As we read through the Bible, there are countless conversion stories that can inspire us. From the Old Testament conversions of Ruth and Nebuchadnezzar to the New Testament stories of the woman at the well and St. Paul, we can see how their lives were changed by giving into God’s will.
We are not all convinced of Christ’s divinity as dramatically as St. Paul, however. As he was traveling the road to Damascus, rounding up Christians to be persecuted, “a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” (Acts 9:3-4). For most of us, God is much more subtle with his pulls and prods, but he is guiding us nonetheless; some respond quickly, while for others, having the head and heart converted can take years or even decades.
At Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted in a single day upon hearing St. Peter preach the Good News. “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
As we celebrate Pentecost, Our Sunday Visitor is happy to share stories of conversion submitted by our readers.
‘Never been this happy in my life’
I am a Catholic retread, having left the Church for about 35 years before coming back. As a young person, I was very afraid of confession and hated having to go into that dark box and wait for the wooden door to slide open with the priest on the other side. I never knew what to say or “confess”; I was just a kid and dreaded the whole affair when my parents said we were going over to church for confession. I said to myself that when I got out and on my own that I was never going back — and I didn’t for the better part of three-and-a-half decades. I never lost my faith, so to speak, and spent time in various other churches but always came away feeling empty and that there was something missing.
It was one Sunday while attending the Lutheran church I had joined when I observed the women putting away the left over communion wafers, and they just threw them into a box under the altar. I thought, “That is not the way to treat a consecrated host,” and confronted the pastor about it. He said that communion was merely symbolic, and that the wafers could be fed to the dogs. I had not been Catholic for many years, but I knew that at Mass, the bread became the Body of Christ because Jesus said so at the Last Supper.
I found a wonderful young priest who took the time to answer my questions and asked if I wanted him to hear my confession. I said yes and afterward felt so relieved and happy. This was in May 2004, and I cannot begin to tell you of the multiple blessings the Lord has bestowed upon me since; indeed, I have never been this happy in my life, and I just turned 70.
— Robert J. Flint, Merced, California
From Methodist to Catholic
I grew up a Methodist, attending Sunday school from the time I was in the fourth grade and teaching Sunday school classes during my high school years.
My mother was nominally Catholic, but on the plains of South Dakota during the 1920s, the Catholic church was at least 15 miles away, and travel was all but impossible.
When my 2-year-old sister died without having been baptized, Mother was devastated. The best she could do for her seven sons was to have us baptized by the local Methodist minister.
When I courted Rita, a devout Catholic young woman, we felt religion was something husband and wife should share. So I agreed to undergo Catholic instruction.
The young Catholic chaplain at the VA hospital where I worked agreed to conduct a course of instruction for me. We spent a year discussing Christian theology and Catholic rituals.
My major concern as a professional journalist was censorship of media for Catholic audiences. When Father Wright assured me that the Church would not limit my field of inquiry as a journalist and scholar, I joined the Church. Rita and I were married Aug. 21, 1952.
In the years since, I initiated and edited a monthly parish newsletter and have headed a parish respect life committee for more than 20 years.
— Murvin H. Perry, Johnson City, Tennessee
|Share Your Story
Whether you’ve converted to the Catholic Church recently or decades ago, or whether you have returned to the Faith, Our Sunday Visitor would love to hear your story. Email us at email@example.com
Eucharist, pilgrimage to Holy Land led to return to Church
|Bill and Martha Sears
My husband, Bill, and I — both cradle Catholics — met at Saint Louis University when he was in medical school. We were married in 1966, had our first of eight children in 1967 and the second in 1969. Then we got into trouble.
In the early ’70s, I looked around at Mass one Sunday and wondered about the Eucharist. Was it really worth that much trouble, getting two young boys and one reluctant husband out of the house in time? Back home, I said to Bill, “None of those people at Mass really believe that’s Jesus, or we’d all be on our faces. So, let’s not go back.”
No room for God in our self-absorbed lives led us into a troubled marriage and the use of contraception. One day, we woke up to the foolishness of all that, recommitted to our marriage, had our third son and had him baptized, “just in case.” We went back to church for awhile, but it didn’t stick.
However, now open to life, we welcomed our first daughter. Then we accepted an invitation to visit a friend’s church — she assured me we would find what we were looking for. We fell in love with those enthusiastic evangelicals, and that began our 30 years as born again Christians as our family grew.
Seven years ago, I went to the Holy Land with a bunch of Catholics, and they had daily Mass. I found myself weeping for what I could see was missing in our faith: the Eucharist! Back home, I told Bill we needed to be Catholic again. We still pinch ourselves.
