Atchison academy experience led to girls’ conversion

From left, Xuemeng “Rona” Chen and Lingfei “Bonnie” Kong were recently baptized Catholic. Coming from China, the two had no religious background before taking classes at Maur Hill-Mount Academy.
From left, Xuemeng “Rona” Chen and Lingfei “Bonnie” Kong were recently baptized Catholic. Coming from China, the two had no religious background before taking classes at Maur Hill-Mount Academy.

by Therese Aaker

ATCHISON — Four souls have chosen Christ.
By the close of the spring semester at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, two students had been baptized into the Catholic Church and two more had been confirmed and fully initiated into the Catholic faith.

Before Xuemeng “Rona” Chen and Lingfei “Bonnie” Kong came to Maur Hill-Mount Academy and were baptized, they had little to no religious background in their homeland in China.

As they took religion classes, however, that changed.

“The teacher taught a lot about Mass and the faith she had,” said Chen. “We watched ‘The Passion’ and I was kind of thinking the faith might be good.”

Sophomore Kyle Kliethermes, who was confirmed last month with another student, Corbin Pulido, had a similar experience.

“When I was a kid, I wasn’t raised Catholic. My freshman year, it didn’t hit me about Catholicism, but then I started religion class and got more interested. I wanted to join everyone else,” said Kliethermes.

For Kong, there were several things that inspired her to become Catholic.

“First of all, I really get touched when I step into church — such as the music and people’s prayer,” Kong said. “Especially the retreat we had, I learned a lot of things about God and how to become a better person.”

“Through the religion class, I get to know more about God and the Catholic life. Eventually those things came together and made me have a strong desire to be a Catholic,” Kong added.

Conversions weren’t always common at Maur Hill-Mount Academy. Several years ago, the school used to have one Mass a month. Now, Mass is held daily, with an all-school Mass celebrated once a week. Up to 60 students attend.

“Before I got here, it was just an international boarding prep school. But what we’ve done is say, ‘We are Catholic, [and made that] the first thing,” said president Phil Baniewicz.

“The Holy Spirit has really worked, and now we have four converts,” he added.

The Spirit has worked, in part, through the school’s teachers.

Julia Dick, a theology teacher who taught both Kong and Chen, said that she was impressed with the girls’ openness to the faith, especially being in high school “where most kids don’t care.”

“It’s beautiful to see them enter into it and make the effort to do it,” said Dick.

Baniewicz hopes that with Chen’s and Kong’s decision to become Catholic, doors are opened for other students to embrace the faith.

“It’s a huge step. They’re the first Chinese students to do that. . . . There’s a bit of a buzz around campus. It opens doors for other kids to think, ‘I could take that step to follow Christ completely,’” said Baniewicz.

The girls’ decision to embrace the faith has not only opened doors for other students, but opened the eyes of those who care for them.

Pauline Schuele, Chen’s godmother, is one.

“I’m absolutely inspired,” said Schuele. “The Chinese kids come to us with no religion or concept of God, and to watch her knowledge of God [grow] and to take it further — it’s completely inspiring.”

Abbot James Albers, OSB, who baptized the students, spoke of their courage in choosing to accept Christ in their lives in his homily.

“We are called to respond to this gift of faith . . . as Bonnie and Rona are responding,” said the abbot. “Our faith tells us there is something more for us, and to this faith we must respond. We must use our gifts . . . for the building up of the body of Christ.”

“You will be called to witness what you profess this morning,” Abbot James continued. “It will not be easy. But . . . Jesus himself faced the same difficulties.”

Both girls say they feel the difference that their baptism has brought about. Chen, who said she’s always tried to be a good person, noted that now she wants to be an even better one — even when it is hard or inconvenient for her to do so.

“I feel like there is something different about me,” agreed Kong.

“It’s like there is something supporting me and makes me fearless and full of hope,” Kong continued. “I feel like I am completed and not alone.”

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