STAYTON — This feels like Christmas, thought Carolyn Rich, moments before Mass began at Immaculate Conception Parish here Dec. 8. Among the people sitting in the church pews were more than 100 parishioners and area Catholics preparing to consecrate themselves to Mary.

Rich, the youth minister at Immaculate Conception, had been dreaming of the day since the summer when she started integrating more Marian devotions into her youth group. At the annual Steubenville Conference, which draws teens from across the Northwest, a teen had asked if they could pray the rosary on a break. And so it all began.

Rich envisioned having a Marian retreat for the teens and then consecrating a few to Mary.

“I never really realized that tons of the parish would just jump into it,” she said.

What happened was more than 40 teenagers, many of their parents and several other parishioners who hadn’t before encountered the devotion decided to be consecrated.

Angelica Ceja Ochoa and her 14-year-old daughter Josefina Pena, a student at Cascade High School, were among those consecrated. Ochoa is a recent convert to Catholicism, having been raised Pentecostal.

“I grew up believing that Catholics worshipped Mary, instead of worshipping God and Christ,” said Ochoa. “To do the consecration, that was a big step for me.”

Ochoa was pleased to be consecrated with her daughter. She feels like they’re learning about the faith together.

Tristan Klascius, a 15-year-old sophomore at Regis-St. Mary, spoke lovingly about his newfound devotion to Mary.

“I’ve always been told Mary is the way to Jesus’ heart but I’ve never experienced it,” he said. The retreat and consecration preparation he went through before the Dec. 8 Mass presented an opportunity to do just that.

It “was a great way for me to open up my heart to Mary and pray to her and see how that worked in my life and see how it helped me come closer to Jesus,” he said.

As the young man began to pray more to Christ’s mother, he felt himself growing closer to the Lord.

“I felt happier and I felt a weight lifted off my chest,” said Klascius, mentioning how stressed out he’s been lately with school. “And so I just offered that up to her and asked that she bring that before Jesus.”

When the day of the Mass came, Klascius saw he wasn’t alone.

“I saw all of my friends at Mass doing it with me,” he said. He knew in talking with them afterward that they were as spiritually connected to Mary as he’d become.

“We all need a mom,” said Rich. In the months since she began introducing consecration to the parish, she’s faced many questions: what is Marian consecration, why give your life to Mary and so on. And so she told them about how her mother died when she was just 10 years old. But even still, her mother likely is still the person who knows her best.

“A mom knows her children,” Rich would say. “Who knows Jesus better?”

She told them how Mary would only lead people closer to Christ, not away from him. Then she would add that many saints were consecrated to Mary.

Before she was consecrated, Rich knew nothing about it. Still, Mary met her where she was, as mothers do. And just how moms know the differences in their children, so too does Mary.

“It’ll be neat to see what the Lord does with each one of them,” she concluded.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org