‘Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’

The story of Pentecost found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit. First, the apostles heard “a noise like a strong driving wind” and then “there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 2:2-3). A large crowd gathered at these sights and sounds, and the Jews “from every nation under heaven” heard each apostle speaking “in his own language” (Acts 2:5-6). Then Peter, the rock upon which Christ built his Church (cf. Mt 16:18), testified to the risen Christ. And “about 3,000 persons were added that day.”

If only all conversions could be that easy. If only we could all witness the birth of Christ’s Church and hear the first pope, Peter, testify to the divinity of Jesus and his saving power. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38).

We continue to receive that gift, as the Holy Spirit continues to dwell among us and change hearts and minds, just as it was 2,000 years ago. “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

The Lord continues to add. Our Sunday Visitor is proud to share the following conversion stories submitted by our readers.

Exploration leads former Protestant to the Church

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Bernhardt

I have a very eclectic Protestant background. I was baptized as an infant in the United Methodist denomination, but during my youth and young adulthood, I wandered through United Church of Christ, Baptist, Free Methodist, Assembly of God, Independent Charismatic and Presbyterian denominations. My journey to the Catholic Church started in 2006, when I began six years of reading everything I could get my hands on about the Church — the history of the Church, where we got the Bible, the early Church Fathers, Catholic doctrine, Catholic moral and social teaching. I came to believe in my head that the Catholic Church is the true Church long before I believed it in my heart.

Then came a point in 2012 where I realized that if I really wanted to find out what the Catholic Church was all about, I would need to attend Mass. So one Saturday evening, I made my way to Mass at the parish in my neighborhood. I was immediately hooked! The liturgy and what I now know was the true presence of Christ called to me. I still had some Protestant “hang-ups,” but a kindly priest met with me and very patiently answered all of my questions. I entered the RCIA program and was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil in 2013.

I clearly remember thinking as I was pulling out of my driveway, “I’m leaving my house as a Protestant, and I will be coming home as a Catholic.” I love being Catholic!

Karen L. Bernhardt, Rochester, New York

Asking ‘why’ leads to spiritual renewal

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Jenkins

While attending inquiry classes with my fiancé, Tom, now my husband, back in 1980 while living in Silver Spring, Maryland, I realized that I was a Catholic only because I was born into a Catholic family and went to Catholic schools. I simply didn’t know a thing about any other religions. I realized that I was a Catholic only because my parents were. It was during this time that I went in search of a faith to call my own.

I started to inquire about other faiths and why people chose them instead of the Catholic Faith. I asked my father, who was a convert, why he became a Catholic much to the chagrin of his family. I visited other churches and thought about the options. The day I came full circle is the day that changed my life. Once I discovered for myself that there was no other faith like the Catholic Faith — and chose it for my own — is when I began to truly understand and believe the Catholic Church was the one true Church of Jesus Christ. Once I chose it and made it mine, I went in search of true understanding. Since then, I have grown to truly love and understand my Catholic faith. Choosing it as my own has made all the difference.

Anne Jenkins, Lehighton, Pennsylvania

From Muslim to Catholic

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Dustin Quick (right) at his daughter's baptism. Courtesy photo

I was born with mild cerebral palsy. I was baptized Catholic as an infant and was raised in a loving, nondenominational Christian home. I converted to Islam while studying for an undergraduate degree in international relations at the University of Windsor in Ontario, where I also obtained my master’s degree in history, focusing on the Nation of Islam.

I had a conversion to Christ and attended a Presbyterian church, where I met my wife, Tanya. We married in 2014 and were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2015 at Sacred Heart Church in LaSalle, Ontario.

Dustin Quick, Windsor, Ontario

Journey of prayer, study leads to the Church

A growing sense of horror began to flood over me as I studied the apostolic origins of the Christian faith.

“Anyone but the Catholics!”

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Sarah Nelson and daughter, Molly. Courtesy photo

Raised as a Protestant, I had gone to a variety of different Protestant denominations, and while I enjoyed the fellowship and enthusiasm within each community, something was still missing. 

“Who is right?” I began to ask this question over and over again with each new denomination and their interpretation of biblical passages and stance on hot-button issues.

