I’m afraid to become Catholic

‘Converting was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made’

EFFINGHAM — It started with a simple question: “Do you want to come inside with me?” That’s what now 53-year-old Rebecca McIntire was asked by her boyfriend, Craig Willenborg, a Catholic, when the two of them were parked outside of church one day before Mass. Despite calling that first Mass experience “intimidating,” it was a spark that would one day lead McIntire to Catholicism.

singing 2Growing up Methodist, McIntire says she has always had faith, however, she never had a desire to regularly attend church, visiting several churches over the years trying to find one she was drawn to, but interestingly, never attending a Catholic Church — until she met Willenborg. During this time, she was also a lead singer in a band called Poprocks, a cover band that performed 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s dance tunes. Little did she know that one day, she would be using her singing talents as a cantor at Mass.

McIntire, who retired in 2018 after 26 years of teaching English in the Effingham School District, is now a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua in Effingham after becoming Catholic April 20, 2019 during the Easter Vigil. She has two children, a son, Kaid, and a daughter, Jensin. Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen interviewed McIntire to hear her incredible journey to Catholicism, what surprised her the most, and advice she has for all of us.

What led you to Catholicism? Was it someone close to you or did something happen in your life that sparked your interest?

I’ve had quite a journey to Catholicism. I’ve always had a sense of Christ present in my life but never had an interest or desire in being a part of a church as I do now. I started dating my boyfriend, Craig Willenborg, and he went to Mass on Sundays. I thought, “Dang, he’s a good Catholic boy.” (laughs) I would even ride into town with him, but I would sit in the parking lot on my phone while he went into Mass. This went on for several months, until one day he said, “Do you want to come inside with me?” “Sure,” I said, then went into Mass with him.

I was actually quite intimidated because I hadn’t attended an actual Mass before. I had sung in many Catholic weddings but never had to worry about sitting, kneeling, or standing because I wasn’t there for that.

After several Sundays, and an occasional Saturday evening Mass, I began to get the hang of it. I was able to follow along in the front of the missalette and know how to join in with the responses. Being able to do that made me more comfortable. I think many cradle Catholics don’t give the structure of Mass a thought because it’s second nature to them. I knew I couldn’t take Communion but more than that, I felt like something was truly missing. I also noticed how humble and reflective everyone looked after receiving the Eucharist and returning to their pews. It began to move me. I started bombarding him with questions right after Mass. (laughs) He was very patient and answered my questions. I think he was pleasantly surprised when I informed him about a year after attending Mass with him that I wanted to join.

What surprised you the most as you started to explore Catholicism?

How unified it is. The Mass is the same worldwide — the focus of the preaching and the prayers. It’s amazing to me that regardless of what state or country, a person can attend Mass and know what to expect. Also, the availability to attend Mass every day of the week! So many times are available to practice one’s faith and stay aligned with God’s word and purpose.

While in the Right of Christian Initiation (RCIA) process, was there a teaching or teachings you struggled with? If so, how did you overcome that and come to accept it?

There were never any teachings that I struggled with in RCIA. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The information covered answered my questions or any doubts I had when I first began classes that were merely misunderstandings concerning Catholicism. The teachings put me at ease and instilled a deeper desire to be a part of the faith. I think there are a lot of misconceptions concerning Catholicism like the respect given to Mary and confession. I’d say confession was a concern I had in RCIA but Deacon Joe Emmerich and his wife Pat, who taught the classes, were fantastic at listening and examining my concerns. Prior to becoming Catholic, I never understood why a person would confess to a priest his or her sins and not just directly to God. It’s quite a bit different saying those words aloud to someone and hearing the words come out of your mouth versus just in your head. Quite a bit different.

Last April, during the Easter Vigil, you were officially welcomed into the Catholic faith. What was that night like?

It was a night filled with so much emotion that it takes months to reflect on to truly grasp it all. For me, that night was a conglomeration of the nine months of classes, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, then finally the ceremony officially bringing me into the church and being able to experience the Eucharist all into one amazing moment.

During the Mass on Holy Thursday, I experienced the washing of the feet. I felt completely humbled and blessed to be amongst the congregation, RCIA class, sponsors, teachers, and priests involved in the process. That Friday afternoon, it was the adoration of the cross. On this day, the RCIA class and our sponsors carried in from the back of the church a large, heavy wooden cross to the altar, and each member of the RCIA class stood on the altar facing the congregation and watched each member of the church leave their pews to bow, kneel, touch, or kiss the large wooden cross. I was moved beyond words. I stood in awe with tears running down my cheeks witnessing the love and reverence each member expressed while coming forward. It was absolutely beautiful. Then that Saturday evening, the songs, the prayers, being anointed with oil by all of the priests and addressed by my saint’s name (confirmation), I truly felt changed and that my faith and relationship with God mattered to everyone involved. Christ was truly present.

When you look back on your life before Catholicism and this incredible journey to our faith, what goes through your mind?

How different many of my decisions would have been in my life. I enjoy going to Mass and doing my daily prayers. I’m quite sure my decisions concerning relationships would have been vastly different had I been in the Catholic faith.

You were the lead singer of a rock band and now you sing at your parish. Describe what it means to sing at Mass?

03 22 2020 McIntire band days cymkI feel very connected to God when I’m singing at Mass. It’s so important to me that I do well and not just “sing” but be very mindful of what and how I’m singing. I’m not just reading words on a page but singing praises and prayers to God. People attending Mass have everything from gratitude for what is happening in their lives to truly needing to ask God for help, strength, or healing in their relationships or an illness. I feel it’s my responsibility when singing and leading the music at Mass to ask God to use the gift he gave me to deepen and enhance their experience and time with him.