— Bill and Martha Sears, Capistrano Beach, California
Finding the answers in Catholicism
Growing up, my family was as Catholic as it knew how to be. But by the time I began college, I was an atheist.
I met Danny my sophomore year. He was a witty, orthodox Catholic and the oldest of six. Religious debate was always part of our relationship, and I never felt like I “lost” any particular argument. However, the consistent dialogue made me realize that Catholicism was a more complete “system.” To stay in the debate, I had to be adaptable with my beliefs. Danny never had to. He knew his “system” from the ground up — it all fit together — and I came to appreciate the intellectual rigor of Catholicism.
Then senior year, on a class trip to London’s National Gallery, I found Filippino Lippi’s “The Virgin and Child with St. John.” I spent an hour in front of it. Two days later, I went back again.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the Incarnation. Look at John’s face! He’s lost in total awe and gratitude, for God is with us. Meanwhile, the Christ Child plays with the fruit of death, like any child with a ball.
For the first time, I could unite the intellectual side of Catholic teaching with a real, deep, compelling experience.
It’s been several years now. A print of that impactful painting hangs in my home, where Danny and I live as husband and wife. We have two sons, and let’s just say they love pretending to celebrate Mass.
— Mary McGiffin, Burke, Virginia
Finding ‘the fullness of Christ’ sparked conversion
I grew up Lutheran in Minnesota — the land of lakes, lutefisk, Larsons, lefse and Lutherans. I thought I knew Christ because I knew Scripture. In college, I served as a resident peer minister for Lutheran Campus Ministry, but it was love that first attracted me to Catholicism. I fell in love with Mary, a resident peer minister at the Newman Center on campus. I was attracted not only to her but also to her family and the way they practiced their Catholic faith and prayer life. We married right after graduation.
During the first years of our marriage, we attended a Lutheran service and Catholic Mass each weekend. There, I noticed the similarities (the readings were exactly the same), but also the differences. Whereas Lutherans had communion only once a month, Catholics had it at every single Mass. After taking a fundamentals of Catholicism course and RCIA, and participating in weekly Eucharistic adoration, I came to understand Christ’s real and sacramental presence in the Eucharist. It was my “Road to Emmaus” moment — understanding the fullness of Christ, not only in his Word, but also in “the breaking of the bread.” That realization led me to enter the Church on March 19, 1995. Our married lives have been full. We’ve been blessed with six children. I spent 13 years as a Catholic journalist, and currently work as New Evangelization coordinator and RCIA teacher for a five-parish cluster in Central Minnesota.
— Tim Drake, St. Joseph, Minnesota
Answering the call to come ‘home’
I returned to the Church on Passion Sunday in 2011. It was the first time I had received Communion in almost 50 years. Like many of my Catholic friends growing up, I left to pursue other denominations or became unchurched. Forty-five years ago this past April, I met and married a Methodist, becoming a part of the life of that church with our two children.
My husband attended Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, receiving his master’s degree in Divinity and was ordained. I, too, went to divinity school, thinking I had been called, but after one semester, I realized this was not where the Holy Spirit was leading me.
In about 2008, I began to question many topics we discussed in our Sunday school class and realized it was from a Catholic perspective I was being led. The Holy Spirit really began to breathe into me the “call” to return home, but I resisted knowing the difficulty I might incur with family and friends. I wrestled with the Spirit until 2011 when I actually walked into what would become my parish to experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I crossed that threshold, I embarked on what has become a wonderful journey. I still attend the Methodist church and Sunday school with my husband, which can be a forum to evangelize! My husband is not ready to become a part of the Church and may never, but I have truly come “home.”
— Jackie Barry, Fort Worth, Texas
Mom’s challenge led to return for deacon
My mom was lying in an east-side Detroit nursing home bed, suffering from end-stage congestive heart failure. I had flown in from San Francisco to spend time with her. Depending upon her oxygen levels, she would have periods of lucidness and periods of confusion. During our last real conversation, mom looked up at me and asked, “When are you coming back to the Church and the sacraments?” I had been a nonpracticing Catholic for most of my adult years. I knew mom had been praying for me all that time.
I asked mom whether she thought there were good people other than Catholics in heaven. It was my attempt to deflect from answering her. She admitted that there could be. Our conversation changed to another subject.
Ten years after her passing, I was ordained a deacon in our wonderful Catholic Church. Sadly, in this life, mom never saw the results of her timely and slightly challenging question — or her prayers.
I know mom sees me now as I visit the elderly in our local care center, giving them Communion and praying with them. And mom sees me at daily Mass as I pray for her and others.
