as the center, the heart, of the whole production was most evident. I think we at times forget the power of praying together in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and it was beautiful to experience a full chapel while praying alongside Utah Catholics.”

Katy Roloff, 34, a parishioner at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Riverton, had a brain tumor removed two years ago but feels she has grown closer to God during her health challenges. Lifesaving surgery to remove the tumor left her with a profound gratitude to her Father in heaven and a desire to return to the faith she had left as a youth, she wrote.

“I know there was a huge miracle that transpired there and I think it was that I could also come back to the Church and be able to love and serve the Lord,” she said.

“When I was in the hospital, I had an experience that left me wanting to know more about God and to really, really seek Jesus and have that relationship,” she said. “I came to understand being baptized and confirmed that that [the Catholic Church] was my home.”

Roloff found the July 9 Eucharistic Mass and Rally very  moving.

“It was so inspiring to see that many people come together,” she said.

In January Roloff and her husband entered into a sacramental marriage in a convalidation ceremony.

“I’m now able to receive all the sacraments; it has just been such a blessing in my life,” she said. “As I’ve been healing there’s been a transformation not only physically but emotionally. I see a huge difference even in the last three months of the ways I’ve been able to heal through the grace that is given when we receive the Eucharist.”

With “the gifts and grace received from the sacraments and the sacramentals that we have been given, we have at our disposal enough grace to surmount sin,” Roloff wrote in her essay. “If every Catholic took advantage of what we have been given by God and Jesus by the Holy Spirit, each of us would have it within us to conquer the evil we face.”

“I look back on this past year and see how my faith has changed as well as my understanding of the true presence of Our Lord in The Eucharist,” Roloff added. “This has a lot to do with the National Eucharistic Revival. This time of Eucharistic Revival has helped foster growth, desire and trust of the true presence of Christ in the consecrated host.”

A slightly different approach to the essay was taken by Strom Schiereck, 34, who is from Hawaii. Eight years ago, after being discharged from the Army, he moved to Utah to join some friends here. A convert, Schierek was baptized on Easter 2023 and now attends the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.

Since his baptism, Schiereck has embraced opportunities to learn more and to deepen his understanding of the faith, he said. During Lent he led a seven-week series on Jesus and Eucharist in his parish. As a new convert he has been blessed with several experiences that have allowed him to grow as a Catholic, he said; he sees winning the contest as one more of those blessings.

“I think it is a real testament to God, that me as a new Catholic, I’m getting all of these opportunities,” he said. “It is also a responsibility; whatever I learn or experience at the Congress I want to share it with everyone within the Catholic community.”

“We as men are inexorably drawn to God and our soul perpetually longs to be united with Christ,” he wrote of the Eucharist in his essay. “This unity with the eternal occurs when we consume the body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Mass. There is no earthly substitute for this persistent craving that our soul experiences, which is to be united eternally with Jesus Christ through receiving the Holy Eucharist.”

“The joy, healing, and power of Jesus Christ are compounded when a person realizes what the Eucharist is,” Schiereck wrote. “Imagine the increase in grace and reverence for the Lord Catholics will experience when they rediscover the meaning of the Eucharist. God is love and God’s love will continuously diffuse across all space and time because it is good.”

All four winners they feel blessed by the opportunity to attend the National Eucharistic Congress and a responsibility to share all they learn with fellow Utah Catholics when they return, they said.

Voegele said she looks forward to being surrounded by many other Catholics and sharing prayer with them, a situation that is “harder to get in Salt Lake City when there’s a smaller community here,” she said.

Schiereck also sees the national event as an opportunity to share the experiences of other Catholics and to see how they live out their faith, he said.

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