When Eric and Kelly Johnson of Spring Valley look back at Confirmation, neither remembers the Holy Spirit descending. Still, the quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit has guided the couple, together and separately, in living a life focused on God within their family, their community and their parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Spring Valley.
Eric and Kelly began dating in high school when Eric was 16 and Kelly was 15. They married eight years later. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last summer.
“I was actually an altar server at Kelly’s first Communion and at her Confirmation!” says Eric.
“I had my eye on him for a while,” Kelly says with a smile.
Both Kelly and Eric grew up with loving Catholic parents who modeled how a joyful life after Confirmation requires service and devotion. “My dad was an extraordinary minister of holy communion and lay minister, and my mom sang in the choir,” says Eric. “Both were involved in the celebration of the Mass for many years.”
“My mom grew up Presbyterian, and she converted to Catholicism when she and my dad were married,” says Kelly. “My dad’s mom was a wonderful Catholic woman who helped my own mom through the process into the Catholic Church. I now have the beautiful rosary that my grandma gave to my mom when she became Catholic 60 years ago. I have such vivid memories of going to church with my grandma. She just made such an impression on me. She fell asleep saying her rosary every night. I am so grateful to my parents for my strong Catholic Faith.”
One of the biggest influences in their Faith lives has been Brother Michael Mandernach, CSPX, who came to their parish in 1985. “His beautiful witness to Christ, his clear guidance, his strong character and his gentle manner have been a light in our lives for the past 34 years,” says Kelly. “We feel blessed to have shared our Faith with him for so many years.
Eric and Kelly are active in their parish. Kelly has taught CCD for 22 years, lectors and cantors at Mass, plus serves on the education and social justice committees. Eric is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, youth chaperone, member of the Knights of Columbus and Kelly’s right-hand man with her many church projects.
Faith is part of their work life. Kelly is a substitute teacher for the Spring Valley School District, manages the community pool, teaches swimming lessons and is a full-time mother of four.
“My love for God drives my Faith and service,” Kelly says. “I have always wanted to be an obedient child for Him. My Faith is grounded in the truth of the Church which is found, first and foremost, within the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Through these virtues, I am compelled to trust God, to see each day as a gift and to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ has taught me that, through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, I can be His hands, His feet and His heart of love in the world. I find the most joy in my own life when I am working for the happiness and well-being of others.”
Eric works for Cady Cheese Factory, organizes youth and adult sports, is a member of the local Lions Club and is an involved father of four. During his work in different places over the years, the Holy Spirit makes it easy for him to find Jesus in his co-workers and model Christ to the people he works with every day.
“I find it interesting when people say they can’t work with a certain person,” says Eric. “For me, that’s not an option. I have to show Christ’s love through my example.”
Quiet witness is part of Eric’s daily life at work. He prays before lunch, takes time off from work for holy days and is happy to answer questions about his Faith when asked.
He works with several people who speak little English. One day, Eric noticed a co-worker from Ecuador make the sign of the cross before entering the building. He went up to her and made the sign of the cross, then pointed to himself to let her know he, too, is Catholic.
“I honestly think he is a beacon of hope,” Kelly says. “I think he reflects God’s love and people recognize that.”
Family is another way Eric and Kelly live out their Confirmation. Raising four children—MaKenna, 24, Mitchell, 22, Mason, 19, and Merrick, 15—the Johnsons integrated Catholic Faith into the family with joy.
“It’s who we are,” says Kelly. “We try to live our Faith as a family every day, not just on Sunday. Try is the key word though—we are all sinners, and we are very aware of our need for mercy and forgiveness in our own lives. The kids love their Faith—they really do. They already participate as lectors, cantors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and choir members. We’re so happy that they will live out their Faith as they move on to new adventures in life.”
The Johnson family’s vacations are all about traveling and exploring. “Church is part of the adventure,” Eric says. “We always make sure to look for interesting churches to visit.”
Once on a family trip to Washington, D.C., they went to Mass in Steubenville, Ohio. “We’ve been going to the Steubenville Catholic Youth Conferences every year since 2008 in St. Paul, Minn.,” says Kelly. “We went to Mass on the Steubenville campus and got to see where these incredible youth conferences first began. It was awesome!”
Weekends have Faith mixed into family fun. This year, the family worked at their parish’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner on Sunday, so Saturday was their day for Mass. It was seamlessly incorporated into a fun day that also included watching Irish dancing in St. Paul, praying the rosary together outside Planned Parenthood and watching a University of Minnesota Gophers’ basketball game over dinner.
Every aspect of Eric and Kelly’s life together is focused on the Joy of Christ, in many different, quiet ways. “We feel like we live a pretty boring life, just doing what we are supposed to do as Confirmed Catholics,” Kelly says. “It’s a beautiful life. We are so happy, we feel blessed—and we wouldn’t change a thing.”
Story by Mary Kay McPartlin
Photography by Micheal Lieurance
Appeared in the May/June 2019 issue