“My prayer is that they will be one ... that they may be brought to complete unity.” This passage from John 17 stuck with me, and I began a quest. 

“Where is the Church one?”

If Jesus prayed it from the beginning, surely he meant to carry it to completion. Thus, my quest to find the “one unified Church” began and brought me to the early Church Fathers and their writings. I was stunned at their sacramental language, mention of the Mass and the Eucharist, but mostly, at the evidence of an ecclesiastic organization already growing: that of the Catholic Church.

Fighting through my prejudices took several years of study, prayer and acts of humility, but I came into full communion with the Catholic Church in March 2002 and have never regretted it.  

Sarah Nelson, Pueblo, Colorado

Ex-Wiccan finds the Faith

I was raised spiritually flexible (about which I have no regrets) and was encouraged to research all religions before deciding what path was right for me. By the time I was 10 or so, I decided I was Wiccan.

Witchcraft has many denominations, if you will, and I was what is known as a solitary practitioner — no coven, just a quietly magical lifestyle with a belief in many deities, elemental powers, the benefit of spells, etc.

Time marched on until one day, I had an extremely profound experience following the stillbirth of my son and the completely unexpected consolations of a saint. It was such a shock that it changed my worldview, and I began to study Catholicism, shedding any prejudices I had for “organized” religion along the way. I was impressed by the cheerful and open-minded community I discovered, but the clincher came with my understanding of the doctrine of purgatory. I finally found a faith that respected and regularly recognized the dead! Both my daughters also converted, and now my granddaughter is quite the charmer at church.

I wanted to share my story as proof that God can speak to anyone if they are willing to listen for his words!

Debbie Henderson, Woodridge, Illinois

‘Evangelizing the Catholics’leads to conversion

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Niziolek

I was baptized on Christmas Eve when I was 3 months old in a little country United Church of Christ church. I grew up going to church weekly. My family did the Protestant-church bop every few years, so I have attended various Protestant denominations. My sophomore year of high school, I met my husband-to-be, who is a cradle Catholic.

My whole life, I have had a great love for Christ and was certain that I would convert my then-boyfriend, as I was convinced that I was the “real Christian” of the two of us. We made a pact that we would explore each other’s religions. Thinking that I was being very generous at the time, I agreed to check out his church first. This was under the stipulation that he was not to get offended when I told his priest everything that was wrong with the Catholic Church.

Little did I know, he signed me up for RCIA. I was unfazed and took to my mission of evangelizing the Catholics. Thankfully, in the resident priest, I more than met my match. Through God’s merciful intervention of the Holy Spirit in changing my heart, and the priest acting as Christ’s servant, I became Catholic that spring at 19 years old.

I think my conversion happened because I grew in knowledge and love for the fullness of faith in the true Church that Christ himself began. God is great!

— Carla Niziolek, Middlebranch, Ohio

Joining the Church established by Christ

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Doreika

I was raised a Bible Baptist — all fire and brimstone. Services were full of guilt, and very little of God’s love. In my 20s, I was intrigued by the rituals and history of the Catholic Church.

When I learned Jesus actually established the Catholic Church before his death and resurrection, I was blown away. I had no idea! On a trip to Paris, we visited a church on Good Friday that was established in 1157, and I just couldn’t shake the need to convert.

It took quite some time to figure out how to convert, and I missed the opportunity to enroll that fall, but I was thrilled to be baptized into the one true Faith in April 2014.

Heidi Doreika, Oxford, Massachusetts

Returning to the Eucharist after 43 years

When Vatican II came to our church, it broke my heart. Being a devoted Catholic, I felt the Church packed up and left me. The church felt so cold and unwelcoming without statues, the Communion rail and the Mass in Latin. So for 43 years, I never stepped foot into a church again.

Over the years, my husband became very ill, so we moved closer to my daughters in Evansville, Indiana, so they could help me with their father. We moved into an apartment that was across the street from a Catholic church named Holy Rosary. Every time I came out to the traffic light, I had to pass in front of this church, but I wasn’t interested. One year later, in April 2013, as I came out to the light, I saw a sign in the church parking lot. “Catholics Returning Home.” I thought, “returning home?” — if only I could. I learned this was the first time these words were ever on the sign. So I called and went. Nothing they said made me want to come back.

