Sacred music, the Divine Office, the Eucharist draw couple toward confessing the Catholic faith


Nicholas and Sharon Liese realized on the Solemnity of St. Joseph that they needed more than the faith of their upbringing.

They needed the Eucharist. They needed the Sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the unbroken line of Apostolic Succession leading back to Jesus and the men he ordained to carry on his work.

They needed to confess the Catholic Faith.

“We have found in the Catholic Church the fullness of truth that we were not able to find elsewhere,” declared Mr. Liese, Director of Sacred Music at St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City.

The couple moved to the Capital City in 2022.

Nicholas was initiated into the Catholic Church last August.

Sharon is preparing to do so at the Easter Vigil.

“I just suddenly felt like I was being called,” said Sharon. “I had discovered the truth, and I realized that this is where I need to be.”

On this rock

Nicholas’s father, a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, took a strong interest in what his children grew up believing.

“One thing that my Dad drilled into me was that it is an injustice to be a ‘cradle Lutheran’ — a ‘cradle’ anything — and not be convinced that what you believe is right,” said Nicholas.

“I had learned a lot, but I wasn’t convinced that I believed it all,” the son conceded. “I had a lot of questions.”

He took those with him to Concordia University near Milwaukee, upon beginning his studies there in organ and church music.

He took up lots of heavy reading that brought more concern than comfort.

“I felt like I was getting washed up onto the shore every few months, and I had to wade back in and dive into theology and doctrine and get back into what I believed,” he recalled.

Along the way, he discovered a Lutheran adaptation of what Catholics call the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours — a cycle of prayers and readings to be taken up alone or in community at various times each day.

He and some friends started praying the prayers together once a week, and then more often as time permitted.

“For the first time, I felt I was able to really pray,” he said. “The simplicity of the Psalms and the readings and the prayers associated with what I now know as the Divine Office — it brought me a tremendous amount of stability.”

Nicholas continued his studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

That’s where he met Sharon. They got married and moved to Lawrence, Kansas, when Nicholas became associate director of music and principal organist at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center — often known as “KU Catholic.”

He was quickly called upon to become the center’s interim director of music for the rest of that school year and into the following year.

Working one-on-one with students in the St. Lawrence choir, he set out to serve as a teacher and mentor.

“They were all longing to know their faith better,” Nicholas recalled.

He shared one to two hours each week with each of the seven choral scholars — all of them Catholic — in the center’s choral scholarship program.

In addition to music lessons, they explored and discussed the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the writings of several saints and mystics.

He kept up with the Divine Office and invited people to come to the center each Sunday for sung Evening Prayer.

A couple of friends in the organ program at the University ribbed him about being Catholic in everything but name.

“They were kidding, but even in jest, there’s always a little truth,” Nicholas noted.

Sharon, whose father grew up Catholic, also felt pulled in that direction.

Family events, Confirmations and the weddings of several cousins had brought her to Mass many times.

“But it wasn’t until we moved to Kansas and I started singing in the choirs Nicholas was directing that I started truly witnessing the Mass,” she noted.

Sharon became friends with devout Catholics with whom she could discuss her faith and have her questions answered.

“That’s when Nicholas and I started talking about being interested in coming to the Catholic Church,” she said.

The couple moved to Mishawaka, Indiana, where Nicholas served as director of music for a Catholic parish.

There, he got to know the school’s music teacher and her fiancé — both faithful and knowledgeable Catholics.

“We got to be good friends,” said Nicholas. “We would have conversations and banter with theology.

“They were the kind of people who would offer to teach and discuss rather than just argue, and they would answer questions sincerely,” he noted.

Nicholas and Sharon felt ever-more drawn to being Catholic, but the timing didn’t seem right.

In the meantime, Nicholas was put into contact with Father Jeremy Secrist through a mutual friend, to discuss the possibility of his consulting on an organ project at the parish Nicholas served.

Fr. Secrist was pastor of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City at that time.

Lisa Fender, the parish’s longtime music director, was retiring, and the pastor was looking for someone to succeed her.

“He and I spoke over the course of a couple months. Eventually, I came down for an interview and he made me an offer,” said Nicholas.

He now selects appropriate music for each Mass, directs the Schola Cantorum and serves as organist for the parish.

