Monday, 23 March 2020 09:46

‘Converting WAS one OF THE best decisions I’ve ever made.’

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One year after becoming Catholic, Effingham’s Rebecca McIntire is more joyful than ever.

This Easter, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is set to receive more than 200 peopleThis Easter, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is set to receive more than 200 peopleinto the Catholic Church.  Effingham’s Rebecca McIntire was in their shoes just last year. Catholic Times checks in with her to see how things are going, what she loves about the faith, and what we can learn from  her conversion story.

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.

Growing 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?

I 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.”