Then, my pastor came and sat next to me. He put his head down and whispered to me, “I don’t know how you’ve made it this long without the body and blood of Christ.” When I got home, I fell to my knees. I finally got it. I had concentrated too much on tradition and not what was most important: God. Today, my heart is so filled with God’s love. I needed that whisper — the whisper that would change my life forever.

Penny Schreiber, Evansville, Indiana

‘Why wouldn’t I want to be a member?’

After 30 years in the Church of Christ and 30 years as a Lutheran, I was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2014.

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Crow

My conversion story is uncomplicated. Still, only in hindsight is God’s leading of me obvious. I never read the Church Fathers or Doctors, or the writings of any pope. Over the course of four short years, God sent me from Minnesota to Wyoming to Louisiana and then back to Minnesota to the same city we left four years earlier.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana (an area steeped in Catholicism), I decided I should learn something about Catholicism. After two months of listening to Catholic radio and watching Catholic television, I was on my way.

While listening to Catholic radio, I heard a former member of the Church of Christ ask the question, “If the Catholic Church is the Church Christ established on St. Peter, why wouldn’t I want to be a member?” Boom. Hook set.

I do not recall the exact date, but I do recall that I was driving to work when I first realized that I believed this is the Church Christ established (thank you Holy Spirit). Within weeks, I was in RCIA. Then, almost exactly a year after I landed down on the bayou, God brought me back to Minnesota to a job running the foundation of a Catholic health ministry and to be received into his Church. Nice to be with you!

Gordon Crow, Marshall, Minnesota

Couple’s discernment leads to Catholicism

My Catholic grandfather’s in-laws were Seventh Day Adventist. My father reacted to the Catholic-Adventist debate by never attending church. I grew up attending a reformed church with my Presbyterian mother.

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Mihm

In high school, I dated Rita, a Methodist girl I met through a Bible study. During college, we were active in Campus Crusade for Christ, as was my Catholic roommate. After college, I married Rita, and we started our careers. We changed churches several times during the next decade. In 1991, close friends from high school, a Catholic couple, wrote asking if we would consider becoming Catholic. This helped us realize our most loyal friends usually were Catholic. The next time we got together, I asked the usual questions about Catholicism. They gave good answers, lent us Catholic author and speaker Scott Hahn’s conversion story, and I began to investigate.

I started attending Mass in 1991. Rita felt there were several things she would lose if she became Catholic, so we met with a priest about her concerns. We showed him a prioritized list of our personal pros and cons. He had good answers for Rita’s fears.

For months, we dug into Catholic books and tapes. Rita became convinced of the Real Presence, started attending Mass and agreed we belonged in the Catholic Church.

We started RCIA in 1991 and entered the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1992.

Larry Mihm, Rochester, Minnesota

Priests, patient wife key to reunion

My reversion to the Catholic Church came in the fall of 1982. I had left the Church in the spring of 1978, but I truly had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was on fire for the Lord Jesus, but I was told I couldn’t teach CCD with my newfound beliefs. I was crushed and decided to leave the Catholic Church. I found Christian fellowship elsewhere. The split was not good for my wife, Laureen, and five children.

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Mike Shearer and his wife, Laureen. Courtesy photo

After moving to Pittsburgh, I was providentially led to three godly priests. They all were nonjudgmental and full of the Holy Spirit with a lot of wisdom.

One of the priests heard my story and gently invited me to come back to the Catholic Church without giving up my fervor for the Lord. I was so impressed with his Christian witness that I did come back to the Church in 1982. I was gone for four short years that seemed like an eternity.

My wife, Laureen (who never left the Church), and I belong to St. Joseph’s Parish in O’Hara Township outside of Pittsburgh.

Looking back, I thought one couldn’t love the Lord Jesus fully and be Catholic. I was so wrong, as I daily walk with Jesus in a vibrant Catholic Church.

Thank God for excellent priests and a wife who never gave up. Praise the Lord Jesus for bringing a family back together in faith to the family of the Catholic Church.

Mike Shearer, Pittsburgh

Faith, prayer sparks conversion of the heart

You can’t know what faith is until you live it.

