Near-death experience, 'God's timing' make family's conversion extra special during Easter vigil at Dearborn parish

Editor's note: This story is the fifth and last in a series on new Catholics who entered the Catholic Church at Easter. New articles in the series have been running on Fridays during the Easter season.

DEARBORN — It didn’t make sense. Ashley Rule didn’t get panic attacks. She hadn’t received any bad news, but she still felt terrified for her father, Dennis Finnerty, a healthy 55-year-old. “My body was being taken over by anxiety,” Ashley said. “I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop praying for him.”

Today, Ashley calls that moment an example of divine intervention. “I was being told to pray for him,” she says. Moments after she began to pray, she got a call from her mother, Lisa Finnerty. “My dad had just been hit by a reckless driver.”

Lisa and her husband had been on their way to a Toys for Tots charity event — each of them armed with “monster trash bags of toys” — when Dennis was hit by a Ford F-150 and thrown 10 feet in the air. “But all he needed was a few weeks of physical therapy,” Ashley said.

Dennis avoided a hospital stay and made a full recovery — but Ashley doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that this episode took place in December during her RCIA preparation. She sees it as a moment of grace before her family’s reception into the Catholic Church.

Three generations of faith

The Easter Vigil on April 20 was a family event for three generations of Ashley’s family. That night in Dearborn, at the Church of the Divine Child, Lisa and Dennis were formally received into the Catholic Church.

Ashley and her husband, Gary, were baptized, while their children, Blake, 1, and Colton, 5, who had been baptized in a Protestant church, were also received into the Catholic Church.

“I tear up as I tell you this because I am so happy that my family is coming at last into the Catholic faith. It’s important to be doing this as a family,” Ashley said.

A statue of Jesus the Divine Child stands outside the Dearborn parish where Gary and Ashley Rule, their two children and Ashley's parents, Dennis and Lisa Finnerty, became Catholic on Easter.

Her mother couldn’t be happier. Lisa describes the baptism of her daughter as one of the happiest moments of her life, saying that the sight of 5-year-old Colton standing beside his mother at the baptismal font was a “tear-jerker moment” that left the two couples “bawling.”

Dennis’s near-death experience added special gravity to the night, Lisa explained. “That shook our family. The experience lingers. But it made us realize how precious life is.”

On Easter Sunday, Lisa was happy to be able to call herself a Catholic. “I’m just so happy. Very, very happy,” she said. “You know that after-party let-down? This was the complete opposite. It’s just the beginning. We had a really good experience.”

Both Ashley and Lisa agree that during their RCIA classes, they were most impressed by what they learned about the Eucharist. “I loved learning about the Real Presence,” Ashley said. “The RCIA teacher made it sound so beautiful, so majestic. She said when it’s time to take Communion, it’s when heaven and earth meet.”

Receiving Communion together

Lisa says of her husband Dennis, a Catholic revert, “Now that we are attending Mass every Sunday, Dennis comes with me, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me that we are going to take Communion together.”

Ten years ago, Lisa went to visit the Church of the Divine Child. She was interested in the Catholic faith, but the nun she spoke to didn’t seem welcoming. “The nun kept questioning my motives,” she remembered. “She seemed suspicious. She wanted to know why I wanted to be a Catholic, and I didn’t know why, I just wanted to become a Catholic.”

But this time, the experience was completely welcoming. “I can’t say enough about the RCIA experience. They made me feel so welcomed from the very first second that we met,” Lisa said. She also had the support of Gary and Ashley, who took the classes with her.

In the beginning, Lisa admits, “I had multiple hangups about certain teachings,” which left her feeling, “This is a bit much.” But the RCIA course gave her a chance to understand the Church’s reasons for holding fast to certain doctrines, including the sacrament of reconciliation and teachings about purgatory.

In the end, Lisa said, she came away not only accepting these teachings, but also loving them. “I 100 percent love the idea of purgatory,” Lisa said, adding, “I was very frightened by my first confession. But once it was over, I thought, 'Why was I stressed about this?’ There’s something about saying your sins out loud.”

Ashley Rule says the desire to become Catholic began when she and Gary were first married. “There was a need inside me” to learn more about Catholicism, she says. 

Ashley said when she first considered becoming Catholic, “You feel a little left out in the dark. Cradle Catholics, who have slowly learned about their faith, have such a different perspective.”

“It required someone walking us through this,” she says about the Church’s teachings “and then it clicks — like, 'Oh my gosh. It makes sense.'”

Lisa said her own parents are “tickled pink” at the news of their conversion, despite her move away from the Protestant faith. Ashley added it was her grandparents’ faith-filled lives and prayers that encouraged this journey of faith.

“My grandparents are very faithful people,” Ashley said. “They would say to me, ‘I’m praying for you to find a church. I’m praying for you to find what’s right for you.’”

A sense of peace

Ashley’s journey to the faith began when she and Gary were married. “When I got married, there was a need inside me,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what led me.”

She hadn’t yet selected a church when she had her first child, but Colton’s birth put a different perspective on her search. She began thinking about how she wanted to raise her children. “I wanted my kids in a Catholic school, not only because of the incredible academics, but because there was that religious element built in,” she explained.

The few times Ashley and her family had attended the Church of the Divine Child had left a positive impact.

“We always had a sense of peace at Divine Child,” Ashley said. “As I was getting older and had children, I knew I wanted to find a church home for my family. We just started going back to Divine Child and finding out what the next steps were.”

But, she says, “When my mom and I were looking into the process, it was a little daunting.” Lisa, who is her grandchildren’s caretaker, would have to attend the RCIA classes with Ashley and Gary, meaning they would have to find babysitters.

Gary and Ashley Rule hold hands outside Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, where the couple officially entered the faith on April 20.

Luckily, her family was eager to offer support, even if it was a journey they didn’t fully understand. “My sisters stepped up to the plate to take care of the kids. It takes a village. For us, it would have been an impossible journey to go through without my family’s help throughout the whole process.”

Lisa acknowledges that her daughter played a large part in helping her make the leap into the Catholic faith. “She gave me the shove, and I needed the shove,” she said. “We learn so much from our children.”

Both Ashley and Lisa say that although they sometimes wish they had become Catholic sooner, the timing was in God’s hands. This way, all six of them were able to join at the same time. “Sometimes you have to wait on the Lord’s calling,” Ashley said. “There’s an amazing transformation that’s happening over that time.”

And, Ashley added, “If you have that calling, don’t ignore it. Jesus is calling you. Do something about it.”

Ashley’s son Colton has been enjoying learning about the faith. “We have a children’s Bible that is really engaging, so he’s learning the stories,” she said.

Colton will begin school at Divine Child Elementary School in the fall, and he chimes in to say what he thinks about becoming Catholic: “It feels good,” he says.

Colton likes the music at church, especially the Gloria. When asked the meaning of the Easter vigil’s baptisms, he has an answer, “It’s so one day you would go to God.”