Andrea Tiebel isn’t Catholic. She’s not baptized. But that’s all about to change. And she credits her daughter, Chyna Matos, for bringing her faith full circle.
As a child, church wasn’t a big part of Andrea’s life. Her mother, who was baptized Lutheran, allowed each of her five children to explore their own spiritual paths. Andrea recalls feeling a deep sense that there was “something else out there.”
“Early on our mother did have us attend Sunday school, but as we grew she let us decide for ourselves,”
Andrea said. “I knew there was good and evil in the world, I saw it all around me. Growing up I knew of God, just as I knew of the devil. I believed there had to be a higher power.”
After graduating from Sartell High School, Andrea entered the U.S. Navy. Her time in the military presented the opportunity to explore faith in a different way than she had as a child.
“Being in the military away from home, especially early on, church was a gathering place for me to share personal feelings, emotions and worry with other military members that were going through the same situations I was,” Andrea said.
She attended many different types of churches but never committed to one denomination.
“I felt I didn’t really create a personal relationship with Jesus or [God]. I used the fellowship as a way for me to come together with others to lift our spirits and believe things would be better, get better for me and my family. Looking back, at the time I didn’t know how to create a personal relationship with Jesus or God,” she said.
During her military career, Andrea got married and welcomed a daughter, Chyna. Chyna’s father was Catholic and the couple agreed she would be baptized in the Catholic faith. Chyna received the sacrament on a military base in Tennessee.
As Chyna grew up, she encountered all kinds of faith experiences, attending various churches with her mom, while also attending Mass with her father’s side of the family.
“I just never really felt like I had a spiritual home,” Chyna said.
It wasn’t until she left for college that she really felt drawn to seek answers. After an emotionally charged start to her first year of college at the University of Kentucky, Chyna decided to move back to Minnesota to be closer to her mother, who had retired from the Navy, gone through a divorce and settled in St. Joseph. Chyna resumed her studies at the College of St. Benedict.
Chyna began asking Andrea a lot of questions about God and the Church, and it was then that Andrea reached out to the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict, who connected her with Marian Bach, faith formation director at St. Joseph Parish in St. Joseph.
Marian, who has served at the parish for nine years, has had a lifelong call to ministry, working with all ages and stages of faith formation. She has a special affinity for working with those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“RCIA is always a joy, working with a different group of individuals each time, all who are at different stages of longing,” Marian said. “I love to see them learn and to hear their thoughts and questions. As a cradle Catholic, I learn so much from them. They teach me about my own faith.”
Marian and Chyna often met one-on-one and talked about “everything under the sun.”
“We really had a lot of good conversations,” Marian said. “She was longing for something more. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her commitment, she never quivered, she never doubted.”
Chyna immediately fell in love with learning about the historical context of the Catholic tradition and soon began preparation for full initiation into the Catholic Church through the RCIA program.
“She would come home so excited and tell me everything she was learning,” Andrea said. “It really got me interested, too.”
It wasn’t long before Andrea knew that she, too, wanted to go through the RCIA process, but she wanted Chyna to “have her moment.”
“I wanted the focus to be on her. And at the same time, she was educating me on what to expect for myself. In her own way, she was preparing me and making it comfortable for me to take the next step,” Andrea said.
Then COVID hit and Chyna wasn’t able to receive the sacraments of initiation at the 2020 Easter Vigil as planned. A minor setback, she was able to receive the Eucharist and be confirmed with the high school confirmation students in September 2020.
Despite their distance away and COVID restrictions, Chyna’s grandparents, who live in Florida, were able to be her sponsors by proxy.
“When I [received] my sacraments I was nervous, but after receiving them I felt way calmer,” Chyna said. “I was especially nervous about receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, but afterwards it felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. … I feel like going through the process and receiving them has made me have a better outlook on life and a better understanding of the Church and what the sacraments mean to me.”
Chyna has continued studying the Catholic faith as well as other world religions, including taking a theology course at St. Ben’s.
“There is just so much in the faith that is misinterpreted, so much that isn’t explained or doesn’t take into account the historical context that people need to know about,” Chyna said. “If people took the time to really learn about it, they would have so much more understanding.”
Chyna’s eagerness to share her newfound faith and Marian’s welcoming encouragement inspired Andrea to start RCIA last fall.
“Chyna and Andrea are the epitome to me of knowing your faith, longing to know your faith, growing in faith and going in faith,” Marian said. “It’s just such a beautiful story.”
Andrea plans to take the plunge, literally, by receiving the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation at this year’s Easter Vigil, with Chyna by her side as her sponsor.
“I’m just so happy that my daughter is my sponsor and is supporting me in my journey,” Andrea said. “We both continue to ask questions and learn not only about Catholicism but other religions as well. I am blessed to be able to share in this experience with my daughter and see each other grow together in our own separate ways. We encourage each other and remind ourselves that help in anything we do is not only on this plane but can be asked of from those above.”
And the list of sacraments Andrea plans to receive does not end there. Andrea, recently engaged to fiance James Pflueger, hopes to celebrate the sacrament of marriage in the same church where James grew up receiving the sacraments, and where both Andrea and Chyna also will have received theirs.
“I think it renewed all of our faith, learning together,” Andrea said. “We have learned everything — from the moment you walk into the church to the things you see around you to the garments the priest wears to the actions and words we say at Mass. I feel like I am part of it now and not just an observer. It’s exciting to really be a part of something. It just opened up a whole new world.”