Thursday, March 13, 2008

If this is Holy Week, It must be Catechumen Time!

Sean-Michael Steele holds the Easter candle so his mother, Bonnie Steele, can light an altar candle before a Feb. 3 Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, where they both have been received into the Catholic Church.

Bonnie is a good friend of mine. And I can truly say that I have never met someone so excited about being Catholic. Some of us get excited for a time and then our new Catholic life becomes normal and routine. Bonnie is just like what the Apostles must have been on that first Pentecost.

Some of you might be surprised to hear this about your Catholic faith, but Bonnie, an African-American, was thrilled about how welcoming Catholics were to her and her family. She is now employed in a local parish. Those parishioners have their handsful with Bonnie.

Bonnie Steele, 50, caught the virus a few years ago at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, where Father Paul Jarvis, now at Guardian Angels in Chaska, previously served as an associate pastor.

She was received into the church during the Easter Vigil in 2006 and has been busy ever since infecting family and friends with the enthusiasm she has for her faith and parish community.

"One of my friends said she wants to go to church with me and learn more about the Catholic faith," Steele said during a recent telephone interview with The Catholic Spirit.

This year, 700 people from 90 parishes are signed up to be part of the Rite of Election of Catechumens and Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates Feb. 10 at the Cathe­dral of St. Paul or the Basilica of St. Mary. Those individuals, in their walk with Christ, also impact many more people, said Lori Dahlhoff, a member of the archdiocesan Parish Services Team. She expects some 2,400 people to attend the two celebrations.

This is the first of three rituals during Lent for those unbaptized individuals who will receive the sacraments of initiation - baptism, first Eucharist and confirmation (catechumens) - or those who were baptized in another faith and will receive first Com­mu­nion and be confirmed (candidates) into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

St. Catherine opens arms

Steele, who was raised in a strong Pentecostal home, said she was first exposed to the Catholic faith when her daughter, Nikki, was attending the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.

"We are people of color, and we had not had anyone in our family go to college," Steele said. "What I noticed right away was the welcome they had for her. I noticed how they nurtured her and encouraged her."

Nikki soon talked her mother into taking a class at the college.

"The encouragement I saw for her is what I received," Steele said. Then, during a theology course on the spirituality of marriage, Steele said tears were rolling down her face as she heard Christian truths she had been waiting to hear all her life.

In 2005, Nikki told her mother she had signed them up for a class about the Catholic faith at the Basilica. At the time, Steele was working full time, going to school and raising a family with her husband, Jerry Steele.

But she agreed to go a couple of times to help her "shy" daughter get acquainted.

"It didn't take me long to realize the journey was not just hers, but it was mine," Steele said.

She continued through the phase of inquiry to the welcome ceremony. When she stood in the Basilica and her sponsor made the sign of the cross on her hands, ears and eyes, Steele said she knew she was home where she belonged.

"I was drawn in by the community. It was the way the community loved. It was the way the community at the Basilica parish welcomed us. We were in the margins and they reached into the margins for us," she said. "I believe . . . in the power of commu­nity to change peoples' lives because it happened to us."

Steele, now a pastoral care minister at St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, said: "I didn't realize the impact I was having on the children. I was so excited about what I was learning."

After the Easter Vigil, her son, Sean-Michael, and daughter, Ashley, said they, too, were interested in the Catholic faith.

So she made an appointment for Sean and Ashley to meet with George Barrett, then the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults coordinator and religious education director at the Basilica.

When Barrett found out that Sean-Michael was interested in languages and taking a Spanish class, he asked if Sean wanted to go on a mission trip with the parish to Mexico.

Steele wondered where she would get the money for Sean to go, but Barrett said that the Basilica would pay for it.

That was the start of a new life for Sean-Michael, Steele said. He was moved by the invitation and the mission trip experience, she said. Then more Basilica parishioners stepped forward to welcome Sean-Michael into the Juventus youth choir and youth ministry group.

"Sean said, 'Mom, I think they like me, here.' Then he stopped and said, 'No, I know they like me,'" Steele recalled. "When we went to the Ba­si­lica, we had a lot of places where we were wounded. . . . I get up every day and am so grateful."

In 2007, another daughter, Jamie, was confirmed, and Ashley and Sean-Michael were baptized. Although Jerry went through RCIA and will attend Mass with the family, he did not go through any of the rites, she said. [snip] The Catholic Spirit

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