Helias student became Catholic right before graduating

Was moved by service, history and strong support


Elijah Korenberg has some advice for his fellow graduates and all others who were recently sealed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation.

Stay with it, even when it gets tough.

“You will meet people who will attack you for being Catholic, for being Christian,” he said. “It’s times like those that really show who you are.”

Mr. Korenberg, a 2018 graduate of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City and a new member of Annunciation parish in California, recently became Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Father Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic, baptized him, confirmed him and gave him First Holy Communion in the school chapel May 17.

He graduated three days later and plans to attend Westminster College in Fulton this fall.

“You’ve got to stay with the faith,” he said to his peers in a recent interview. “It’s just vital that you stay connected, especially in the long run. You’ll feel happier about yourself 30 years from now and you’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, I stayed strong, I stayed Catholic, even when it got really hard, even my peers tried to talk me out of it.’”

He noted the ultimate goal is heaven.

“And by falling out of line with the teachings and the faith, it’s harder to get into heaven,” he said.


At your service

Born in Sacramento, California — a city named for a river that’s named for the Holy Eucharist — Mr. Korenberg believes he’s the first in his family to be Catholic.

He moved with his parents to North Kansas City when he was 3, then to a town in Iowa for about a year. They’ve lived in California, Missouri, for the past 13 years.

He was raised in a Christian faith tradition that emphasizes service as a manifestation of discipleship. From a young age, he went to visit church members at home who were too sick to attend Sunday services.

Midway through his eighth-grade year, his parents asked what he’d think of attending Helias Catholic High School, about 25 miles from his home, the following year.

“I guess what brought me to it was that I would have a chance to continue to play soccer, not just at the club level but at the high-school level,” he said. “I think my parents liked the academic side of the equation.”

None of them suspected that his next phase of discipleship was about to begin.

“It kind of started during my freshman year with the religion classes,” he recalled. “That just planted the seed of conversion inside of me.”

He thought about it for a few years and decided early in his senior year that the time was right.

With his parents’ blessing, he entered the RCIA at Annunciation in California.

“Mom and dad have been really supportive of me through it all,” he noted.


Totally blessed

Conditioned for service from a young age, Mr. Korenberg found numerous opportunities at Helias Catholic to help other people in Jesus’ name.

“It’s crazy how beneficial that was,” he said. “Not only did you feel good about yourself but you learned things about others and things about yourself that you never knew before.”

He also played varsity soccer his sophomore through senior years.

“That taught me a lot about staying disciplined and working hard,” he said. “Hard work will get you wins and trophies. And if you slack, it’s not just going to hurt you, it’s going to hurt the whole team.”

Meanwhile, he was getting more intrigued with what he was learning in religion.

“I’m a huge history nerd,” he said. “The fact that the Church has been around for 2,000 years, that was really interesting to me. I wanted to keep learning more and more and more. And through that process, I found that the Catholic Church was what I was wanting.”

The varsity soccer season had wound down by the time the RCIA began meeting weekly at Annunciation parish.

Sister Mary Ruth Wand SSND, pastoral minister and RCIA coordinator for the parish, helped Mr. Korenberg build on what he had already learned and grow in his relationship with God.

Over time, he thought about receiving the sacraments of initiation at Helias Catholic.

“With Helias having done so much for me over the past four years, and since Helias was the reason I was becoming Catholic, it just felt kind of right to do it there in the chapel,” he said.

Many of his friends were present for the Mass, and a soccer teammate proclaimed one of the readings.

What Mr. Korenberg remembers most about the day was the sense of energy and renewal.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It honestly feels like you’re being reborn. All of the support I had — I was so excited. I felt so blessed that I was becoming Catholic. I felt completely happy and totally changed, like a whole new person.”

In addition to studying business administration or security studies and hopefully playing soccer at Westminster, he plans on being active in the college’s Catholic student group.

“Life in Christ is something really important to me,” he said. “I don’t want to lose that connection. I want to keep it strong forever, for my entire life.”

He realizes that college is an easy time to get distracted from faith.

“Finding ways to keep your daily life and your faith life connected is absolutely vital,” he said.

He believes being Catholic means “that you have a deeper and richer understanding and connection with God and of what it means to be part of a tradition and a faith that dates back all the way to Jesus.

“You’re part of something that was instituted and founded by Christ Himself,” he said, “and you’re following His teachings, how He taught them and how it’s all been passed down. Just a deep and rich understanding of what it means to be Christian.”


Grateful heart

Mr. Korenberg is grateful to many people, including his parents; to Maureen Quinn, the school’s campus minister, who helped organize his initiation at school; and to Sr. Mary Ruth, who welcomed him into Annunciation parish.

He’s also thankful to fellow Helias 2018 graduates Jacob Ceglenski and Erin Wyrick, “who are great fiends and helped guide me through the process and were there to help support me through all of it”; to Fr. Jones; and to his godparents, Nancy Hoey and Brad Hake.

“They sponsored me and they became second parents to me,” he said. “I will always know that they’re going to be there for me, in my faith life and my personal life.”

He chose as his confirmation name Thomas More, after the patron saint of politicians and public servants. “That’s something I have such a great interest in,” he said.

In college, he hopes to qualify for a Navy ROTC scholarship.

“I want to go into the Marine Corps and serve as an officer,” he said. “And after that, if I still have some years of service left in me, I want to go into politics. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”


“Kind of annoying”

Mr. Korenberg has a suggestion for adults who want to help young people stay connected to their faith.

“I would say you probably need to be kind of annoying,” he said. “Keep asking: ‘Did you go to church this week? Have you prayed this week? Have you had a conversation with Christ recently? Have you talked to God?’”

He asks for prayers for God to help him keep the faith and remain focused on the ultimate goal: to be united with Him in heaven for all eternity.

“Also, that through my actions, I can do my best in living like Christ and leading others to a life in Christ,” he said.