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Catholic Life Evangelization

After long spiritual journey, 79-year-old comes home to Catholic Church

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Some are born into the Catholic faith, taught Scriptures from a young age, then choose to be confirmed during their high school years with their friends. Others may weave in and out of the faith through the years, staying away when questions develop and coming back when those questions get answered. For one woman, it took 79 years and two national tragedies before she confirmed her faith in the Catholic Church.

Marilyn Hiwiller, a resident of Medina, spent her life participating in different Christian churches. The New Jersey native was born to an Episcopalian father and faithful Presbyterian mother. At the age of 4, she was baptized in her grandfather’s Methodist Church. 

“I attended Sunday school, studied the Baltimore Catechism, and was confirmed a member of the Methodist Church in the fifth grade,” Hiwiller recalled. “Living in a metropolitan area, I was exposed to several Christian denominations. Many times, I would attend the Presbyterian church and I belonged to a Baptist youth group as a teenager. We went to a Billy Graham crusade in Madison Square Garden where I found myself rising from my seat and going forward for the altar call.”

After graduating from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where she met her husband, Dick, the two got married in 1962 and raised their three children in the Methodist Church. In 1990, several years after attending services in a local Presbyterian Church, they transferred their memberships there.

In 1999, Hiwlller began attending a Bible study at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Medina, now a part of Holy Trinity. “I loved the Catholic Youth Bible that we used and all the women at the study,” she said. “I also had some Catholic friends, whom I would swim with at the school pool. I used to be so envious of them being able to go to morning Mass at 7:30 each day following our swim. I had wished the Protestants would have had a morning worship service, such a wonderful way to start each day.”

At that time, she was hesitant to attend Mass at a Catholic church because she was not a member of the denomination. Then the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil occurred. The 9/11 attacks filled Hiwiller with anxiety and a desire to seek some sort of sanctuary. Three days later on Friday, Sept. 14, 2001, she slipped into the last pew at St. Mary’s.

“I received such peace that very morning,” she said. “Since that day, as a visiting Presbyterian, I have been blessed by attending morning Mass each day. I realized that no offering was being collected during the morning Mass. So, I started attending Sunday Mass so I could contribute something financially to the church that was giving me so much. After a few years, my husband started attending Sunday Mass at 8 a.m. with me, and then we would go to worship at the Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m.”  

When the Coronavirus pandemic forced churches to limit or completely refrain from public liturgies, Holy Trinity remained open three days a week for “personal prayer” from 10 a.m. to noon. “It was such a blessing to be able to sit in the sanctuary and maybe see one or two others there praying. I will never ever forget the tears of gratitude that fell on that Sunday when I first heard an organ playing in that relatively empty church,” Hiwiller recalled.  

After 19 years of attending Mass, at the age of 79, Hiwiller was confirmed on Sept. 27, 2020, by Father Bernard Nowak. (It was originally scheduled for March 15). Hiwiller felt as if she had “come home.”

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