Related item: What is RCIA? Who is it for? What do the classes cover?
Story by S.L. Hansen
IMPERIAL (SNR) - A little more than four years ago, Father Bernard Lorenz, pastor of Saint Patrick Church in Imperial, spied a lady at Mass whom he didn’t know. He made a point of introducing himself to her afterward.
“Father, I want to become Catholic,” she said.
So began the final part of June Steggs’ decades-long journey into the Catholic faith.
The seeds were planted decades earlier when Mrs. Steggs was an eighth-grader. Her parents were ranchers in the Sandhills, where there were no secondary schools within walking distance.
“I was too young to drive on those Sandhills roads early in the morning and again at night,” Steggs recalled.
Her parents decided the only feasible solution was to enroll June and her younger sister in boarding school. The closest option was St. Agnes Academy in Alliance, run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Charity. (It closed in 1942.)
“I loved going there,” Steggs said. “We were taught by the nuns, and we had Mass every day.”
Mrs. Steggs attended the academy for the eighth, ninth and 10th grades. Then her sister, who was about to start freshman year, begged their parents to find another solution. They ended up buying a house in Alliance and moving into town so that their daughters could go to the public school.
“At that time, I wanted to become Catholic… I wanted to finish high school at the academy, but my parents would not allow me to,” Steggs recalled.
She has no hard feelings about her parents’ decision.
“They just didn’t understand Catholicism. They didn’t know what it was about,” she said. “My mother said I should wait until I was old enough to make up my own mind.”
So, Steggs attended public high school with her sister. Alas, her junior and senior years’ study was basically a repeat of what the sisters had already taught her during her freshman and sophomore years.
“No instructors in the world are like the Catholic nuns,” she said with a chuckle.
As most of her friends and neighbors were Methodist, Steggs started going to the Methodist church, too. She went to college, married Gerald Steggs, and had two children. The Steggs family continued to attend Methodist services, until a bad experience sent them looking for another option.
After a brief stint in the Evangelical Free denomination, the couple settled on the Episcopal Church in Broken Bow, where they were then living. They remained Episcopalian while residing in Kearney, but when they moved to Imperial to be closer to their son and his family, they had a problem.
“They don’t have an Episcopal church in Imperial, so we had to go back to the Methodists,” Steggs explained.
Soon after their move, Mr. Steggs had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side and unable to speak. In 2005, a final stroke took his life.
“It was the day after our 59th wedding anniversary, and they were 59 good years, too,” Mrs. Steggs reminisced. “I know God had Gerry planned for me.”
Meanwhile, the couple’s daughter had married a Catholic man.
“She didn’t convert right at first. After her daughter was born, she did,” Steggs said.
When her daughter would come to visit from the Denver area, the family would go to Methodist services first, then to Catholic Mass. That’s when that long-ago love for Catholicism was rekindled in June.
“It didn’t take long for me to see there was so much more than I was getting in the Methodist church,” she admitted.
She laughed as she remembered what her mother had told her.
“I thought, ‘At 86 years of age, I believe I am old enough to make up my own mind!’” she chuckled.
Father Lorenz said he was “surprised and delighted” to discover that Steggs intended to convert. Since she was validly baptized and had some background knowledge, it didn’t take long to make sure she was fully instructed in the Catholic faith.
“She was super eager, and knowledgeable, and motivated,” he said. “So when she was ready, we didn’t wait.”
“Father Lorenz is a great catechizer,” Steggs declared. “We’ve gone through that big book of the Catechism… I’ve read every word of it.”
Four years ago, on December 23, 2012, Steggs received her first Holy Communion.
“I think I could hear the angels singing when I received Communion,” Steggs reveled. “It was just beautiful.”
Since then, Mrs. Steggs has been a daily communicant, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to attend Mass… even though her now-90-year old bones might occasionally object.
“Some mornings, it would be so nice to sleep in, but my conscience won’t let me,” she laughed. “I need to be at the Mass!”
Steggs has also become very involved with the parish, volunteering as often as she can. She is a professed secular Franciscan, helps out with the little kids at CCD, and so on. She still attends RCIA classes, too.
“I have a lot to catch up on,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot in four years, but I still need to learn a lot more.”