Back in 2002, Richard Cole couldn’t find an agent or publisher interested in the book he wrote about his conversion to the Catholic Church. One told him it was “a small story — nothing happened.”
Cole didn’t think so. “I thought something happened,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “But at the time, I was out of work and had a wife and two kids to support, and I needed to start building a business. So I put it on a shelf.”
A new beginning
Eight years later, he decided to make the book less of an autobiography and more of a focus on his year and a half journey to enter the Church. He showed the manuscript to some friends in his prayer group, who were encouraging. That led him to Loyola Press, which in March published “Catholic By Choice: Why I Embraced the Faith, Joined the Church, and Embarked on the Adventure of a Lifetime” ($14.95).
The original rejections were a blessing in disguise.
“If I would have found a publisher right after I joined the Church, somebody might have thought that this was a flash in the pan,” he said. “Now I can really look back a decade and say that it was the real thing, the beginning of a new life, and I think it all worked out.”
Not to mention, he added, that he was too self-involved when he first wrote the book. It came across that he had not just fallen deeply in love with God, but that he was also deeply in love with “the pretty idea of myself in love with God.” He got over that by the time of the rewrite.
A life of searching
Cole, a business writer, lives in Austin, Texas, with his family. As a child, he lacked interest in the Protestant churches his mother forced him to attend and instead felt drawn to the logic of science.
When he realized he lacked the math skills necessary for that field, he focused on the arts, developed a passion for poetry, deep thinking and heavy drinking that in years to come sent him to the bottom and into the struggle to maintain sobriety. His ego expanded, and, he said, he spent his life rushing from one enthusiasm to another, from one university to the next and to multiple cities with lofty aspirations that seldom worked out.
For his 49th birthday in 1998, his wife gave him a retreat at the now-closed Corpus Christi Benedictine Abbey in southern Texas.
“Why Lauren did that is a mystery,” Cole said. “She recognized that I was exhausted and just needed to have a quiet vacation, some place where I could just sit and think and read. I’ve thought that maybe she was moved by the Holy Spirit.”
A ‘monk for a day’
His intentions were to read in peace, but feeling like a “monk for a day,” he found himself drawn to morning Mass at the chapel, and then alone, he found himself crying over a love he had never felt before.
“I told him the worst things I’d ever done, tearing them out ‘like rotten teeth,’ as Merton said in his autobiography. The priest didn’t flinch. I’m sure he’d heard everything over the years, from all sorts of people. As I continued, he seemed sad at times. In the end I confessed that I couldn’t accept fully the fact that God loved me. That seemed to disturb him the most.”
— Richard Cole, about his first confession
He described his retreat as experiencing the monks giving him permission to “warm myself by the fire” and the confidence to walk into any Catholic church. He began attending Sunday Mass, but his wife was not interested in joining him. She had been raised Catholic — they were married in the Church — but she had long ago embraced new age spirituality. Her own memories of a Catholic upbringing were too painful.
But Cole didn’t want the Church of the past to confine his thinking.
“The Church is not a cage,” he said. “I found it to be more like a trellis that gives me a framework on which I can grow higher and send my roots deeper.”
The couple maintained respect for each other’s beliefs, but the conversion, for a time, created a distance between them. Lauren was adamant about not returning to the Church, and they eventually came to respect each other’s commitments to their individual journeys.
Cole’s journey was not without doubts or trials while making a commitment to the Catholic Faith. His honest story reflects his confusion, enlightenment that slowly developed, courage to embrace change and the eventual acceptance that, yes, God really did love him.
“My conversion was an emotional adventure and still is,” he said. “It’s also a spiritual adventure and an intellectual adventure, and the Catholic bookshelf goes on for miles. Lauren said, ‘This will keep you busy for the rest of your life,’ and she was right.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
|Want More Conversion Stories?
In “Deathbed Conversions”
(OSV, $13.95), Karen Edmisten shares the late conversion stories of King Charles II, Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill, John Wayne, Gary Cooper and more. From the chapter on Wayne:
“Duke had often joked with his family that he was a ‘cardiac Catholic,’ that at the last minute he’d call in a priest. Now he made that promise. ... Two days before he died, Wayne, in tremendous pain, agreed when his son Patrick asked him if they should call the priest now. ‘Yeah,’ Duke said, ‘I think that’s a good idea.’ Fr. Robert Curtis, UCLA Medical Center chaplain, arrived. He baptized the dying man, probably conditionally, as Wayne had grown up in a Christian church, and administered last rights. That night, Wayne fell into a coma. ‘I don’t know the technicalities of the Church or what constitutes a conversion,’ said Michael. ‘But dad did die in the Church.’”