On this feast of Pentecost — the final day of the Easter season — we celebrate the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and gave them spiritual gifts needed to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

This year, Our Sunday Visitor asked readers who are converts or reverts to recount how they entered or returned to the Catholic Church. For some, the journey took many difficult years struggling with questions, doubt, prayer and reflection. Others experienced an intense, immediate calling to the Church. In his or her own way, each of these men and women witness to the Good News as shared in fullness in the Church.

We were overwhelmed by the heart-warming, thought-provoking stories we received. We hope you enjoy them as well.

Called home

0519_Felsing.jpg
Felsing

I always identified myself as having been raised Catholic, and as having fond memories of Sunday catechism and summer vacation Bible school. I had loved the nuns who taught me at St. Cecilia (later Queen of Peace) Parish in Portland, Ore. I was confirmed in the Church.

My mother and father divorced before I was 2. They both took up a libertine lifestyle involving live-in boyfriends for my mother and a series of five wives for my father. My mother stopped going to Mass when I was 10, and I stopped going when I was 12.

My moral compass was seriously skewed during my teen years, and I was quite depressed and suicidal in high school. Then came years of trying to find out what was wrong with me through human potential movement workshops, and every type of New Age spirituality I could afford to try. None of it ever brought me peace or gave meaning to my life.

In my early 50s, I began to have a recurring thought: Go back to the Catholic Church. I listened to that voice for three years without doing anything about it. Finally, I called a priest. The priest I consulted with invited me to attend Mass just to see how it fit. I’ve been attending Mass ever since for the past six years. Finally, I have found peace, fulfillment and Truth in Jesus Christ, and continue to ask for the grace to turn my life over to him ever more completely.

Michelle Felsing, Eugene, Ore.

Ongoing conversion

After a lifelong spiritual search, I became a Catholic in 2006. I was “home.” It would seem that my conversion was complete.

pro-life
 

However, when I started my journey to the Catholic Church, I remember reading that the spiritual life is an ongoing conversion. I liked that idea. I’ve never felt comfortable with the “born-again” theory — one conversion experience, and you’re “complete.” I think that God continues to work in us. That became apparent to me in April 2011, when I felt a call to become actively pro-life, so I volunteered for the pro-life and justice group at our church.

I was asked to write a short pro-life article for the church bulletin, and so it began, first with short articles, gradually becoming a full-page article each week. Along the way, I’ve been educating myself as much as I’ve been trying to educate our parishioners about the pro-life issues of today. I have learned so much, and I marvel because my thinking today is literally 180 degrees from where it was years ago, before I began my journey to the Catholic Church. God is full of surprises. He can change hearts and minds; we just have to be willing to listen.

So where do I go from here? I’m 67 years old now, but I suspect that God isn’t through with me yet.

Denise Sawyer, Bloomington, Ind.

Finding consolation

Just two years ago, the first Saturday in October was the kind of brilliant day meant for pulling the final harvest from the garden or just watching the leaves turn colors. Life was good. I hadn’t been to church in 35 years. There wasn’t the slightest indication that within a week I would want to become a Catholic. 

Beaton
Beaton

There are probably three great incubators bringing converts to the Church — weddings, babies and crises. I had navigated the first two without a whiff of interest in the faith. Married for more than 20 years to my Catholic sweetheart, we have three kids, but our different denominations led to a long religious standoff. 

There’s no good dodge for trouble, though, which arrived in a call from our daughter, away at college, and caught in a possibly life-threatening situation. By coincidence, the next day — Sunday — we had plans to attend a Mass being said for my wife’s cousin at a parish an hour’s drive from home. 

What had been a dreaded family obligation now seemed more like an opportunity. I was only able to summon a sort of raw beginner’s logic — if this is St. Malachy’s Church, then you must pray to St. Malachy, right? 

What followed was a swift lesson in the intercession of the saints, the value of silent prayer and the loving kindness of our Lord. And when I needed to say “Thank you,” I was glad I’d found the best possible place to do so.

Doug Beaton, Salem, N.H.

So beautiful inside

On an October afternoon in 2005, I walked passed St. James Church in San Francisco with a childhood friend whose chance remark brought me back to the Church. Many years had passed since I had last attended Mass, and, like many of my generation, my life left little room for God — or so I thought. My friend remarked on the plain exterior of St. James and went on to say that often such churches are plain on the outside and ornate on the inside.

