Melissa Herberger spent a decade doing the pew shuffle — sliding out to let her family pass by her for Communion and then having kids climb over to settle back into their places.
Her daughter Helen changed everything one Sunday morning when she called back to her from the Communion line, “Mom, don’t you love the Lord?”
Embarrassed and startled, Herberger said, “I shrank into the pew.”
Her mother-in-law, Michelle Herberger — the one who invited her to attend the Catholic Church — returned from Communion and whispered to her, “It’s time.”
It was time, Melissa Herberger said, to enter the church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a formation program that typically lasts a year.
“I had always thought of myself as a member of the church,” said Herberger. “But I never made it official. It didn’t register each week when I would slide out of the pew to let my family pass how much I needed the Eucharist.”
She went through the RCIA program from 2010 to 2011 at St. Stephen Martyr Church, a place that feels like home, she said. She entered the church at the 2011 Easter Vigil.
What she didn’t know at the time, is that her RCIA program was made possible by the Catholic Services Appeal.
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Faith Formation, which is funded by CSA, trains parish catechetical leaders to lead RCIA. Art Turner, who led the program for Herberger’s formation, was trained by the archdiocese just a few years before she entered the program. Turner is now the director of the Office of Faith Formation.
Herberger said she learned about the impact the CSA had on her life when she became coordinator of the annual fundraising campaign last year.
“I didn’t realize what CSA should have meant to me,” she said. “We tithed, I signed up for every committee I could and I thought I was doing my part.
“I think there are a lot of people whose lives are impacted by CSA who don’t know it, just like mine was,” she said.
Herberger said she hopes that her efforts to help CSA reach its goal of $4.1 million this year will help others like her.
“There is a great responsibility knowing you are trying to raise money to help someone else. I know what my RCIA experience has meant to me and how important it is to help someone who wants to go through that process.”
Herberger spent most of her childhood looking for that process — looking for God and loving the Lord.
Her father grew up Catholic and her mother was raised Baptist. But neither went to church. As a young girl, Herberger discovered that a neighborhood friend’s dad held church in his home, so she joined them by herself each Sunday.
She spent hours on her swingset singing hymns (according to a neighbor, shouting them) as loudly as possible.
She was baptized in Taylorsville Lake.
When the church-hosting family moved to Texas, she found another church within walking distance of home. Eventually she joined a large Christian church.
When she started dating her now-husband Dan Herberger, who had to work on Sundays, his mom invited Melissa to attend Mass with her at St. Stephen Martyr.
“I immediately felt like it was my place,” she said. “Afterward we would go out to eat or go shopping. And I would ask questions.”
Dan and Melissa married in 1999. They have two children, Helen, the prophetic child who started the RCIA process, and Alex, who always encourages his mom, she said.
“My kids know how important church is and having a relationship with Christ is to me,” she added. “Knowing it was important to my kids made it that much more important.”
For more information on the CSA and the more than 100 ministries and services it supports, visit www.archlou.org/csa.