Every day, Kristin Matchinsky has the joy of watching the way children absorb everything around them. In her Montessori-style classroom with no desks and lots of room to move around, the kindergarten and first-grade teacher at St. Wendelin School in Luxemburg has learned what it means in the Scriptures to become childlike.
“There’s a reason why God calls on us to be childlike, because there is something truly in children that makes them much more open to receiving than adults are. They have an ability to believe and trust in such a profoundly different way than adults do. It’s a gift I see every day.”
Kristin had a firm foundation of faith as a child. She was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church and attended services with her family every Sunday. As an adult, she continued to have a strong relationship with the Lord.
Prior to coming to St. Wendelin’s, Kristin taught in the public school system. About 11 years ago, she met Sharon Schneider, a fellow teacher, and the two became close friends. Sharon, a practicing Catholic, had a way of quietly living out her faith, and the two often talked about God.
Kristin saw a light in Sharon and admired the way she truly lived what she believed. Before meeting Sharon, Kristin admits she didn’t have a very positive impression of Catholicism. She had a lot of questions about what the Catholic Church professed, and she experienced hurt from people she knew who were Catholic and who did not always act very “Christlike.”
“I started becoming more observant of how Sharon’s Catholic faith brought her so much joy and brought her so much closer to God,” Kristin said. “We had a lot of good conversations. God kept putting people in my life like Sharon, who showed me another side of the Catholic faith. I started to feel like maybe Catholicism wasn’t all bad.”
About five years ago, Kristin began questioning if public education was where she was meant to be.
“I just didn’t feel called to stay. I prayed about it and made the decision that if I was going to continue teaching that I wanted to do it in a Christian setting. And I wanted to teach in a rural area. I found out that there was an opening at St. Wendelin’s and I applied.”
At that time, St. Wendelin’s was moving toward offering a Montessori-style curriculum. Montessori is a hands-on style of learning in which students choose their own activities in a prepared classroom and move at their own pace. Kristin, who is certified in Montessori, took that as a sign.
“I started feeling like, ‘I think I’m supposed to be here.’ But when they offered me the salary, I stumbled a little. It was scary to cut your salary in half. … But I did, and it has been the greatest blessing. This community has embraced me. I felt immediately drawn to these wonderful people who are almost all Catholic. It’s an amazing community.”
As she became immersed in the school community, she began attending weekly Mass with her students.
“I loved going to Mass, but I began feeling so sad that I couldn’t receive the Eucharist. I just wanted to experience that so much. It became really important to me.”
Sharon recalls how Kristin often asked her questions about things she was seeing and experiencing with her students.
“I remember so clearly sitting across from Kristin at a restaurant and her sharing, ‘I feel so empty when I can’t receive Communion,’” Sharon said. “I remember saying to her, “That is the Lord revealing himself to you, revealing your hunger for him in the Eucharist.’”
Kristin realized she had a lot to learn about the Catholic faith. Sharon suggested a couple of things — first, that she begin Father Michael Schmitz’s “The Bible in a Year” podcast series.
“It was really beautiful,” Kristin said. “I got into the habit of getting up in the morning, making my coffee and then doing ‘The Bible in a Year.’ He talks a lot about how things in the Bible pertain to the Catholic faith. And that led me to become part of a Bible study group. Some of them are parents of children that I’m teaching. Just seeing how being a practicing Catholic, the richness that it brings to their lives, really touched me.”
Second, Sharon encouraged her to participate in the training for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-style of catechesis, which Kristin completed last summer at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.
“I originally took the training to learn about Catholicism to be an effective teacher. Little did I know that I was going to walk out of that and A, want to become Catholic, and B, want the Eucharist so much. That’s when I really started falling in love with the Eucharist and got to know some neat people,” Kristin said.
One of those people was Joan Spring, pastoral associate at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud. The two began to share faith stories, and Kristin learned that Joan taught RCIA classes, accompanying people who have a desire to become Catholic.
“I remember so clearly during our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training the moment when we received a presentation on the Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd,” Joan said. After the presentation, Kristin’s eyes filled with tears as she said, ‘I have always felt as though Jesus was inviting me to the Eucharist, and it is so difficult to know he is inviting me and I have this barrier preventing me from receiving him.’ In that small room, this group of women receiving the training had witnessed the great mystery and gift that Jesus presents to us when the words of institution are spoken, ‘Take and eat,’ and ‘Take and drink.’ From the core of her being, Kristin knew this call was for her, too, and from the core of her being, Kristin responded.”
Kristin and Joan began meeting regularly for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Kristin would bring a list of questions — everything from eating meat on Fridays to purgatory to Mary and the saints.
“During our earliest conversations, Kristin articulated a profound faith, a strong relationship with Jesus and a remarkable understanding of how her Christian faith had been a gift leading her to Jesus in the Eucharist,” Joan said.
On Dec. 1, 2021, just a day shy of her 55th birthday, with the children and school community as her witnesses, Kristin received the Eucharist for the first time at the school Mass.
“Prior to that day, I felt this big hole, like something was missing. When I received the Eucharist the first time, I felt this deep feeling of becoming whole, of being called to something so special. I felt included. It’s hard to sit and feel like you’re not allowed to partake in something so wonderful and that everybody else is and you’re not. So, it was a feeling of acceptance and happiness. It was symbolic of my whole experience here, that God brought me to the school where I’m surrounded by all these loving, wonderful people. I just felt so grateful that now I was drawn into this new family.”
“Prior to that day, I felt this big hole, like something was missing. When I received the Eucharist the first time, I felt this deep feeling of becoming whole, of being called to something so special. I felt included.”
Although Sharon served as Kristin’s sponsor throughout her journey, she couldn’t be there that day because she is also a teacher and was needed in her classroom. Sharon called Kristin before Mass and heard all about it afterward.
“She called me and I could tell she was crying. The community has loved and received her well there. It’s been so miraculous. I love supporting her and seeing what God has done in her life,” Sharon said. “I can’t wait to celebrate the Eucharist with her and share some of my favorite devotions and prayers.”
At Kristin’s First Eucharist, Joan stood in for Sharon as Kristin’s sponsor that day.
“I was deeply honored to meet Kristin and walk with her as she responded to Jesus’ invitation to receive the Eucharist,” Joan said. “Anytime I have been privileged to walk by people of faith as they journey into full communion with the Church it has bolstered my faith. When I accompanied Kristin, this was especially true. I will cherish the experience of the school Mass at St. Wendelin’s where, in front of her students, Kristin professed her faith. The community responded with such great joy.”
And Kristin’s journey is far from over. She believes that developing her faith is a lifelong experience, and she feels blessed that her role as a teacher allows her to become childlike and absorb all of the same things her students are learning.
“It’s still all very new for me,” she said. “I’ve always been a real question asker who wants to dive in and learn more about things. I love learning about the saints and all the different ways to pray with my students. It’s a really beautiful thing to experience, and I am so happy I get to grow in my faith with them and with this community of faith.”