After years of feeling restless, like she didn't really belong anywhere, Sinthia Viera said she and her daughters have found peace - and a new faith family - at St. Thomas More Parish in Brooklyn, just a stone's throw from their home.
Sinthia grew up in a devout Catholic family in the Dominican Republic.
“I wasn’t baptized as a baby; I was about 9 or 10 years old,” she said, explaining that her father had been working in the United States and the family waited for him to return before she was baptized. Sinthia said her mother was a prominent educator, but, due to the political situation in the Dominican Republic, decided that she needed a new start, so the family moved to the U.S. in 1997. About that time, her mother also started attending a different church, so Sinthia’s religious formation stalled and she did not make her first confession or first Communion.
Then life happened. She attended public schools, earned a college degree and met and married her husband, Juan. An entrepreneur, he owns a car dealership, while Sinthia is a high school teacher in Cleveland. The Vieras, who live near the Cleveland/Brooklyn border, have three daughters — Cindy, 11, a sixth-grader; Mia, 10, a fifth-grader; and Leah, 7, a second grader — who attend St. Thomas More School.
Before transferring to St. Thomas More three years ago, the girls attended public school. The family didn’t give much thought to religion, but Sinthia said she and Juan were looking for a new school where the girls could feel more at home and connected. They live close enough to see St. Thomas More from their home and decided to check it out.
“Coming here was the best decision,” she said. “We are surrounded by good people who make us feel welcome — like we belong here. And the kids are building relationships.” “When I first came to St. Thomas More, I felt like I already fit in,” Mia said, adding she has many friends and is involved in things at school. “I didn’t even have to try.” Cindy said she never had close friends or relationships before, explaining that everyone at her old school scattered after classes.
“I feel that, little by little, God guided us back onto the right path,” Sinthia said. “I felt a sense of family.”
As she and the girls got more involved with school and, gradually, parish activities, they also began attending Mass.
“I think it started with them coming home and saying, ‘Let’s pray’ before dinner. Then they said they wanted to become Catholic,” Sinthia said. Last year, they began talking in earnest about joining the Church. Sinthia said her husband is supportive of their decision.
“I think it’s a good thing to do as a family,” Cindy said. In addition to religion classes in school, the girls are in the children’s catechumenate led by Bernice Barker, a lifelong St. Thomas More parishioner and certified pastoral minister who has worked at the parish in various capacities for 43 years.
“We teach them about the sacraments and the faith so they get to know their faith in a more personal way,” Bernice said. Five children, including the Viera girls, will don white robes as they are baptized by Father Bill Bouhall, St. Thomas More pastor, during the Easter Vigil on April 11. They also will receive their first Communion that night. The three girls will share a sponsor — a close family friend.
And Sinthia, who is participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, receiving her first Communion and being confirmed at the Easter Vigil. Her sponsor is a St. Thomas More parishioner who is a close friend.
As their faith formation continues, the Vieras said they are excited about receiving the sacraments.
“I told my mother I haven’t felt so at peace in a long time,” Sinthia said. “I have such a sense of belonging.” She said her daughters enjoy attending Mass and are always ready to pray at home, including before meals. They also are looking forward to receiving the sacraments with their classmates.
The girls said they enjoy talking to Father Bill.
“He’s a nice person — and funny,” Leah said, remembering one time when he donned a wig while delivering a homily during a school Mass.
“He’s not boring when he tells stories about the saints. And I like it when kids do the readings,” she added. Sinthia describes Father Bill as pastoral. “He’s not pushy; he guides you and it works. He comes across as knowledgeable in his sermons and as someone who loves his faith. My kids respect that and enjoy coming to Mass.”
Cindy, Mia and Leah also look forward to their catechumenate sessions with Bernice.
“Mrs. Barker tells us that if you don’t use your faith, it’s like not opening a Christmas present,” Leah said.
Sinthia said her daughters are learning a lot both in school and in their formation program. “They’re not being pushed to learn, but they’re learning and they like it,” she said. In addition to learning about the sacraments, they have toured the church and learned about symbols and the Mass.
“Mrs. Barker told us the Catholic Church is the best way to get to heaven,” Mia said.
“The Church is where you connect with God and receive Jesus. I’ve always wanted to do this,” Cindy said. Sinthia summed up their conversion experience by saying, “I finally feel like I’m home — like I belong someplace.”