As a convert, what does intentional discipleship mean to you and how do you live that out?

To me it means living each day with the intention of keeping Christ present in my life and witnessing to others how it has changed things for me. Converting was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and (I am) continuing to find ways I can use the gifts he has given me.

You are so joyful to be a part of the Catholic faith. What brings you so much joy and what advice do you have for those who have fallen away from our faith?

We live in a world where every personal thought and experience is tossed around the internet, examined, dissected, and disrespected. Catholics, both cradle and converts, can find peace in the sanctity and ritual offered at the Mass and sit with God, shutting the cyberworld out for a bit. The Catholics attending need to remember they have a responsibility to ask someone if they want to go. I’m so thankful that Craig asked me if I “wanted to go inside.”

‘I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders’

EDWARDSVILLE — On April 20, 2019, 42-year-old Deegee Kienstra of Edwardsville officially became Catholic, receiving three sacraments at the Easter Vigil at St. Mary Parish in Edwardsville: baptism, confirmation and Communion. The road to that powerful day is filled with moments where the Holy Spirit planted seeds of inspiration.

10 13 2019DeeGeeanddaughteratherweddingGrowing up, Kienstra never thought she’d become Catholic. Then when she was 13, her family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When she married her husband, Thomas (they have three children: Matalyn, 22; Zoe, 19; and Jack, 17), who was an inactive Catholic, she says they had mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, but she had no desire or had not even thought about becoming Catholic. But then something happened, seeds if you will, planted by the Holy Spirit.

She recalls driving to work one morning in 2014 and seeing the sun hit the cross on the top of St. Boniface Church in Edwardsville. “It was absolutely glowing and at the time, gave me an overwhelming sense of peace and warmth in my chest,” she said. Perhaps the first seed planted by the Holy Spirit.

It was such a powerful moment, she called the church and set up a meeting with the deacon. They met at a local restaurant and went over her feelings but after talking to him at the time, she says she still wasn’t ready to proceed to the Catholic faith.

Then she met a priest who changed everything, the second seed. Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen caught up with Kienstra, who shares her incredible journey that not only brought her to the Catholic faith, but someone she loves deeply back to the faith.

When you look back, was there someone who was the most influential to you becoming Catholic?

The most pivotal moment with me being attracted to the Catholic Church was meeting Father Dan Bergbower (now pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Springfield). I was a hospice nurse at a local hospice home in Edwardsville (which has since closed). Father Dan came out to see one of the parishioners for the church and gave me his personal cell number. He told me I could call him for anything. Father Dan would come to see one of my patients if they requested to see a priest. He didn’t care if they were part of his parish or even Catholic, he would come each time. 

So, add a few years, and I just went through a process with having an ill child, overwhelmed at work and feeling emotionally barren. I prayed for peace and direction in which my life needed to follow. I thought to myself, “Who has been the greatest example of Christianity in my life?”

Father Dan came to my mind, and I immediately called the parish again. I emailed Father Dan, and he told me to come to a Mass on Saturday, and he could talk to me afterward. I had my inactive Catholic husband, Thomas, go with me and we attended Mass. I introduced myself to Father Dan and cried openly letting him know why I remembered him and how my spirit had been broken. He listened to me, said he was glad that I came and lifted his left arm waving down the RCIA teacher Gloria Couvion — and so it goes. 

While exploring our faith, what were some aspects that surprised you?

That we are all in this together. Not one of us is more important than the other in the church. We all have work to do. Your relationship with God is very personal and (there is) no need for outward recognition by the fellow members in the parish.

What was the hardest aspect of becoming Catholic? Was there a teaching you had to dive deep to fully accept and how did you overcome that?

I had difficulty understanding the Trinity because I had been taught something very differently in my previous belief system. I asked questions, prayed, and felt a deep understanding of how God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all the same in purpose and the rest fell into place. 

10 13 2019DeeGeeandfellowRCIAcandidateswithFrBergbowerDuring your RCIA process, you were what the church calls a catechumen, someone who was unbaptized. On the day you were baptized, you also received confirmation and first Communion, officially becoming part of our faith. Describe the joy and emotions you felt.

I cried of course! (Insert Father Dan waving a handkerchief toward me any time I speak of this moment). I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. I had been carrying guilt from previous life experiences and not being able to live the LDS religion with a full heart. I felt the presence of God’s love.

You’ve now been Catholic for several months now. What do you love about it?

I love going to Mass. I can feel my soul need the Eucharist weekly. It’s like when you go bowling and have the bumper guards in place to nudge you in the right direction again.

When you look back on your faith journey, what stands out?

How much I loved going to RCIA. I was surprised at how long the course was until baptism at first. When I started going, it became a safe place for me to talk about things in our culture we generally are not comfortable doing. I’ve missed it and the people since we completed the course. 

Has your husband returned to the faith?

My husband supported me completely and started going back to church with me. He went to every RCIA class with me. He has since gone to confession, joined the Knights of Columbus, and is active in our men’s retreat in our parish. It has been a blessing for our marriage.

There are many who grew up Catholic and have fallen away from the church. On the other hand, you found the church, and are joyfully living out your faith. What would your message be for those who have fallen away?

It’s never too late. The community has welcomed me as an outsider, late-comer, and novice to the religion. Have no guilt or shame in the reason you left. Be prayerful, be forgiving of yourself and others, and finally come to feel the love Christ has for you.