Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: Spiritual experience leads to ministry after 20-year career

Martha Rapp stands in the backyard of her Quincy home. Rapp, who spent most of her working years as a public relations specialist, recently earned a doctorate of ministry in preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 4, 2018 8:25 am

QUINCY -- An intense white light conversion experience called Martha Brune Rapp away from her public relations job and into the ministry.

In the middle of the St. Louis airport while on a business trip for the corporation she worked for, Rapp, 67, stumbled across a book called "How to Know God." She instantly felt the overwhelming presence of God.

"I had a sense of being gripped by an incredible power of love and light," she said. "The experience showed me that we are all here for a purpose."

The experience will be forever etched into her memory and is as vivid today as it was 17 years ago.

The power of communication

The product of an inter-denominational marriage, Rapp grew up Catholic. Her mother was a cradle Catholic who was married in the rectory of a church instead of the sanctuary because Rapp's father was of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Her father later converted.

"I became interested in the power of communication at a very young age," she said, "whether by music or language."

She attended the University of Illinois originally as a piano major, but after her brother died in a car accident on his way home from pre-registering at the U of I between her freshman and sophomore years, her joy in music was gone.

"The idea of just residing in music was almost more than I could stand," she said. "There is something so ethereal and beautiful about the potential music, and at that time, I was dealing with one of the most challenging, difficult and ugly experiences I'd ever had."

Two weeks into the semester, she changed her major to journalism. That was in the 1960s, and everything was changing. As the women's rights movement emerged, Rapp immersed herself in it. She was the first woman elected to lead a college chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists.

"Everything was up for grabs," she said. "I believe every human being is given certain gifts. How can you tell someone they can't use their gifts because they're a woman?"

In college, she was general assignment reporter and summer intern for the Rock Island Argus. It was also at the U of I that she met Jim Rapp, the man she has been married to for 45 years. They have three daughters and seven grandchildren.

When she graduated, she took a job as lifestyle editor of the Belleville News-Democrat, and during that time she began writing a weekly editorial column called "Rapp Session."

"I wrote about everything from the meat boycott going on to the role of women in society," she said. "It was preaching. Any time you have a forum where you can express ideas to the public, it's preaching."

Faith with works

Rapp was working as the head of marketing communications for Harris Corporation's Broadcast Communications Division when she had her conversion experience in 2001. Through her work with Harris, she was involved with teams on the cutting edge of developing high definition television and the first live broadcast of Major League Baseball.

"It was incredible," she said. "I was working with some of the best technologists, scientists and engineers in the world."

She left the company in 2006, when she received certificates in parish life ministry and in liturgical leadership through the lay ministry formation program of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

"After my conversion experience, I began studying theology seriously," she said. "I was trying to understand what happened to me and what it meant."

In 2009, she received a master of theological studies degree from Quincy University, and she received a graduate certificate in spiritual direction from Aquinas Institute in 2012. Earlier this month, she received a doctor of ministry in preaching degree from Aquinas Institute of Theology. This summer, she will begin advanced scripture studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

"I've found, more than anything, that this is a lifelong quest," she said. "A lifelong quest to understand what value and what love is."

She served as pastoral associate for master planning, parish development, and religion education at the Church of St. Peter until 2012, and has since served as a spiritual director, a parish catechist and a chaplain at Blessing Hospital. She also works with teens in the Parish School of Religion (PSR) program at St. Peter and facilitates spirituality groups for patients in Blessing's Adult Behavioral Medicine and Child and Adolescent Units.

"People too often lose sense of their value and their gifts," she said. "We are not foregone conclusions in this world. We are not here by chance."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.

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