Studying Bible, history led to conversion for Sauk Rapids native

Some 37 years ago, Jeff Mo, a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Sauk Rapids, entered into full communion with the Catholic Church through the RCIA process. One of the things he remembers most was his previous disappointment at not being able to receive the Eucharist at Holy Thursday Mass.

“As a candidate, I was spiritually ready at that point to receive holy Communion, and it was so hard not to be able to go to Communion on such a special day,” Mo recalled.

But it wouldn’t be long before he would receive the sacrament of confirmation as well as his first Eucharist, something that is so important in his life today and something he is now excited to share with others, he said. For the last six years, Mo has been a catechist for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at Sacred Heart.

“I wanted to give back some of what I learned,” Mo said. “I thought I could offer feedback that the catechumens and candidates might not get from people who have been Catholic their whole lives.”

This year, he and Tom Schutz, another parishioner of Sacred Heart, have been preparing catechumen Dan Stellmach for his reception into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

This year, in the Diocese of St. Cloud, 17 catechumens and 76 candidates planned to become fully initiated into the church at the Easter Vigil, according to parish reports received by the diocesan Office of Worship.

Catechumens are unbaptized people seeking the three sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Candidates are already baptized Christians who are preparing for entry into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Rooted in history

Catechumen Dan Stellmach, surrounded by his sponsors, is blessed by Father Ralph Zimmerman before leaving Mass to continue his studies at Sacred Heart Church in Sauk Rapids April 2. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Stellmach, who manages an apartment complex, grew up in the Sauk Rapids area attending a non-denominational Christian church.

“I was raised Christian and have deep convictions about Christianity,” Stellmach said. “I feel that a lot of other religions share similar ties and their stories sometimes co-mingle. If you go down to the core values in most religions, it boils down to ‘be nice to each other.’ A lot of them have similarities, but a lot of them also have very key differences.

“What really draws me to the Catholic faith is how grounded it is. There’s a reason for everything. There’s a deep history. If you look at Christian religions, it’s the authority on the matter, in my opinion,” he said.

Stellmach, a history buff, has studied the Bible extensively as well as the history and traditions of many world religions.

“The Catholic faith was definitely an easy transition for me,” he said. “It has what I view as all the proper beliefs in place and even takes it a step further with transubstantiation [the belief that at consecration, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus].”

He decided a few years ago that he wanted to become Catholic, but a series of life events, including a serious illness in his immediate family, prevented him from being able to commit to the RCIA process, which usually takes a year or more.

“I wanted to do it right and I didn’t want to cut any corners or take any shortcuts,” he said. “So I waited until the time was right.”

Last year, Stellmach married his wife, Maggie, a lifelong Catholic. Although his decision to become Catholic came before they were married, he also feels that witnessing the faith of his wife and her family continued to encourage him along the way.

“I want us to be united, and for our future children to experience a united home and an agreed upon belief system,” he said.

Like Mo, Stellmach said he is most excited about receiving the Eucharist and also wants to learn more about the history of the church and the lives of the saints. He also encourages others to consider learning more about the Catholic Church.

“Don’t deny it because of what you’ve heard. Try it for yourself. Learn about it, meditate on it, study it and decide for yourself,” he said. “It’s a nice community and I’m looking forward to being fully part of it.”

Companion for the journey

Daniel Stellmach adds his name to the Book of the Elect as his catechist, Jeff Mo, and Father Robert Rolfes watch March 5 at the St. Mary’s Cathdral in St. Cloud. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt/The Visitor)

Mo recognizes that Stellmach has some of the same questions he had going through the process and enjoys walking alongside him, providing support, answering questions and being challenged himself to know his faith more deeply.

“When you talk to someone about the Catholic faith, you can’t help but strengthen your own faith,” Mo said. “It’s always great to see the witness of those going through RCIA and wanting to come into full communion with the church. When they ask questions, you can see the thirst in their eyes.

“The thing I find really interesting is that we have people like Dan, who is well-versed in, thoughtful and knowledgeable about the Catholic faith,” he continued. “We also have people who come in knowing almost nothing about Christianity at all. Despite those big differences, God is working within all of them to bring them to full communion with the church. They are all called by God.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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