Grande Prairie family finds strength through faith as they prepare for baptism

Through the conviction and witness of one son, a Grande Prairie family will be baptized and received into the Catholic Church this Easter.

It’s a journey that has gifted the family not only with a stronger faith, but also a stronger bond with one another, as the mother Nevada Wafler, and her two daughters Sophie and Quinn, prepare to join their son Jack as members of the Church.

The impetus to this story of great conversion begins with the eldest son – Jack Irla – who is today 19 years old.

While he was not raised Catholic, from a very young age Jack had an intuitive sense of feeling at home in the Catholic Church. He began his schooling at Mother Teresa Catholic School in Grande Prairie, and from as early as the first grade was graced with an attraction towards the Faith. Even if he was not quite able to put it into words at such a young age, he sensed that what the Church provided was the fullness of truth.

“I just knew that this was the way of the world – that it was the truth,” Jack said of his childhood faith. “There is a few times I’ve been to Protestant churches but I always felt out of place. But when I went to Mass at school I felt at home; I felt this is where Christ was.

“From then on, I always wanted to be baptized.”

As is common to many young people, Jack had a momentary “rebellious phase” in Grade 7 and 8, when he identified himself as an atheist. But by the time he was in Grade 9, Jack was feeling drawn back to the faith that had intrigued him so intensely as a child. But now he was old enough to study the Church from a more mature lens. He began to read about the Church Fathers, learned a variety of apologetics about the Faith and studied the vast history of Catholicism. It only increased and expanded his devotion, and he was more and more inclined to be baptized and be received into full communion.

Jack was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic during the Easter Vigil of 2022, at St. Joseph Church in Grande Prairie.

“I like history and I liked learning about things like the crusaders – I thought those guys were really cool,” Jack said. “I liked music like Gregorian chant, it was very beautiful and it attracted me further to the Church. And just seeing a Mass on YouTube, seeing 2000 years of tradition that built up to this – it was really special.

“I came to see that, in coming to learn about Christianity, the other traditions didn’t have these same aesthetics that attracted me like Catholicism.”

Jack’s mother Nevada Wafler was inspired by her son’s confident faith and unique perspective. But she herself was not baptized and was concerned whether her son was mature enough to make a decision as life-defining as religious belief. So at first she was hesitant to give in and let Jack pursue baptism on his own.

“I wasn’t baptized and his dad wasn’t,” she said. “And I didn’t feel like I could fully take on the Church as I should unless I was ready to embrace it fully; otherwise I’d feel like a fraud.”

But her son’s convictions did not waver. As Jack moved into his final year of high school and prepared to turn 18, he began making preparations to join the Catholic Church, fully assured in his love of the Faith. He went through the OCIA program with a small group, as COVID regulations were still limiting involvement at the time, and in 2022 he was baptized during the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph Church in Grande Prairie.

But it would take some more time yet before his family would join alongside him on this journey to the one true Church.

The family present the gifts during the Rite of Election Mass in McLennan.

Evangelization was often on Jack’s mind, and he did put much thought into how best he could bring his family to the Faith. While learning about the history and valour of the medieval crusaders was intriguing to him, he doubted it would have the same effects on his younger sisters Sophie and Quinn. Instead, he would show his sisters the beauty of Catholic art and icons, and with his mom he would engage in intense conversations about the Faith. Sometimes these conversations would prove a positive step, other times they would lead to arguments.

“I will admit, we did used to roll our eyes at him a lot,” Nevada said with a laugh. “We’d go down into the basement and we’d hear him listening to his chant music and be like, ‘Oh gosh… Oh Jack.’”

Nevada always had a degree of admiration for her son’s religious conviction – a rather rare trait for young people in today’s world. And while she herself always felt a calling to some higher purpose, to the point that she almost joined the Mormon church in her early 20s, it took some time before she began to recognize that her son may have been led to a deeply profound truth that would also resonate with her.

Eventually her son’s witness became an intensifying stirring and curiosity for Nevada, even if there were many occasions when it led to the mother and son getting into heated debates.

“We’d often get into discussions, sometimes arguments, and he always had this really solid backing. It didn’t always end well, but there’s multiple times I would have to come back to him and sheepishly admit that he may have been right,” Nevada said.

From left to right: Jack, Sophie, Nevada and Quinn.

By this time, Jack’s evangelical zeal had already proven itself in extended members of their family, as Jack’s drive to share his faith led to the conversion of a cousin.

“My cousin was big into new age stuff like crystals, and once when Jack was 15 he went at her a little bit about that,” Nevada recalled. “I said to Jack at that time that I appreciate where he’s coming from and that he has his convictions, but he needs to respect that people don’t always think this way and this is not how you get your message across.

“But it did something to her; it lit something in her. Because after that she threw away all of that stuff and she was just baptized a couple of years ago. She owes a lot of that to Jack pushing back on her that day.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the March 2024 edition of Northern Light