Pentecost
Pentecost stained-glass window at Holy Family Cathedral in Czestochowa, Poland. Crosiers

Well, I passed the church daily on my commute and kept reflecting on my friend’s words. Not long after I decided to attend Mass and discover if my friend’s remark was true.

I stepped inside St. James and discovered an ornate interior. Returning often for Mass, I met the most loving and diverse people. I made so many friends, who really are family, that before long I was looking forward to each church social and each Sunday Mass.

That Christmas as I gazed upon the crèche assembled by the parishioners I recalled that God entered the world in such a plain stable yet all the beauty of the world was in that humble stable.

I turned and looked at the parishioners around me and saw the true beauty inside that church. All around me was the awesome beauty of God’s creation, his children.

My friend’s remark was correct — the Church is so very beautiful on the inside.

Dominic Scappaticci, Ferndale, Mich.

Open to Church’s truths

To me, the heart of my conversion was embracing the Church’s teaching on married love and contraception.

Macpherson
Lauren Macpherson fully embraced the Faith in March 2010. Courtesy photo

I suppose I’m technically a revert; I was baptized as an infant and raised in a lukewarm, nominally Catholic household — but I never really understood the Faith that I turned away from in my teens and early 20s.

I came back to Catholicism in baby steps: first I was an occasional Massgoer, culturally Catholic, who barely understood what the Faith taught. Then, when my children began attending CCD, I studied the Church’s teachings and came to an intellectual faith, thanks to some good Catholic apologists. But for years I struggled with the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life — the need to trust God’s plan for marriage, stop using contraception, and be open to the possibility of new life. When I finally accepted this truth, it opened me up to grace in so many ways: through the sacraments, in my marriage, in the joy of another child.

It has caused me to pursue an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus and his Mother through daily prayer. It has shown me the need to continually abandon myself to God’s will.

Jesus abandoned himself to his Father’s will in a supreme act of love for each one of us, and he expects us to live out God’s will in our own vocation.

Embracing my vocation each day has been my true conversion, my path toward holiness and deeper friendship with God.

Lauren Macpherson, Plymouth, Mass.

Church-shopping success

Holding my child’s hand, I entered Queen of Angels Church in Port Angeles, Wash. I was church–shopping, it was evening Mass, and I had never been in a Catholic church before this moment.

It was beautiful, majestic, solemn — so different than what I had expected and what I had grown up with. What grabbed me deeply were the many folks kneeling in prayer, totally immersed, silent. I knew instantly that God was present here.

Acheson
Mike Acheson with his son, who was with him when he entered his first Catholic church. Courtesy of Mike Acheson

My wife refused to come, a Baptist bias, and so it scared me to think that I had finally found a home. I followed along with the Mass, still rather stunned. How come nobody told me about this?

I went through the RCIA, my wife disbelieving that her husband was entering into full communion with the somewhat dreaded, always mysterious, Catholic Church. She said to me pointedly, “Don’t expect me to join.”

Two years later and noticing a pleasant temperamental change in me, she followed me into the Catholic Church, our faith lives taking off together. The sacraments, prayer, particularly the Rosary, Bible and historical studies of the Church, have combined to make our home a domestic church.

I serve on the pastoral council and my wife, Mary Kay, has been a teacher at Queen of Angels School now for 15 years. We are blessed with five children, our oldest son a recent graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the same child I walked with into my first Catholic church so many beautiful years ago.

Mike Acheson, Port Angeles, Wash.

Answered prayers

Thinking I didn’t need a “crutch,” I stopped going to church when I was 15 and began a lengthy period of unconscious moral decline — culminating, fortunately, in an epiphany in which I recognized, and summoned the courage to admit, that I had become a moral cripple. I did need a crutch, after all. The seemingly insurmountable problem was that I no longer had any faith. I wasn’t a staunch unbeliever, merely an agnostic, but the unquestioning faith I’d known as a child was utterly gone.

Duplantier
Bob Duplantier on his Oct. 18, 1986, wedding day. Courtesy photo

The solution was paradoxical: I would pray for faith. It seemed like a crazy idea. How could I pray when I didn’t really believe in God? Why would God listen to the prayers of a faithless person? It didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t know what else to do. So I prayed.

