June 9, 2023

Catholic schools serve as stepping stones to Catholicism for Indianapolis family of four

The Toliver family smiles in St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis after being received into the full communion of the Church during the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on April 8. In the front row are June, left, and Justin. In the back row are Sidney, left, and Ramon. (Submitted photo)

The Toliver family smiles in St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis after being received into the full communion of the Church during the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on April 8. In the front row are June, left, and Justin. In the back row are Sidney, left, and Ramon. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles -- see part one here -- chronicling the journey of two individuals and two families who were received into the full communion of the Church between Easter 2022 and the Easter Vigil on April 8. A second article appears here)

By Natalie Hoefer

June and Ramon Toliver were thrilled with St. Lawrence School in Indianapolis. Their sons, Sidney and Justin, were earning high marks, and the non-denominational couple appreciated the faith their boys were learning—in religion classes, at school Masses and through athletics.

But the couple was learning, too.

“As a mom, you have those questions after school—how was school today, what did you learn?” says June. “They’d talk about what they learned about the faith.

“We’ve gone to a lot of school events, and that in and of itself is evangelism, I think. We came to understand the Catholic faith through their experience. That and the school ministry reaching out to families and homes—that’s how it happened to us.”

“It” was a call for the family to become Catholic. During the Easter Vigil Mass on April 8 at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis, June, Ramon, Sidney and Justin Toliver were welcomed into the full communion of the Church as they were baptized, confirmed and received their first Eucharist.

But there were other incidents June experienced throughout her life that pointed her—and by extension, her family—to the faith. The call first came to her in the sixth grade on a stage during a school play.

‘It just drew us into the Catholic faith’

Around the age of 13, June played a nun in a grade school production of The Sound of Music.

“That’s where my curiosity about the Catholic faith started,” says June, who was raised in the Church of God. “I decided I wanted to become a nun.

“I started watching EWTN [Eternal Word Television Network] and Mother Angelica. My mom saw my interest, so she bought me my first rosary. She had wanted to be Catholic, but her parents wouldn’t let her, so she allowed me to explore Catholicism.”

Years later, Ron Klene, June’s Catholic co-worker, recommended she switch her oldest son, Aaron, from a public middle school to a Catholic school.

“So, Aaron was enrolled in St. Matthew [the Apostle School in Indianapolis], and that was the beginning of our journey,” says June.

She recalls a moment driving Aaron home from St. Matthew and asking about his day.

“We had a visitor today,” he told her. “It was a priest, and he told us something really important. He said our first vocation is to serve Christ.”

“I’ve never forgotten that, that he was impacted like that at a young age,” says June. Aaron went on to graduate from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis and now has a family of his own.

The Tolivers later sent Sidney and Justin to St. Lawrence School, close to where June’s father lived.

When her father died, it was her friend Klene who took her to “my real first Mass” at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

“I got a blessing from the priest,” she says. “After Mass, Ron took me to a side [niche] and prayed to Mary on behalf of my father.

“That was kind of like the moment that I really committed in my heart that I would eventually join the Catholic faith.”

As the couple attended school functions, Masses and volunteer opportunities at St. Lawrence, “It just drew us into the Catholic faith,” says Ramon, who was raised Methodist.

“And then we had a major event that happened with June.”

‘God was great—he got us through it’

In 2020, in the midst of the global pandemic and in the midst of working on a doctoral degree in education leadership at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., June was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“You could see the bump on my head from it,” she says.

An MRI showed the tumor to be “the size of a grapefruit” and situated in a particularly sensitive area involving veins that supplied blood to the heart.

“They told her there was a 50-50 chance of success [with a proposed surgery],” Ramon says. “The doctors had to go to a board to even do the surgery,” Ramon says.

The operation lasted eight hours. It was a success—the tumor was completely removed, and follow-up MRIs continue to have shown no signs of more tumors.

“Nothing ever stopped,” Ramon recalls. “She had her surgery, came back home and continued working on her doctorate.” June now teaches for the online Indiana Connections Career Academy while completing her dissertation.

