By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Brimming with excitement, 416 catechumens and candidates brought 416 stories with them as they entered their home stretch Feb. 25-26 toward full communion with the Catholic Church.
The 172 catechumens, those who have never been baptized, and 244 candidates, those who have been baptized in another Christian faith tradition, participated in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion held twice Feb. 25 at Kansas City’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and once Feb. 26 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“I welcome you in Jesus Christ who reminds us in the Gospel we have just heard that apart from him, we can do nothing,” Bishop Robert W. Finn said in his homily.
Their stories were as varied as the people.
Among those who will be received into the church at Easter Vigil were:
87-year-old William Speise a lifelong student of the Bible who had been attending Bible study, Mass, and other parish events at St. John Francis Regis Parish for more years than he could remember.
Jerald Dickey, who comes from a long line of Southern Baptist funeral directors in Harrisonville.
David Biondi, a graduate of a Catholic high school and university who will not only finally be baptized at Easter Vigil, but will be married a month after that.
But the happiest, most excited person at any of the three liturgies was perhaps Monica Prendergast-Peek, a cradle Catholic.
Three years ago, Monica burst with pride when Eddie Peek, her husband of 30 years, signed the Book of the Elect and was later baptized at St. Sabina Parish in Belton.
This year, her son, Eddie Peek Jr., his wife, Kelly Peek, and their daughter Victoria also signed the Book of Elect. And don’t forget 18-month old Eddie Peek III. The entire family will be baptized at St. Sabina at Easter Vigil.
And although his parents set an example, the decision to become Catholic was entirely the decision of each member of his family, said Eddie Jr.
“It seemed like the thing to do,” he said. “I kept putting it off, and all of a sudden, I decided it was time.”
“We want to get our kids baptized so the whole family is Catholic,” said Kelly.
“It makes me proud,” said Eddie Sr. “It is something we should have done 30 years ago.”
And for Monica, Easter Vigil will see her dream come true.
“I’ll probably be in tears,” she said.
William Speise won’t be in tears that night. He’ll be too busy having fun.
In fact, he’s been the life of the party and Bible study for years at St. John Francis Regis Parish in Kansas City, according to parishioner Therese Van Pelt.
“We didn’t even realize he wasn’t Catholic,” she said. “Then we were always threatening to trip him when he walked by the Baptismal font.”
Speise, 87, with macular degeneration in his eyes and hearing aids in both ears, said he had a long love for the Bible including his undergraduate days at Missouri Valley College, a Presbyterian institution.
When he married a Catholic, he went to Mass with her.
“I followed my wife for years at St. Regis, and here I am,” he said.
If there is any “blame,” he said, give it to Van Pelt.
“She blindsided me,” Speise said. “One day, she said, ‘Bill! Go out and find out what this is all about.’”
A Catholic wife is also leading Jerald Dickey to full communion with the Catholic Church at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Harrisonville, even though his family has deep and strong roots in the Southern Baptist tradition.
His experience as the owner and director of Dickey Funeral Home, a business founded by his father in 1947, also taught him about the rituals and rites of the Catholic Church, he said.
“I have always been fascinated by the ritual,” he said. “In my profession, I can tell you which people have hope.”
Like Speise and Eddie Peek Sr., Dickey was also drawn to the church by a cradle-Catholic wife.
“We all worship one God. How we do it is our own separate way,” he said. “I chose to embrace the Catholic faith and to bring up our children in the Catholic faith.”
Biondi isn’t waiting until after he marries Abby Schieders, a cradle Catholic, in May. He will be baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist then the Sacrament of Reconciliation before his wedding.
And that is a journey he was always on.
Though never baptized, Biondi, 35, is a graduate of two Notre Dames — Notre Dame High School in Detroit, and Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind.
“I’ve always considered myself Catholic, and I’ve been thinking about doing this for years,” he said.
But the busy-ness of life and launching a career in pharmaceuticals with all its travel requirements always seemed to get in the way — until he met Abby, and she introduced him to the Rite of Christian Initiation Team at Guardian Angels Parish in Kansas City.
“They were willing to work with my schedule,” he said.
As Biondi moved on toward baptism, he became certain it was something he was called to do.
“I’ve examined my life a lot,” he said. “It’s a path that I’ve been led out on that I didn’t even know I was on,” he said.
His fiancee said the decision is his.
“I didn’t ask him,” the future Mrs. Biondi said. “This is something that we can not only support each other on, but share.”
In his homily, Bishop Finn told both the catechumens and the candidates that Jesus is also longing for them.
“It is not so much that we come to him today in this Rite of Election,” he said. “Rather, he comes to us. He gives himself to us. He longs for an ever-deeper relationship with each of you. He calls us and invites us to put all our trust in him.”
Bishop Finn told the baptized candidates coming from another faith tradition to rejoice in that tradition.
“Know that the gift of faith that you received in your baptism is not discarded or diminished by your entrance into the Catholic Church,” he said.
“The faith that has been given to you by your parents, family, teachers and friends is a great gift for which we are all thankful,” the bishop said. “It will only be deepened as you take this next step on the journey by which Christ calls you to a fuller communion in himself.”
Bishop Finn said that on Easter Vigil, catechumens and candidates for the first time will receive “the most intimate gift Christ gave us on this earth.”
“You will partake of his own Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist,” he said.
“This is the gift of himself to you: ‘Take, eat. This is my Body which will be given up for you. Take, drink. This is the cup of my Blood of the new and eternal covenant. It will be shed for you so that sins may be forgiven,” the bishop said.
“On that first Good Friday,” Bishop Finn said, “he further defined and consummated the Eucharistic gift by his suffering and death — the total gift of sacrifice of himself — so that you and I might have life.”
Bishop Finn said that Jesus left another gift as he was dying on the cross.
“At the foot of his cross on Calvary, he looked down upon the disciple whom he loved and gave, to him and to the whole church, a most wonderful and personal gift,” the bishop said.
“He said, ‘There is your mother,’” Bishop Finn said.
“I pray that you will come to see in Mary, the poor virgin of Nazareth, a great friend in your path toward Christ, a consoling mother and a patient and loving teacher,” he said.
“In one of our great prayers itself taken from the Gospel — the Hail Mary — we ask her who is called by the Angel Gabriel ‘full of grace,’ to pray for us at the two most important times of our life: ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,’” the bishop said.
“May God who has begun a great work in you bring it to fulfillment,” Bishop Finn said.