Encountering Jesus

Different paths, but same destination for three receiving sacraments at Easter Vigil

Sometimes people need a miracle to put them on a path to Christ and His Church, like the flash of light St. Paul received on the road to Damascus.

Sometimes they need good friends or family members to guide them. Sometimes a tragic or life-changing event can prompt questions deep in their hearts.

These scenarios have led saints to find God for centuries and now ring true for three people who are among those being welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil this year in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Alec Engelsman


Alec Engelsman’s conversion was sparked last fall on a trip to Florida, while he was deep sea fishing.

He was on a boat with two other people, so far off the coast that he couldn’t see land. The waters had been rocky, but suddenly they became calm.

“I just remember looking out, and I saw God, like in my own way,” Engelsman said.  “It was just like a little break of sunlight,” along with a dolphin.

“It was the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “The way the world looked at the time was immaculate, just the way He made it.”

Words can’t adequately describe the supernatural beauty he saw, Engelsman said as he recalled the scene.

“I just think that looking out there, nothing could be that beautiful on its own. There’s no way, at all. I’m just at a loss for words.”

“I’ll never forget it for as long as I am on this planet.”

“It was just breathtaking, and it called me,” he said. “I strongly believe He called me by name to go to the Church, and that’s exactly what I did.”

During the remaining two or three days left he had on the trip, he spent a lot of time asking family and friends questions.

He wanted to know more about the Catholic Church, “because there’s like a bajillion Protestant churches out there, right? And there’s always been one Catholic Church, so they must be doing something right.”

Right after landing at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Engelsman began calling parishes, seeking to become part of the Church.

It was late October and parishes had already begun programs for the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (also known as OCIA and formerly called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA).

“So I called around to several different churches,” he said, “and no one would take me that late in the year.”

Then he tried St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish in Bellevue, where the pastor, Father Leo Rigatuso, eventually gave him the go ahead to join its program.

After being welcomed, “I was really nervous,” Engelsman said.

But when he met Deacons Ed Bevan and Tom Deall and others, “they were the most welcoming people I have ever met. I jumped in and got caught up. I did months of homework within a week. I was obsessed with it.

“I was like ‘This is the best thing ever!’ I felt more at peace, and I still do.

“And I’ll never look back,” he said. “There’s nothing in the world that could shake my faith.”

Engelsman, age 30 and a steamfitter, was baptized as a baby in the Presbyterian Church. His wife, Rosella, is a lifelong Catholic. But Engelsman said his conversion came about because of his own experiences.

During the Easter Vigil this weekend at St. Matthew, he will receive the sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion.

He said he looks forward to fully entering the Church and drawing closer to God, “knowing Christ and continuing my journey.”

“Al Pollack (an RCIA coordinator at St. Matthew) gave to me, I believe, the most priceless thing I have in life,” Engelsman said. Now he wants to help others.

“I’d like to sponsor people coming into the Church,” he said, “and to give them what I received.”

Becoming part of the Church and growing in a relationship with God “is the most important thing we can do in life. And looking back at it, I’ve missed out on a lot of years.”

He said there were other times in life when he felt the Lord calling him, but he didn’t go through with it.

“Looking back at it, I missed out on a lot and I wish I would have done it way sooner.”

Chelsea McIntosh

Chelsea McIntosh with her husband, Russ, and their son, Max, who was dressed as an innkeeper for his Christmas program COURTESY PHOTO

Chelsea McIntosh was baptized into the Catholic Church, but her parents – a Catholic father and Protestant mother – gradually stopped going to Mass.

“They still believed in God and following Christ,” McIntosh said, but the family eventually  limited Mass attendance to holidays.

McIntosh, now a young mother, began seeking something deeper. “So it really wasn’t until just this past couple years that I really leaned more into my faith and wanting to get closer to God,” she said.

Realizing that her son, Max, would be attending a Catholic school made her want to share in his learning and growing in the faith. He recently turned 6 and is now a preschooler at St. Mary School in O’Neill.

“Knowing that he was going through all the religious ed classes and the teachings and the lessons, I wanted to go on that journey with him as well,” McIntosh said.

“He’s come home with various questions about whatever Bible verses that they’re studying that week, just some really big questions,” including some prompted by the death of a young relative.

McIntosh said she began thinking about becoming more involved in the Catholic faith since Max’s birth, but the death in the family “just kind of pushed us in the direction of getting closer to God and searching for understanding.”

She joined the OCIA program at St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill.

