April 3, 2017
St. Mary’s Central High School senior Breanna Running Bear wanted to become Catholic before she left on the pilgrimage to the March for Life so that she could receive Jesus in Holy Communion at daily Mass on the trip.
She received the sacrament of confirmation just in the nick of time. On Jan. 24, during the Mass to send off the pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., Bishop David Kagan called Breanna to the front of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck.
Her stepdad and sponsor, Bill Brien, walked with her. He put his right hand on Breanna’s shoulder as Bishop Kagan anointed her head with sacred chrism and pronounced, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This was not a decision she had rushed into, nor was it a journey she traveled alone. Her path can be traced back to her mother, Geri’s, search for a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Her mother’s search
Years earlier, Geri and her boyfriend Bill had both just graduated from University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and come to Bismarck. Being a single mother while attending college had been rough, Geri said. Although she had not been raised with religion, she often turned to God for help.
Once back in Bismarck, however, Geri and Bill began to wonder if their relationship would work out. Things had become very rocky. “This is not going to work without God,” Bill told Geri. That’s when he mentioned to her that he had been baptized Catholic.
Bill started explaining the Catholic faith to Geri although he had not practiced it in awhile. She was not impressed. “All I saw was rules, rules, rules,” she said. “But nothing else was working so I was willing to give it a try.”
Bill and Geri went to Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and met with Fr. Nick Schneider who was the associate pastor at that time. They learned that if they were to ever get married, Geri needed an annulment for her previous marriage because it had taken place between two baptized Christians. She began the annulment process to determine if the marriage was considered a valid sacrament.
In the meantime, Geri began attending Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) classes to learn about the Catholic faith. As she listened, something stirred within her heart. “I thought, ‘Here it is! Here is what I’ve been looking for,’” she said. “I wanted more and I couldn’t get it fast enough. I was so excited to learn.”
Bill became serious about his own faith; reading and listening to Catholic radio so that he and Geri were growing together. They did not always understand every detail, but were willing to follow Church teaching, even agreeing to live like brother and sister until they could be married in the Church.
“It was hard to follow something that had never been introduced to me before,” Geri said. “It was a new way but I was giving up less than I was receiving through the Catholic faith.”
She added, “There was an inner knowing that this was the truth. I felt the love of God and love from all the people I was dealing with,” she said. “I loved the priests. Msgr. [Tom] Richter was the next one to help us. He was amazing; so full of love for us, and Father [Jared] Johnson too.”
“We were learning a new way,” Geri said. “We knew God wanted us to be examples to our children and to help each other all get to heaven.” The annulment was granted on Nov. 13, 2016; and on Nov. 19, Bill and Geri were married at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
Their faith walk has not been easy, however. In October 2014, Geri learned she had breast cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy, she was declared cancer free in February of 2015, but by October, another lump was found and a malignant brain tumor. Her treatment continues.
“It has made me stronger,” Geri said. “I rely on God because I can’t rely on my own strength. I carry a rosary with me every day. I have good days and bad. My husband prays over me every morning, and he blesses me with holy water. He is my rock.”
Geri and Bill attended Mass with all three of their children—Dakotah, Breanna, and Lonnie—from the start of their journey. Breanna said because the change happened so quickly, it was hard for her to adjust. She and her older sister, Dakotah, were sent unwillingly to St. Mary’s Central High School. “At the time, we were frustrated with having no say in transferring schools. However, I later realized how much of a blessing it was.”
Breanna credits the examples and enthusiasm of teachers like Nick Emmel, Reed Ruggles, Fr. Johnson and Msgr. Richter for making the Catholic faith meaningful to her.
“My journey through St. Mary’s has been very personal,” she said. “I discovered a lot of who I am there and it included my mom’s journey.” She also credits the friendship and inspiration of Darius Sparks with helping her.
He, too, is Native American and was a senior at St. Mary’s when she was a freshman. Darius entered the Church last year, sponsored by Fr. Josh Waltz who was St. Mary’s chaplain when he attended there.
Previously attending public schools, Breanna said she was uncomfortable with attending a private school. Nonetheless, she was open to becoming knowledgeable in the Catholic teachings. Some of the controversial issues like abortion and same-sex attraction were challenging due to previous misguided opinions. After a few semesters of religion courses, her teachers and the flourishing light of God helped her make sense of the Catholic Faith.
Still, Breanna continued to demand more knowledge of our Lord. One month before the March for Life, Fr. Johnson asked her if she wanted to be Catholic. “He taught me and came to know me, as well as what I gathered in his and other classes when reading some of my papers. He knew I was growing very well,” she said.
“I will get back to you,” Breanna told him. “I wanted to be certain and not jump into it half-heartedly,” she said. One week before the March, Fr. Johnson asked Breanna if she had thought about his question. “I said ‘yes,’ realizing it meant something. I was not doubting myself any more.”
During her Confirmation Mass, Breanna said she had a moment of reflection. “I was so thankful of how everything fell into place,” she said. “I just kept thanking God.”
It also had an impact on her experience at the March for Life. “I loved every minute of the March,” Breanna said. “Being able to attend Mass every morning and receive Jesus,” she said.
Breanna credits her parents with helping her to trust in God through all of this.
“They’ve been a huge help,” she said. “I look at my mom and see all that she goes through on a daily basis and how much trust she has in God regardless. She has been a living example.”