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RCIA Profile Kleehamer Family: An all in the family kind of faith

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The Kleehamer Family (Courtesy Photo)
The Kleehamer Family (Courtesy Photo)

By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph 

When asked recently what makes Jesus so cool, six-year-old Cameron Kleehamer told it like it is, saying, “He sacrificed himself for us.”

The little boy, who also took a rosary to school not long ago for show and tell, already demonstrates a love for the Catholic faith that is definitely all in the family. Cameron will be baptized at Easter Vigil, along with his little sister, Kiersten. His mom, Jen, who was baptized Catholic but never confirmed, is preparing for that sacrament at the Vigil. And, Jen’s older children, Kalie (18) and Corey (14) will receive the sacraments of initiation, after the two teenagers and their mother have completed RCIA at Sts. Peter Paul Parish in Reading. Husband and father, Kris, renewed in his Catholic faith through his family’s journey, will also be present at the Mass, prayerfully supporting them.

It was that devotion to family that brought both Kris and Jen back home to the Catholic Church after years away. Kris was born and raised Catholic and, while his military family moved often, he attended Catholic School when possible. He was confirmed at St. Helen Parish in Dayton and graduated from Carroll High School. It was other priorities, or rather what he thought was important at the time, primarily college and work, that eventually led the young man to drift away from the church.

“My life was about work and school and my time to devote to spiritual growth wasn’t there. The longer I was away from church, the easier it became to keep staying away.”

The failure of his first marriage also left Kris disillusioned.

“When my marriage crumbled, I thought, ‘if God is here, then why did he let this fail?’ I decided I was done,” he admitted.

Jen, a Cincinnati native, said she has “limited memories” of her early exposure to Catholicism. She was baptized and received her first Communion as a child, but when her parents essentially became inactive in the church, so did Jen. As she grew up, married and had her two older children, Jen said, “My faith always stayed with me and there was this nagging feeling that I should have the kids baptized and come back to the church, but the pieces just weren’t coming together and life kept getting in the way.”

Like Kris, her first marriage ended in divorce. The couple met in 2005 when both were working at Fifth Third Bank. Kris and Jen became friends first, then married in 2007. Their first marriages have been declared null by the archdiocesan Tribunal Office and their own marriage was recently convalidated (blessed) by the church.

What changed everything for Kleehamers on their journey of faith was the birth of their children. Jen said she deeply regrets not giving Kalie and Corey more spiritual guidance as they were growing up and is grateful both teens fully and faithfully participated in RCIA. With Cameron and Kiersten, she and Kris received a wake up call of sorts and realized that not only are they responsible for the physical, emotional and social development of their children, but also for their spiritual growth.

“It was that inner-voice, definitely the Holy Spirit, and I finally listened,” she said.

In addition to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, it also took Kris’ daily encouragement and several phone conversations with the pastoral associate at Sts. Peter and Paul before Jen, Kalie and Corey began the RCIA process in September. Looking back over the past seven months, Jen said, “It’s been amazing. I’ve learned so much about my faith. I felt like I was on the outside looking in before. I feel like we all have God’s grace now, that we can move forward in faith.”

His family’s journey has “brought him back” to his faith and renewed it, said Kris.

“Jen has shared when they’ve learned and it’s been a good thing for me in terms of my own Catholic education,” he said.

“There’s a new dimension to our relationship now,” explained Jen. “We loved each other, obviously, but now the spiritual element is there and we have a whole new world of things to talk about as a family.”

Easter Vigil will mark “the end of one journey and the beginning of another,” she added. “The learning and growing will continue and, with God’s help, we’ll continue to teach the children by our example.”

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