Family is received into church at 8-year-old’s funeral

Photo Caption: Shown in Nauvoo receiving Communion from Father Trosley at the funeral Mass for Alicia Hinojosa, 8, are her parents, Pete and Christa, and their daughter Olivia, 10.

By: By Jennifer Willems

LOMAX — Resurrection hope came early for Plutarco “Pete” and Christa Hinojosa Jr. and their daughter, Olivia, who were received into the Catholic Church on March 13 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Nauvoo.

There can be no resurrection without death and the grave, however, and it was no different for the Hinojosas. They received the Easter sacraments at the funeral Mass for their 8-year-old daughter and sister, Alicia.

“For me in particular it was the last time we would all be together in the flesh. It was the most sacred thing we could all do together,” Pete told The Catholic Post. “As sad as it was, it was beautiful as well.”

“We talked about the Mass as being a way to be present with Alicia — heaven to earth, earth to heaven,” said Father Tony Trosley, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Nauvoo, as well as Sacred Heart in Dallas City and Immaculate Conception in Carthage.

“It was an eye opener for people to see the wisdom of the church and the wisdom of Christ in providing the sacraments,” he said, explaining that what happened at Alicia’s funeral Mass made it clear in a unitive way what the sacraments are meant to do.

Alicia Hinojosa’s short life was a story of faith and perseverance that touched everyone around her, according to her parents.

Alicia had fluid in her brain when she was born on Nov. 2, 2000, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Christa said this wasn’t a surprise — they had been told their daughter would have this condition.

While many doctors advise abortion in cases like Alicia’s, “we never would have dreamed of that,” Christa said.

“We knew what we would be up against,” Pete added. “She’s a good example of why you should fight for life.”

They said Alicia faced multiple medical difficulties, starting when she had a shunt inserted into her brain when she was 5 days old. Pete noted that she also had a stroke that impaired her ability to function on the right side, as well as seizures — as many as 50 to 100 a day.

To provide the necessary care for Alicia, Christa became a stay-at-home mom. Pete is employed by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company.

Their oldest daughter, Olivia, is 10 and a fourth-grader at Sts. Peter and Paul School.

“Alicia was a little ambassador for kids with special needs,” Pete told The Post. “She was always a happy little girl. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk, but everyone who met her fell in love with her.”

Despite the challenges she lived with, Alicia could still make herself understood, Christa said.

“You kind of know your children,” Christa explained. “She communicated in a lot of ways that young children do — with her eyes and she could shake her head ‘no.’ If she didn’t want something she’d just flick it off her tray.”

For the Hinojosas, the most important thing was to be a family and they took Alicia everywhere they went.

“We went to the movies. We went to a buffet. We did everything anyone else would do,” Pete said. “Some are embarrassed to go out with children like this. We didn’t believe that. We just operated as a family.”

The same held true at church, they said. Members of Sacred Heart in Dallas City, the Hinojosas always received a warm welcome and support, even on the days that Alicia was restless at Mass, Pete said.

“They’re an unusually sensitive couple in making sure others aren’t disturbed by what’s going on. Dallas City was a perfect match,” Father Trosley said. “Parents being sensitive to the needs of other people and people being sensitive to the needs of the parents is something you would like to see in every church and I hope we do.”

Father Trosley has called on Christa to share her experience by serving on the education commission at Sts. Peter and Paul School. Alicia could not attend the Nauvoo school because she had too many special needs, but Christa said the commission is working on a policy.

Nevertheless, the children from Sts. Peter and Paul School sang at Alicia’s funeral and members of the Nauvoo, Dallas City and Carthage parishes came together to help with the meal that followed, Christa said.

The family was also comforted by the presence of Amanda Twaddle, Alicia’s teacher at Carthage Primary School, and the other teachers and aides.

“A lot of public school systems don’t want to deal with these kids,” Pete said. “We fought for three years to have her in a regular pre-school classroom.”

What they couldn’t fight, in the end, was the swelling of Alicia’s brain. It cut off the blood supply to that vital organ and over a period of four days, the family watched, waited and finally said goodbye on March 8.

Before she was removed from life support at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa, Alicia was baptized by Father Trosley.

“All of her family members were around her. Father Tony was there as well — he’s a member of our family now,” Pete said. “She was surrounded by love when we took her off the machines.”

The Hinojosas said they had experienced Father Trosley’s compassion three years earlier, when Pete’s younger brother, Nikolas, died.

While Pete was baptized, he had never been confirmed or received the Eucharist. He said his interaction with Father Trosley at Nikolas’ funeral made him realize it was time to come back to church.

Father Trosley told him, “When the time is right, here’s my card. Just call me,” Pete recalled. “He has that gift. He’s a real special person.”

Christa was similarly affected. She had gone to Baptist churches and had never considered becoming a Catholic before, but “something just moved my heart.”

“Father Tony definitely reached me and all I can say is something was working,” Christa told The Post. “Maybe it was the Holy Spirit.”

After going to Mass for several months , the Hinojosas started the RCIA process last fall. While Pete was planning to complete his initiation, Christa was preparing to be baptized and confirmed and receive the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil at Sacred Heart.

In addition, Olivia and Alicia were to be baptized and Olivia would have received her first Communion.

Assisting the family were Tony Herdrick of Dallas City, who was recently accepted as a candidate for ordination to the permanent diaconate, and his wife, Lana.

When Alicia died, Father Trosley suggested that they celebrate the sacraments of initiation at the funeral Mass. He said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, gave his permission to do so and worked with Deacon Bob Pomazal to make sure everything was done in time.

“I would much more prefer to do that than wait,” Christa told The Post. “As crazy as it sounds, there were parts of that Mass that were quite joyful.”

Of all the things that she learned through the RCIA process, Christa said she derived comfort from the church’s teaching that suffering has meaning.

“That gives me a lot of peace. You feel that this person was put in your life, and yes, she suffered, and yes, you suffered, but her life has value,” Christa said.

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