Bible study  group grows from tragedy 

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

Sitting on the patio garden at the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge on a breezy fall day, Eva Rodney is full of wonderful surprises.  

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Eva Rodney and Barbara Haynes, parishioners at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge, look over the church directory during a recent visit at the Catholic Life Center. Rodney initiated the Adult Faith Formation program and Wednesday night Bible study at St. Paul.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

With bright eyes, a beautiful smile and elegant attire, perhaps most impressive of surprises is her vibrant participant in her faith and at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge. Another surprise is Rodney’s sharp memory, spanning nine decades.  

She especially recalls missing the first Mass celebrated at St. Paul in 1960, a time when she was in Chicago with her late husband, Clifford Rodney Jr.   

“We found out the church had opened that Sunday, and we came the following Sunday,” smiled Rodney as she acknowledged being with the church since it opened its doors, “minus one Sunday.”  

Rodney, who was raised Baptist, converted to Catholicism in 1950, one year before her marriage to Clifford who was a staunch Catholic. And when St. Paul opened its doors a few years later, the Rodneys became active in the parish community.  

She recalls with her engaging smile that her first entry was working with the bizarre, an event she would take control of a few years later.  

Clifford, with his construction background, assisted with maintenance around the building, served on the parish council and was a member of the Knights of Peter Claver.  

Even while raising her children Varick, Iris, Carlos and Curt, Rodney was busy teaching school and a member and later president of the Ladies’ Guild, “an organization designed to take care of pastors’ needs,” she said. The group also helped take care of the church and provided support for events held there.  

Rodney said at one point she took a step back from volunteering in order to continue her education, earning a master’s degree in education; however, she continued to help out at the church whenever needed.  

By the 1980s, Rodney was more involved in her volunteer work, helping with faith formation, when she was recruited to join prison ministry. From 1989-1994, Rodney taught GED courses to inmates incarcerated at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.  

“I loved it. It was beautiful. I had an opportunity to relate to persons who were in prison and to see them as loving individuals,” she stated. “I worked with men and the ladies separately. And I can say all the men I worked with were very, very kind to me and were very protective of me.”  

She remembered one of the men wanted to learn to read only so that he could read his Bible.  

“And when he started to read, that was a joyous time,” she recalled. 

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994,  she left prison ministry to concentrate on her health. By 1995, health </span id=”15″>restored, Rodney formed a Bible study group.  

The venture began after Rodney shared her heartache regarding her third son with a relative who was dealing with the same issue with her own son.  

“When the storm comes along, you begin to learn to look to Jesus to get you out of the trouble that you’re in,” she said with a deep sigh.  

After their discussion, Rodney told her relative “it was time to start reading our Bibles.” The Wednesday night home Bible study group began small but stayed consistent and began to blossom, eventually moving from individual homes to the church.  

Rodney credits Bible study with giving her the strength to deal with her son Carlos’ death just four years after the group started.  

“It was because of him that the thought came that we need to read our Bibles,” said Rodney, the memories rinsed with tears. 

“I also experienced my child (Carlos) in a way that comforts me, I know where not to question God, but before (Carlos) passed, he would never give up church completely,” she said as she recalled the last time her son joined her and her husband for Mass, following his release from a treatment program.  

“He walked down the aisle with a big beautiful smile on his face and that was very rewarding to me,” she said smiling as her eyes brimmed with tears. “And I just felt, ‘God, we’re out of the woods. Everything’s going to be all right now.’ But God doesn’t work like that.”  

Following a family gathering Rodney said her son went out that night and never made it home. 

“That same night, he weakened and went out. That’s that story, the beginning of the Bible study,” she said quietly, before adding that before Carlos died, he did attend a Bible study and “thoroughly enjoyed it.”  

With strength from her faith, her family and fellow parishioners, Rodney continued teaching and in 2001 helped form adult faith formation, which meets alongside the children’s faith formation on Sunday mornings. The popular class has even extended to include the summer Adult Vacation Bible School, held in conjunction with the children’s Vacation Bible School.  

Rodney credits that experience with leading her into a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith. 

“I learned more about the basics of my faith, which gave me a bit more comfort in being Catholic, because I was not Catholic when I met my husband,” Rodney said.  

Her efforts will endure as following her retirement in 2010, several parishioners, including Mary McCoy, Tina Stribling, Delores Price and Barbara Haynes, have stepped in to share adult formation duties.  

“I was totally blessed and I feel that (with) the persons that came to faith formation and those that are still going,” said Rodney.  

Rodney’s husband passed away in 2016 but with eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Rodney remains active in her faith and with her family, and does attend the Bible study occasionally.  

“When Eva speaks in Bible study, everybody just shuts down and listens because you feel that you know she has that knowledge, you know it’s coming from her heart. And when she talks, she’s talking through the Holy Spirit,” said Haynes. “Her faith is strong. Her belief is strong. And many call her ‘the mother of the church.’ ”  

Rodney continues her spiritual journey with the Lord and has moved on to yet something else that she said brings her great joy: Sunday morning visits with daughter Iris which she calls “God Winks.”  

“We can have a problem and come together and talk about it or we may not have a problem, it might be a Scripture reading or something and we preach a sermon before we get to church and when we come to church, (pastor) Father (Rick) Andrus is talking about the same thing we’re talking about,” she explained with awe as if witnessing another blessing from God.