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In three separate liturgies, hundreds publicly profess desire to join the church

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — You’re never too young or too old to join the Catholic Church, to judge by this year’s Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion service held March 8 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Church here.

According to archdiocesan liturgy consultant Michael Podrebarac, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion provides an opportunity for those wishing to be baptized or received into full communion with the Catholic Church to stand before the archbishop in the presence of the archdiocesan family and express that desire publicly.

At three separate liturgies in the last two weeks, a total of 204 catechumens took that opportunity; hundreds more expressed a desire for full communion. The liturgy celebrated at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish was the last of the three to be held; earlier rites were held at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and Ascension Parish in Overland Park on March 1.

One of those to express his desire to join the church before the archbishop was eight-year-old Jacob Austin, who will be baptized during the Easter Vigil at Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia, along with his two sisters, Alynna, 4, and Brianna, 10.

The children’s grandmother, Mary Austin, started taking the children to Mass every Sunday at least a year ago because she wanted to “know the strength and love of Jesus.” The result? Family members said they’re thrilled and extremely excited to be joining the Catholic Church.

One of the highlights of the Rite of Election was meeting Archbishop Joseph Naumann and having his picture taken with him, said Jacob. His sister Brianna looks forward to joining the church at Easter, then attending Camp Tekakwitha for the first time.

The archdiocesan youth camp, held at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg, is designed to encourage young people from 5th-12th grade to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ in a fun, active and natural camp setting.

Although the Austin family members represent some of the youngest to join the church this year, candidates Dick and Sharon Purney, ages 68 and 66, prove that you’re never too old to take that leap of faith.

Both will be received into full communion at Topeka’s St. Joseph-Sacred Heart Parish at the Easter Vigil.

For the past 35 years, Sharon’s best friend has been St. Joseph-Sacred Heart parishioner Maureen Steinbock. Steinbock is extremely active in her parish — catering wedding receptions and funeral dinners, working the Lenten fish fries, and assisting with the parish’s annual German Fest.

For the past 30 years, Sharon has helped Steinbock with these events in any way she could. In fact, her faithful participation led many parishioners to assume she was Catholic, although she was actually Presbyterian and her husband was Baptist.

The pair had discussed the possibility of joining the Catholic Church for years, but it wasn’t until two years ago when Dick suffered a major stroke that the idea really took hold for them.

At the time, then-pastor Father George Bertels took time out of his busy schedule to visit Dick at least seven or eight times.

When Dick finally recovered, he asked Sharon if she still wanted to join the church. Her response was an enthusiastic yes. When the two went to the new pastor, Father Tim Haberkorn, he at first thought they were joking.

Like many others, he assumed the couple was Catholic, since they were always at parish events, helping out wherever they could.

This year must have been the right time to join, said Sharon, since she was also celebrating her 66th birthday on the same day as the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.

Now that Sharon and Dick are finally making their dream a reality, the couple said they are truly excited. Although they come from a Christian background, the pair readily admits that in the past they have not always made their faith as high a priority as they could have.

“It’s a real pleasure to be back in church. We go to Mass every weekend, and we wish we could partake in the Eucharist, but we can’t yet,” said Sharon. “We’re looking forward to being in full communion with the church finally.”

But they are already able to appreciate and apply Father Haberkorn’s sermons to their lives, said Sharon.

“He takes the Scriptures and applies them to everyday life in a way that is easy to understand,” she said.

During his homily, Archbishop Naumann thanked the catechumens and candidates for taking this important step in their faith journeys.

“I thank you, our catechumens and those preparing for reception into the Catholic Church, for accepting the invitation — however and through whomever it was communicated to you — to come to know Jesus and to share fully in the life of his church.

“Thank you for taking that first — of- tentimes frightening step — to come and see and know Jesus and his church.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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