Any questions about why I tear up whenever we sing “Amazing Grace”?
— Deacon Tom Fox, Payson, Arizona
Faith is fundamental to healthy living
The word “aspersion,” the act of sprinkling water after renewing baptismal promises, rather than the words “conversion” or “reversion,” applies more suitably to my life of faith. For baptism has left an indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ on my soul. Because of this, I have been graced by Jesus to have the good sense to keep him close.
I must admit, I have done with my faith what I have often done throughout my life regarding my physical well-being. Like prescribed vitamin bottles, faith hung around rarely opened. I believe in God. I believe that supplements work, yet I often forgot both of them.
I attended Sunday Mass; I took my occasional multi-vitamin. I was doing enough. Distracted, I never got around to establishing a healthy routine. I understood what was necessary to obtain optimal health, still the vitamin bottles collected dust on the counter just as my rosary and Bible waited for me on my dresser. When tragedy struck in losing my daughter to drugs, I found that only through living my faith would I survive.
God’s mercy permits the inconceivable to happen. It is never too late with God. There is never irreversible damage; there are just new beginnings.
— Evelyn Augusto, Stamford, New York
Journalist becomes pro-life advocate
When I was 6 years old, my mother issued a non-negotiable to my father: I would be attending Catholic school. Unfortunately, it was a time of confusion in our diocese, a post-Vatican II era when schools were experimenting with their religious curricula. Despite 11 years in Catholic school, I graduated at the top of my class with little real knowledge of the Faith. I knew we should share and care, but I was largely illiterate in religious matters. It never occurred to me that I should seek God’s will about my vocation. I was wise to the ways of the world but not to the ways of the Lord. So I drifted, even as I sat in a pew in my parish (most) Sunday mornings.
My career in journalism became my god. Then a funny thing happened. I met a fellow Catholic who asked me what I was doing for the pro-life movement. I said I could not do anything, because I was a journalist, and I had to be agnostic about abortion.
At his urging, I began reading the writings of Pope St. John Paul II. The “Gospel of Life” spoke to me as the New York Times could not. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn about the faith of my mother. I started going to confession again after avoiding it like a root canal for many years. I became a full-time pro-life advocate and a full-time, joy-filled Catholic.
— Maria Gallagher, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Appreciating the seasons of life
When I think of my conversion to the Catholic Church, I think of different seasons in my life. In the springtime of my life, my brother and I were in foster homes where we went to different churches according to what our caregivers thought was best.
As a teenager in 1956, my first visit to a Catholic Mass was with my cousins at St. Mary’s Church in Lancaster, Ohio. It was a noon Mass on Sunday, and the church was packed. I cannot tell you how impressed I was to see hundreds of people on their knees and saying their Rosaries, reading in missalettes or just praying before Mass began.
The quiet holiness spoke to my soul.
In the summertime of my life, being a Protestant, I was married in a Methodist church. After discussion with my husband, we were both at peace with my conversion to Catholicism. In time, our family moved, and we became members of a lovely little church, St. Joseph’s, the village of Sugar Grove, Ohio. There, Father Walter keeps opening doors to faith, and so my love for Christ is strengthening as He becomes more real to me.
I am 76 years old now. Winter is here. I am so very thankful for the gift of faith that has stood me in good stead all my life. I could never thank God enough for these wonderful seasons that have been given to me. I look forward to the best spring.
— Sharon Gierhart, Lancaster, Ohio
Priest helps abuse survivor return home to the Church
My conversion was catalyzed by a Franciscan priest who refused to absolve a sin I confessed. “It’s not your sin to confess,” he insisted, clearing the way over 30 years ago for my return to Catholicism. He was the first Christian witness to my innocence as a victim of child abuse by clergy.
Like most victims, my love for God was steadfast. I believed in God’s sovereign and wondrous identity, but that made his apparent abandonment of me to abusers even worse. What could I conclude except that I was worthless to him? My recovery would require me to reject all such lies planted by abusers in my psyche and to claim, instead, my dignity as a child of God.
The sacraments, however, were often inaccessible. I partook only when I could tolerate the disturbing emotions triggered in Catholic settings. Other times, I sat in an idling car, following in the missal as Mass was offered inside a church just a few feet away.
My return to the faith of my childhood is joyful only to me and God.
But, it also shows how many survivors venture home — in outreach to a priest. And that is why I work in my diocese to help priests (along with sisters and others) learn to help survivors integrate their faith into the arduous process of recovery.
Despite popular misconceptions, priests are not just the opposite of men in Roman collars who harmed me. Priests are the antidote.
— Teresa Pitt Green, Alexandria, Virginia