By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Not long ago, Keith Nester served as a minister in a large Protestant church where showmanship and entertainment was vital — a far cry from “boring,” “superstitious” and “traditional” Catholic services. “If someone had told me I’d (become) head over heels in love with the Mass, I’d have said, ‘You’re crazy.’”
Recently, Nester celebrated the one-year anniversary of his confirmation, and while some people in his life figured his brush with Catholicism was “just a phase,” he is “more in love with the church than ever.”
Nester, a husband and father of three from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, joined a local TV personality and a Catholic revert in sharing “What’s so great about being Catholic” during an event in Sacred Heart Cathedral’s diocesan hall Oct. 27. Individuals from Iowa and Illinois filled the hall to capacity. Guests also prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, celebrated Mass and were welcome to visit the adoration chapel any time during the four-hour event. A panel of local Catholic lay leaders answered anonymous questions from the audience, as well.
Jacqueline Newhouse, a member of St. Mary Parish in Davenport, said she felt inspired to plan the event while participating in eucharistic adoration earlier this year in the cathedral’s perpetual adoration chapel. She started the event by offering her testimony. Raised Catholic, she fell away from the faith before returning a few years ago. She admitted that, even after she returned, the concept of confessing sins to a priest seemed strange and unnecessary. Speaking directly to God made more sense. However, once she made up her mind to do it, “It felt like a boulder was lifted off my shoulders.” Always a health-conscious individual, she knows now that faith was the missing link. The Catholic Church “does the best job of nourishing our souls and preparing us for eternal life.”
The next speaker, Fran Riley, is a longtime feature reporter for KWQC-TV 6 News. Raised in the Catholic Church, he became a Protestant following his first marriage. During this time, “I didn’t have daily access to the Mass. That’s one thing I really missed.” In 2003, he found himself in the midst of a “devastating” divorce, and his faith took a “big hit.” The following year, he met his future wife, Marilyn, whose Catholic faith remained strong despite experiencing the deaths of three family members in six months. “God used her unwavering faith and witness to bring me back to the Catholic Church,” he said. He and Marilyn married at Our Lady of Victory Parish-Davenport in 2006.
Riley said he loves the myriad opportunities Catholics have to express and learn more about their faith. “Communion, reconciliation, Mass, rosary, adoration, stations of the cross, retreats, Bible studies … talk about the complete package!”
Nester spoke next, noting that despite his conversion, he doesn’t hate or vilify Protestants. “They aren’t my enemies and they shouldn’t be yours, either.” He noted that being Catholic cost him his career, but he is happy and has helped his wife, Estelle, to expand her photography business. He later said he is open to becoming a deacon if he receives the call. “I’m better off. It’s been worth it.”
Nester said the focus on Jesus during the Mass was a big draw for him. “The priest wasn’t the star of the show. That was so refreshing.” He also liked the fact that the church has authority to instruct the faithful.
Nester said an issue in Protestant churches is that biblical interpretation can vary widely from person to person. As a Catholic, “it’s not up to me to figure this out. The church shepherds us and instructs the flock.” He sees it as the release of a burden. He also loves the communion of the saints. “Reading about their lives is amazing to me. …There doesn’t need to be a 2,000-year gap in my heroes.”
During a question and answer session, a panel of local Catholic lay leaders answered a variety of questions. Responding to a question about naysayers, Kathy Schluter, a local expert on Theology of the Body and family life, said it is essential to “be kind while debating.”
Responding to a question on dealing with adult children who have fallen away from the faith, Greg Hansen, a member of Holy Family parish in Davenport and the panel’s moderator, said he is dealing with this issue in his family. He said all he can do is continue to live his faith and pray about it. “I have faith they’ll come back, but it’s hard to go through it.” Maggie Schoonmaker, a natural family planning educator and homeschooling mother, said, “The hardest part of forming young people is that what we put in their brains needs to go to their hearts” so their faith can remain steadfast “in a world that is trying to take that away from them.”
Following the presentations, Theresa Woodard, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish, was encouraged by the talks, especially those of the “young” speakers (Newhouse and Nester are under 50.) “I think it’s so great to hear the young people so enthusiastic.”
Jeremiah Schluter, a teenager from St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, Ill., said he goes to a predominately Protestant school, so he appreciated hearing Nester’s perspective. His thoughts on the Eucharist and the Mass “spoke to me,” Jeremiah said.
Diane Marchick, a member of St. Anne Parish in East Moline, believes the conference motivated participants and inspired them to share their faith. “If you don’t have that spark, sometimes events like this can spark that.”