It wasn’t much of a prayer, for I’d forgotten how to pray. I just asked for my faith back. Please, God, let me believe again.

I did that every day, several times a day, for weeks or months — I’m not sure how long.  I have no idea exactly when my faith was restored, because it came back quite unobtrusively. I just happened to notice one day that the doubt was gone, completely gone, never to return. Where the emptiness had been, there was fullness.

Five more years passed before I ventured into a church — at the age of 30 on my wedding day — but I had begun the journey home.

Bob Duplantier, St. Louis, Mo. 

Lessons from refugees

I was raised in a solidly Catholic family. When I was young, I even attended our local seminary for a year.

But when I was in college, I went from questioning my faith to abandoning it altogether. I remained faithless through two years in the Navy and a decade of married life. Fortunately, I had made sure there was a priest at my wedding, along with my wife’s minister. This was mostly to please my mother.

In 1982, I got a job resettling political refugees at our local Catholic Human Development Office. Refugees were fleeing communist regimes all over the world — from Vietnam, Romania, Poland, Cuba and Ethiopia.

I noticed the deep faith of some of the refugees. One mother had fled across a desert from Ethiopia to Sudan, traveling with her three children at night, through country overrun by three guerrilla armies. When I asked her where she got the strength to do this, she simply pointed upward.

I also noticed that the Polish families had held on to their faith through many years of persecution in their country. When the Polish army took over the government in 1983, the people knew there was only one institution that could stand against the regime — the Catholic Church. I realized I wanted what they had — a strong individual faith and a strong institution to embody that faith. I returned joyfully to the sacraments.

Patrick Cook, Grand Rapids, Mich. 

Great-grandmother’s gift

Olson
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., and Matthew Olson. Courtesy photo

Two years before my conversion, I found a rosary in my baby things. It was in a box with a note from my great-aunt, on which it was written that it once belonged to my great-grandmother. I had never seen it before, but I knew it was a Catholic item.

The next day, I took it to school and asked a Catholic friend about it. He explained how to use it, and I ended up asking many more questions. He told me about the Communion of Saints. I will admit that, as someone who was raised in several Protestant denominations, I was skeptical. However, we continued to talk about Catholicism intermittently throughout that school year.

It took a personal tragedy a year later for me to finally relent and let him arrange a meeting with a priest, Father Elliott. He gave good advice and a chance to express my feelings in a warm environment.

After that, I felt more attached to the Church, and I grew fond of it, despite not knowing much about it. So, I delved into Catholic forums and old papal documents, and I was impressed.

Eventually, with much prayer, my friend’s guidance and the support of my college’s Catholic campus ministries group, I was received into the Church.

I still believe that my great-grandmother was helping me from heaven throughout my journey.

— Matthew Olson, Fort Smith, Ark.

Stolen heart

In the summer of 1952, when I was 16, I traveled from my home in North Carolina to Atlanta to stay with my grandmother while I worked as a nurse’s aide at St. Joseph’s Infirmary to earn money to go to New York University after high school graduation. That was the only job I could find.

The first day at work was unbelievable! Women wore long white dresses with black beads hanging down their skirts. Their faces peered out from white veils. A man in black with a white collar was followed by one of the ladies, pushing a “communion cart” and ringing a bell. Most shocking of all, there was a dead man hanging on a cross in every room!

Galvano
Galvano

Whenever I asked anyone anything, the answer was always, “That’s Catholic.” That night I asked my grandmother, “What is a Catholic?”

“Never say that dirty, filthy word again! I’ll send you back to North Carolina! You will never be allowed in my house again!” she scolded.

The next morning I asked another nurse’s aide, “What is a Catholic?”

I met her after work and followed her next door to the Sacred Heart Church. She gave me a handkerchief to cover my head. She blessed me with holy water. Then we approached a blaze of fire! She lit a candle and asked God to bless me.

As we walked down the aisle, sunbeams sent myriad colors dancing through the church. This was the most beautiful, peaceful and loving place I had ever been. At the end of the aisle, I looked up.