That’s not to say dealing with the tumor was easy.

“There have been side effects,” Ramon admits. “She’s got some hearing problems, and in some ways she’s still recovering.

“It’s just been a slow process. The whole family went through that whole process. We were all affected by that [ordeal]. But God was great—he got us through it. And we had really good support at St. Lawrence.”

With school being online at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, June says the school’s teachers reached out with care and concern for Justin, who is now 13. And 17-year-old Sidney—who was then a freshman at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis—speaks of the messages of support and prayers he received on social media from his classmates and friends.

June says she felt the effects of the many prayers.

“I was in so much pain after the surgery,” she recalls. “But something inside me—I just felt the presence of the Lord, like I do now when I [receive] Communion. I felt Christ with me during that journey.

“And so after I came out of that experience, I just wanted to make sure that I fulfilled that lifelong dream of becoming Catholic.”

‘The best water I ever felt’

While cheering on Justin at St. Lawrence football, basketball and soccer games, June befriended Megan Smith. She shared with Smith her desire to become Catholic, and Smith told June about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at St. Lawrence.

“A lot of the questions that I had throughout my lifetime coming from a Protestant faith were answered through the RCIA process,” says June. “I just felt at home.”

The RCIA process also impressed Ramon.

“You go there and they just meet you where you are,” he says. “And it’s not just [someone] telling you things and that’s that. It’s about teaching you things about God and the Church, and there is Scripture and readings and other things you can learn from.”

That learning culminated in the Easter Vigil Mass, when the Tolivers received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

“It was definitely an awakening,” says Ramon about receiving the sacraments. “I just felt brand new.”

Before turning 50, he says, he thought “this ride” called life “would never end.” But after hitting that 50 mark, he realized the ride “would one day come to a stop.

“After the Easter Vigil and being baptized and knowing now I have a place I can go when my ride ends, it makes life totally different.”

Baptism left an impression on Sidney and Justin as well.

“After I was baptized, I felt clean, like whatever sins that I had were gone,” says Sidney, an incoming senior at Scecina and a member of the school’s varsity football team.

Justin agrees.

“That was probably the best water I ever felt,” says the soon-to-be eighth-grader.

He chose St. Peter as his confirmation saint because “he wasn’t perfect, but he really loved Jesus. I just want to love Jesus like he did.”

Sidney chose St. Joseph, as did Ramon, who calls the saint “very patient. He really dealt with a lot, you know, and being a dad is tough.”

St. Therese of Lisieux’s “little way” called to June—“her ministry of being able to make a big impact by being small, by being little, and how we rely heavily on Christ to do all our work.”

‘It was just amazing’

June sees her and her family becoming Catholic as proof that “God can move in small ways to make great things happen.”

For her, the first move was her co-worker friend, Klene, suggesting sending her oldest son to Catholic school.

“I felt Ron there with me at the [Easter Vigil] Mass,” she says of her friend, who is now deceased. “I knew he would have been so happy.”

Then there were the small, accumulated experiences through St. Lawrence School—school functions, volunteer opportunities, athletic events, school Masses.

Those little experiences led to great relationships with coaches, parents and teachers.

In fact, it was Justin’s social studies teacher who served as his sponsor. And St. Lawrence principal Andy Maxson, who had been Sidney’s social studies teacher at the school, became his former student’s sponsor.

As for June, she chose Smith, her fellow St. Lawrence sports-mom and friend, as her sponsor. Ramon also found his sponsor through St. Lawrence athletics.

“Greg [Stephens] has been coaching there for years. That’s how I met him, by coaching, and we just bonded from there,” says Ramon, who coaches fourth- and sixth-grade boys basketball for the school.

“It was like the school family and the church family became part of our family,” says June. “It was really beautiful.

“This is a really, really special church. Very special. We love that we’re a part of this community. I wish everyone could have the experience we had becoming Catholic—it was just amazing.” †


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