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Kildor

Baptized and brought up in the Catholic Faith is not the same as putting the pieces together during the difficult times of life. Loss, separations, sickness and economic hardships don’t answer easily to prayer and heartfelt cries in a long night. Nightmares of your deployed son digging his own grave, so vivid you can hear the shovel scraping dirt. A family member becomes ill with a sickness that has no name. A grown child chooses a spouse who takes him far away. A job gets cut short one year before retirement.

Except, you remember to pray due to a foundation of faith. The years of attending Mass begin to mean something. Prayers are no longer recited but lived and kept as hope and wishes in the recesses of the heart. If you have hope, you have faith that things will change for the better. You change, others change — a situation flies in the wind. The process of change leads to conversion of the heart, knowledge of the soul and the love of God.

M.K. Kildor, Tarpon Springs, Florida

Following through on a promise to join the Church

Growing up, faith and religion has always been a part of my life. I was baptized at Simpson United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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Hoover

We tended to go to church in the neighborhoods in which we lived. Through the years, I attended Methodist, Church of God, Evangelical United Brethren and Lutheran congregations. I have experienced and lived a variety of denominations in my 68 years.

I met my late wife, Jane Avery, in 1996. Jane was very strong in her Catholic faith. Jane and I married in 2008 after both of us survived broken marriages. We attended Mass together and knew that I would eventually become Catholic. We were preparing to start RCIA classes when Jane’s brain tumor was found.

Jane’s faith grew stronger as the days grew shorter. Jane had a choice to continue chemo after the first round of radiation and chemo. She asked the doctor how much time would it give her, and he said maybe five months. She looked him in the eyes and told him that God was now in charge, and she would let him decide how long she would have left.

I had committed to Jane that I would become Catholic early in our marriage. I reaffirmed that commitment to her before she passed. For me, there was no doubt that I would follow through to become Catholic.

The Easter Vigil was very emotional for me. My emotions were flowing from my eyes. I knew — and the bishop knew — that Jane was watching. I felt more proud of this accomplishment than other graduations. My first full Communion at Mass also brought tears.

For those who have gotten away from the Church or those who are undecided, talk to a friend, a neighbor, a family member as to why they believe what they do. Open a book or a dialogue about faith. God and the Church are here for us. We are the ones that turn our back or walk away.

I have been blessed with accomplishments in my life that I never dreamed of — including four wonderful grandchildren.

Being married to Jane for over seven years gave me three beautiful daughters that call me Dad — and the awakening of a stronger faith and commitment to the Catholic Church.

Bill Hoover, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Cancer serves as a wake-up call to God

I took them for granted — daily Mass, Saturday catechism and Sunday holy Mass. My Catholic upbringing was as much a part of growing up as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yet nothing about these wonderful rituals ever sparked a flame of passion in my soul. There was life to discover and a large circle of family and friends to share it all with; why did I need anyone else? But in rare, prolonged silences, my mind would drift to the Father. “How could you have always been here? Why are we all here?” Those thoughts overwhelmed my child mind but would disappear as quickly as they came.

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Tichvon

Attending college and working in the legal field put any thought of spirituality behind me. I stopped attending Sunday Mass and became stuck in my material years. The man of my dreams came into my life, and for the first time, I remembered some of what I had been taught, and thought, “How blessed am I to marry such a perfect work of God.” In return, I touched his life with my first spark of light — that combination of huge love and a little faith began working a very small miracle in my soul. But it took years.

But God woke us up. I woke up one morning as Elizabeth, the healthy and fit 46-year-old, and by noon was Elizabeth, cancer’s next victim.

How do you go from perfectly well to having both ovarian cancer and a brain tumor? Deep inside, we all have something called faith that awakens when called upon. I had been greatly humbled and had nowhere to fall but on my knees, and I believed with all my heart that God would hear me.

I kept praying, and my days became God’s alone from morning into night. He made his presence known and poured his grace on me. I knew it was him, because I wasn’t capable of sustaining such prayer on my own.

Faced with death, the fire of the Holy Spirit filled me with the knowledge of eternal life, and once again, I discovered the enormous love of Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth Tichvon, Stuart, Florida