The dead man on the cross, now life-size, looked down at me. I fell to my knees uncontrollably. In my imagination, I heard shouting, screaming and galloping horse hooves. Dust seemed to fill my nostrils. Dampness signaled rain was in the air.

The dead man on the cross stole my heart! I took secret catechism lessons. I had to wait until I was 18 to join the Church on my own.

I was baptized a Catholic at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City on June 5, 1954. This was the greatest day of my life.

Betty Galvano, Fort Myers, Fla.

Drawn by Rosary

Once I was an uncatechized, non-practicing Catholic who, through the Rosary, recommitted myself to Jesus (1992), though I didn’t return to the Church right away. I was distracted then after losing everything — home, family, “sanity” — in a sequence of events that would take two books to tell.

I raged at God, and even wondered if the Rosary was to blame for my circumstances. Were Protestants right about such repetitious prayer? Yet the Rosary was so uplifting, I dismissed the thought.

Where was true Christianity? Due to Protestant influence, I didn’t consider Catholicism.

I attended Holy Mass and Protestant services both, explaining to a bewildered Protestant, “I get something from Mass I can’t find anywhere else” — not realizing this was the Real Presence.

I devoured books, and God himself seemed to intervene to answer my questions. After a 20-year “hiatus,” I gratefully returned to the Church in 1995.

Crystal Coleman, Tulsa, Okla.

Repenting sin

Wethington
Wethington

Literally almost falling out of the pew, all those gathered for morning Mass that 1993 Ash Wednesday looked around at each other in astonishment at what Father had just spoken. At first his words seemed almost comical, and definitely paradoxical. Then, suddenly to this particular soul, it wasn’t so funny anymore. And I heard the call to conversion.

The priest, Father Jim Willig, was a dynamic evangelist and had a powerful way with words. Especially the Living Word. He began his cryptic homily with this challenge: “This Lent, give up your favorite sin.”

In sorrow and shame, I bowed my head and was cut to the heart. As I turned to prayer, I vowed to “turn away” from what I was forced to see as my “favorite” sin. In that very moment, conversion became to me a transforming encounter between my Lord and God and his repentant one.

I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation from Father Jim. From that second of actualizing the sacramental prevenient grace that goes before one to strengthen one’s ability to say no to the occasion of sin, I never looked back, and my heart released to conversion’s call.

Mary Jean Wethington, Aurora, Ind.

Message from God

Six months ago, I was out of shape, 40 pounds heavier, stressed and tired all the time. I had very limited energy for my family. Physically and mentally, I was a mess.

Spiritually, I was not much better. When my wife insisted that I pray or when my relatives spoke about the Catholic religion, I was quick to “zone out.” Every Sunday, I would drag my feet to Church and complain. I only went to Mass because I promised my wife, Mayra, that I would when we got married.

In November 2012, while vacationing in North Carolina, I remember having a conversation with my sister-in-law, Mireya. I told her that I was not a true follower of the Catholic religion. She told me to pray to invite the Holy Spirit.

Having left my wife Mayra and child in North Carolina, I came back home from vacation. A couple of days later, she called me and invited me to participate in a novena for my brother-in-law, Aldo, who was diagnosed with leukemia. I hesitantly did it, only because I admire and love my brother-in-law. I knew that with a novena you have to pray, and I did not know how to do that. I dialed in to a Spanish radio station and told myself that I will at least listen to “something” Catholic for these nine days and keep Aldo in my mind through my assigned hour.

In those nine days, my life changed. I found a type of peace that I had never experienced, and at the same time I felt consumed with doubts, questions and insecurities. In the days afterward, I felt a thirst and hunger that kept me awake at night. It was not a thirst and hunger for food or drink. It was a thirst and hunger to hear about Godly things.

A week later, I drove to San Francisco to pick up my wife at the airport, then continued on to see my brother-in-law. While waiting to see him, Mayra and my mother-in-law invited me to the chapel. As they continued to pray the Rosary, I glanced over to an open Bible that was in the podium. The first thing that I saw was this: “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”

I felt his holy presence, and my eyes swelled up with tears. At this exact moment, I understood that God was not looking for a religious expert or someone that knows the Bible by memory. This passage of the Bible profoundly shifted my way of thought; he wanted me to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

Sergio Flores, Sylmar, Calif.