By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Chad Steiner was on his way to a doctorate in religious studies four years ago when the unexpected happened.
He began reading the early church fathers, which led him to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was truly founded by Jesus. So he did what he had to do. He converted at the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb.
But then, Steiner did something else he felt he had to do. He told his family, including sister Cari Smith, her husband, Jason, and his father Vern Steiner, an ordained Christian minister.
On Feb. 21, Bishop Robert W. Finn greeted the Smiths among 203 candidates, those who will be received into full communion with the Catholic faith at the Easter Vigil, and 162 catechumens, those who will receive Baptism, at three annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion liturgies at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The next day, the Rev. Vern Steiner was received as a candidate in Lincoln by Bishop James Conley.
But not after, according to Jason Smith, some very interesting and deep family discussions.
“All our questions and answers were done in love,” Jason said. “There was never any argument.”
“Our family was never pulled apart,” Cari said. “There were questions and discussions, but there was never really arguing.”
Rev. Steiner did more than question and listen, Jason said. He dug deep.
“My father-in-law read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church and every church father,” Jason said. “He’s a machine at reading.”
Both Cari and Jason say they come from a Protestant “sola Scriptura” background. That means that if it isn’t in the Bible, it isn’t doctrine and it rejects the Catholic notion of “tradition” in that the Holy Spirit is still active.
Cari said that background gave her trouble — at first — with the Catholic devotion to Mary.
“Mary was difficult,” she said. “For a Protestant, you don’t see her a lot in the Bible, so we missed out on her being a part of our faith as a gift. There was an appreciation of her, but never a deep appreciation. She was always the mother of Jesus, and not the mother of us.”
Jason said he struggled with transubstantiation — that Jesus’s real presence in the bread and wine consecrated at Mass.
“I came from a conservative Christian family where you’re taught sola Scriptura is the end-all and be-all,” he said. Eventually, by “sticking through it,” he came to realize that Jesus really meant it when he told his disciples to eat of his body and drink of his blood, and not in any symbolic sense.
But coming from a deeply religious background, Cari said the words of Bishop Finn’s homily struck her heart when he said to the candidates: “Know that the gift of faith that you received in your Baptism is not discarded or diminished by your entrance into the Catholic Church. 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. 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.”
“It means a lot,” Cari said. “We were part of the body, but not in full communion. You don’t have to throw away what you lived so dearly.
“But we lived in black-and-white,” she said. “Now we can live in full color as Catholics.”
“Now we get the full book,” Jason added, “where we have only read a few chapters.”
Toni Maruskin has also found a treasure by joining her daughter and son-in-law, Dawn and Rocky Kuhlman into the Catholic faith. She will be received at St. Catherine Mission in Osceola.
“I finally realized I needed something to fulfill me,” she said. “That’s what it was. I needed the church.”
Dawn Kuhlman said her husband was a cradle Catholic, and they married at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Lee’s Summit. She would later convert, but it took her mother a while longer.
“Something lit a fire under her,” Kuhlman said.
Maruskin said she was growing more negative after the death of her husband, Rudy, in 2011 after 44 years of marriage.
“I’ve gone away from all that now,” she said. “I feel fulfilled. I feel awesome. It’s giving me a sense of accomplishment and peace.”