Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Apr
  • 24

Newly baptized shares influences, journey story

Posted By April 24, 2014 | 1:03 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – What the “little Protestant kid” thought was polytheism has become the glue that will keep the newly baptized 63-year-old a Catholic.
John Stevens took the plunge after nearly 35 years of attending Mass with his wife, Nancy Berube. He was baptized, confirmed and received his first Communion at the Easter Vigil Saturday at Christ the King Parish. He says he did it “to become a better citizen, member of the human race, husband and father.”
The son of a Dutch Reformed mother and Congregationalist father, Mr. Stevens attended a Congregational church in Ontario, N.Y., with his parents and siblings. He thought Catholics worshipped many gods because of their devotion to saints.
“And now the adhesive that will keep me tied to the Church – its saints,” he says. “Because they were fully human.”
Preparing to become Catholic, he needed to choose a confirmation name. At the diocesan Men’s Conference, he looked for books about saints, and learned about the North American martyrs, who suffered to share Christ with Native Americans. He chose the name of one of those Jesuits, Gabriel Lalemant. He says his wife’s aunt took that name when she became a religious sister, and his daughter’s middle name is Gabriel.
As a high schooler, Mr. Stevens attended the Congregational church by himself. His parents weren’t going regularly, but he doesn’t know why his mother discouraged him from joining the church, he says. The minister let him preach about his passion for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War.
Mr. Stevens says he always believed in God, but, in college, church was not part of his life.
Thirty-four years ago he married a Catholic who was “originally on track to become a nun,” he says. He admired how she stuck with her faith. There was no question their children would be reared Catholic.
“After 35 years of watching people sit down at the table, I’m finally invited to take part,” he says now. “I knew there was always a place for me. People were welcoming and never pushed. Nancy was very patient. We would always discuss the homily on the way home.”
Mr. Stevens says he’s “wired” to try to make sense of the world.
“I’ve always enjoyed making beautiful things; it’s always been a spiritual experience for me,” says the blacksmith of Dancing Hammer Forge in Spencer. He’s also worked at Sturbridge Village and was director of Higgins Armory where he was surrounded by artifacts of war with crosses on them. He says it was a challenge to bring meaning out of these seemingly “contradictory drives” of “being driven by faith to go to war.”
“I believe in a strong military,” Mr. Stevens says. “I believe we need to confront evil in the world … showing as much love and compassion as we can. Christianity is under attack all over the world. Jesus Christ is a door, not a doormat. We have to draw lines in defense of our values. I really want to be a Christian warrior. … How do we do this in light of Christ’s message? My admiration for the early Church is limitless, the way they accepted their fate.”
He says his politics may differ from those of some other Catholics, but all are in the Church together, “trying to work out the best way to live out that message.”
One of the things that drew him to the Church is how Catholics re-examined their faith throughout history, maintaining the core message but finding ways appropriate to the times to communicate it, he says.
He needed a better understanding himself before becoming Catholic. He says he began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults a few times.
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve used both my head and my heart,” he says. But when examining the Catholic faith, he used only his head. Once he involved his heart, he was ready.
To explain that, he tells how he struggled with Jesus’ call to die to self; he figured people need some sense of an ego to stand up for values.
“You don’t give up self,” he says now. “You die and you rise to a new self.”
At the Easter Vigil he thought about the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” in which several soldiers die trying to save the private’s life. Private Ryan is told, “Earn this,”  meaning live a good life, Mr. Stevens says.
“And I flashed on the cross,” Mr. Stevens says. “How do we earn this? And I thought of my boys (both training to be army doctors) and the families that have lost their sons and daughters. Talk about dying to self – that’s what soldiers have to do. They die to their own dreams and plans to save someone else, just as Jesus had to die to himself.”
Having embraced Catholicism, Mr. Stevens says, “If you’re going to declare yourself for God … you want to go to the source” – where popes are traced back to St. Peter and spiritual writings are built on each other.
His wife calls it exciting that her always-supportive husband has become Catholic; it makes their sharing deeper.
It’s also sent them to daily Mass, something she’s happy to get back to.