Sharon accepted a position doing imaging work in the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.

All creation echoing

Nicholas said his role as music director, under the direction of his pastor, is “to help guide the minds and souls of people in the pews while the reality of the foretaste of the Heavenly Liturgy comes true at each Mass.”

He said that truth must outweigh all appeals to emotion or personal taste.

“Whether or not we understand the language or appreciate the style of the music, the goal of the Liturgy is to raise up the mind and soul to God,” he stated.

“Liturgical musicians, sacred musicians, should always strive to only put the goodness, the truth and the beauty of those things confessed by the Sacred Tradition of the Church — both ancient and recent, good things from all time and history — before the people,” he said.

The Liturgy of the Mass, first and foremost, shapes the congregation’s prayer to God.

“The purpose of the Mass is to offer our gifts back to God as he has given to us,” he said.

Palms and lilies

Nicholas found abundant encouragement to keep his interest in being Catholic alive.

“We got to know Father Jeremy Secrist, Father Brad Berhorst and Father Tomas Alber, along with the faithful at St. Peter and the people who came to be our friends and confidantes,” Nicholas recalled.

“In talking to them and getting to know them, we came to appreciate the beauty of the faith of this area — a simple and honest faith,” he said.

The couple felt comfortable asking questions and exploring the Catholic faith more deeply.

They grew in awareness of the holiness of the Sacred Liturgy.

“It is the Source and Summit of the Christian life,” Nicholas noted. “Everything worthwhile in life stems from that, and everything worthwhile we do in life returns to it.”

Nicholas became overwhelmed with this realization while leading the music for Mass on March 19, 2023, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“It was one of the first times that I not only played for Mass but prayed the Mass and realized the sanctity, the beauty, the dignity, the truth of what was happening as I was on the bench,” he said.

He felt like St. Paul when the scales fell from his eyes, finally allowing him to see clearly.

Nicholas and Sharon had a long talk that evening and decided to start attending Mass together, beginning on Palm Sunday.

“And that next week was filled with so much peace in the midst of the necessary stress of preparing for Holy Week,” Nicholas recalled.

Fr. Secrist began giving them instructions and helping them prepare to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Sharon later decided to continue her preparations through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and enter the Church at Easter.

Nicholas received his First Holy Communion and Confirmation on Aug. 24, the feast of St. Bartholomew.

 It was the anniversary of the day that Apostle died a horrific death for living and sharing the faith that had been given to him by Christ.

“And on that day, I confessed the same faith that St. Bartholomew did,” said Nicholas. “I made the same vow that day that I constantly pray that I would be willing to die, even in the same way, for the same faith that I consciously, willingly chose.”

He took John of the Cross as his confirmation name, in honor of whose poetic treatise, Dark Night of the Soul, helped him prepare to go to Confession for the first time.

“I lament that it took me so long, but I’m home!” said Nicholas. “And for the first time in my life, I’m at peace.”

He found that peace in the Eucharist and continues to find it in praying the Divine Office, sharing it in Sung Evening Prayer at St. Peter on the Sundays of Advent and Lent.

This alone

The night before Easter Sunday, Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, St. Peter Parish’s 20th pastor, will complete Sharon’s initiation into the Church.

She is taking Teresa of Jesus of the Andes as her Confirmation name.

What she’s most looking forward to about becoming Catholic is “being home” and “being in full communion with the Church and all of its members.”

She asked for prayers for her and everyone else who are preparing for full initiation to “simply make a good confession of faith.”

“This is not the end but the beginning of a life of faith in Christ and his Church,” she said.

Nicholas lauded his wife’s insight.

“Being Catholic isn’t about what you think the Church is,” he noted.

“It’s not about what you want the Church to be,” he said. “It’s not about what agenda you have, no matter where on the political line you stand.

“To be Catholic is to give up all that you are and all that you have and to let go of the way of the world,” he stated. “To give yourself over wholly to the will of God and live by him as he has asked us to do and to say, as St. Alphonsus Liguori said, ‘do with me as you will.’

“It’s to hold to Mary our Mother, to hold to Christ, to his Most Sacred Heart, and his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist — and to say, and mean, ‘Nothing else in this world matters. Because I have God, I have Christ,’” Nicholas said.