St. Francis, Archbishop Sheen inspired new Catholic in Roanoke

Photo Caption: Steve Wagner is baptized during the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph’s Church in Roanoke by Msgr. Charles Beebe.

By: By Jennifer Willems, The Catholic Post

ROANOKE — Steve Wagner has come home.

Leaning over the baptismal font at St. Joseph’s Church he followed St. Francis of Assisi and Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, his heroes in faith, into the Catholic Church. In the process he found the peace he had been seeking for much of his 53 years.

“I feel like I’m home. I don’t know how else to say it, but I do,” Wagner told The Catholic Post at the reception following the Easter Vigil on March 30. In addition to being baptized, he was confirmed — taking the name Francis — and received the Eucharist for the first time as his wife, April, stood at his side and smiled.

They would return on Easter morning so that Steve could fully participate in his first Mass as a Catholic and receive his “first Sunday Communion.”

“I got all choked up again,” said April. “We knelt down and prayed together after Communion. It was so wonderful for us to be able to do that after 32 years.”

Similar emotions were shared at parishes around the Diocese of Peoria as hundreds were received into the church during the Easter Vigil. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, has invited all to a Mass for New Catholics at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Saturday, May 18.

Steve Wagner began his journey into Catholicism in September 2011 while visiting Assisi, Italy with April. A professed agnostic at that time, he reached out and touched the tomb of St. Francis and immediately felt like something had been lifted from his shoulders. Another touch brought a tingle. (See background story here.)

He didn’t say anything to April until last spring, when he started to have dreams that led him to Archbishop Sheen and eventually New York. Visiting the El Paso native’s tomb at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he reached out his hand again and made a promise that he would follow the Catholic Church.

He had been keeping a pamphlet with a relic of Archbishop Sheen and the prayers for his canonization and intercession in his pocket. Nestled inside was a photo of his grandson Jaxson, who has a genetic disorder called adrenaleukodystrophy. He prayed the prayers at the crypt and asked the potential saint to watch over his grandson — and continues to do so to this day.

While he was being baptized, Steve was holding the prayer card and Jaxson’s photo. Also in his pocket was a rosary with the San Damiano cross of St. Francis of Assisi that was made for him by Deacon Andy Heckman, the director of the RCIA process for the Roanoke parish and St. John’s in Benson.

“I have three rosaries — I use this one,” he said, taking it from his pocket. “We come to church every Sunday to pray the rosary half an hour before Mass. I never thought I’d be this excited to come to church. It’s a new life.”

April gave him a Kindle for Christmas and he already has three books by Fulton Sheen, a biography of St. Augustine and the Bible on it. As a teenager attending an Apostolic church he would recite passages from the Bible, but now reads it for himself.

“I’ve gotten through the Old Testament and I’m in Luke now. I had hoped to have it all done before tonight, but I’m reading several books at a time,” Steve said, adding, “I can’t get enough information.”

Msgr. Charles Beebe, pastor of the Roanoke and Benson faith communities, said Steve’s is the first adult baptism there since he was named pastor in 2003.

“It was very moving. April and I were talking and we were both hoping we could do it without crying,” he told The Post. “It’s very emotional to witness someone who has experienced this kind of conversion and then to have Bishop Sheen be a very important part of it.”

Adding to his joy was the confirmation and first Communion of Megan Kearfott of Benson.

Joining Steve and April at the Easter Vigil were their son Ben and his girlfriend Jennifer Wilder, and their daughter Christina LaBorde and her daughter, Carina, and son, Jaxson, now a happy and active 14-month-old.

“Steve is all smiles and at peace,” April said a few days after Easter. “He’s at home in his faith now. His journey has brought him home.”

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