“I’m just glad that I’m on this journey through RCIA,” she said, so she can help answer Max’s questions, “or we can go to Deacon MJ (Kersenbrock) or Father (Bernard) Starman and get the answers together. It’s been a really great process for all of us.”

Her husband, Russ, is a cradle Catholic.

“This has been a really great journey with him as well,” McIntosh said, “because I think it’s opened his eyes, too” as he renews his knowledge of the faith with her.

“So that’s really strengthened our relationship and our marriage. It’s also helped us to raise our son with God as the center of our family.”

Learning and growing through OCIA has “been a really wonderful journey,” she said.

Participating in the Scrutinies – a special rite at Sunday Masses during Lent for those about to enter the Church – has been one of her favorite parts of the OCIA process.

“I leave every Sunday feeling a sense of healing, a sense of rejuvenation, that God is there,” McIntosh said, “just feeling that sense of belonging” to the Lord.

As she moves closer to the Easter Vigil at St. Patrick, when she will receive her First Holy Communion and Confirmation, she’s ready for a renewed spirit, “a new profound sense of self and life.”

Already, she said, she has felt welcomed at St. Patrick.

She’s been invited to help with a Bible study in the parish, “and without RCIA, that wouldn’t have been an opportunity for me.”

“The community there is just something that I’ve never felt before,” McIntosh said.

“People on the street, they’ll stop you and say they’ve been praying for you, even though I’ve only seen this person twice in my life of living here for 10 years. It’s a sense of belonging  that you really never realize that you were missing out on until you become a part of it. It’s pretty profound.”

Jordan Leake

Jordan Leake and his fiancée, Kelsey Backhaus SHYENNE LANGLEY PHOTOGRAPHY

Jordan Leake discovered the Catholic faith as he was rebounding from a life-changing, football-ending injury in college.

He had one concussion too many while playing football at Wayne State College.

“I spent 15 years playing that sport and went to not doing it anymore and never being able to play that sport again. It was a hard adjustment.”

After talking with medical professionals and family, he knew he had to quit.

“It was the right decision, but I struggled with it, adjusting to that lifestyle and learning to cope with that.”

Though both of Leake’s parents grew up in the Catholic Church, they didn’t raise their sons in the faith.

When Leake and his brothers were young and growing up in Lakeville, Minnesota, “church just wasn’t a thing for us,” he said. “It was more like you watch the football game at noon on Sundays. That was kind of our religion, so to speak.”

When he struggled after ending his football career at Wayne State, a friend helped.

“I had this one friend (Paul Mach, now a seminarian in the Diocese of Lincoln) who was very religious,” Leake said, “and he was just kind of in my ear about: ‘Hey, man, let’s try church out, try church out, try church out. Finally, I just kind of caved and went with him, and after that I would try and go weekly. I really liked it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down those efforts, but soon he had a new reason to go to Mass.

“I met this girl,” Leake said, “and her family is Catholic. So I started going to holiday Masses with them. I really started to like the way that church was making me think about life and giving it more of a meaning.” 

Before, Leake had been “just kind of waking up every day and doing the things that I was expected to do by everybody else and society. I started going to church and just found a sense of purpose in the world. I wasn’t just here (in life) to be here, I was here to serve.”

“It took me a while,” he said. “I think a lot of what helped me cope was finding religion, because I had a difficult time finding what my meaning in life was because I wasn’t doing something that I was so passionate about.”

“So going to Mass, hearing Mass, just listening and observing, kind of gave me that sense of importance and sense of meaning, because I felt like for a while I was just wandering around after I was done playing football.”

Now Leake, 25 and a math teacher with Plainview Public Schools, will soon marry Kelsey Backhaus, the woman whose family helped introduce him to the Catholic faith.

Joining the Church “was something that I was wanting to do,” Leake said. “I just didn’t know what the appropriate steps were.”

He said his fiancée’s family has given him a “pretty good support system. They helped me out and were like ‘Hey, this is where you go to sign up, this is what you have to do. And my future mother-in-law (Gina Backhaus of St. Jane Frances de Chantel Parish in Randolph) is actually my sponsor.”

“So I’ve been going to Catholic Mass, just becoming a Catholic and trying to live that lifestyle,” Leake said. “It seems like people are just welcoming me with open arms everywhere I go, in every situation that I’ve been in.”

He said he’s eager to receive the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and “being able to finally receive Communion” at the Easter Vigil at St. Mary Parish in Wayne, “having my fiancée there and her family and my family there, seeing that and being part of something that I’m really excited about.”


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