There already were some testimonials on file when the Diocese of Fargo, N.D., under Bishop David Kagan, began planning for the Year of Faith.
“They were made years ago and nothing had ever been done with them,” said Katie Dubas, director of evangelization and catechesis. “We recognized that we need to be witnesses to our faith, so we thought it was the perfect time to resurrect them. Some of these stories are really big and are quite remarkable. They are neighbors, friends and family members and everyone has a story to tell. The Lord works in all of our lives. The common thread is an openness and hunger to seek out God. Somewhere along the line, the Lord put a curiosity in their hearts.”
The complete testimonials can be read at fargodiocese.org/storiesoffaith.
Laura Johnson, St. Brigid of Ireland Church, Cavalier
Laura Johnson didn’t realize that her life would “change forever” when she accompanied a friend to Mass, then started daily attendance. She heard homilies that astonished her, learned so many truths of the Church, and at one Mass when the priest raised the host, she said, “My heart was filled with consuming love and for the first time, I knew that this truly was the body and blood of Christ.”
Her parents did not support her conversion, but her longing for union with Christ overshadowed her fears of their rejection.
“Every time I attended Mass, I longed to be united with the physical body of Christ,” she said. “That longing was finally satiated when I received the Holy Eucharist for the first time, April 11, 2009, upon entering in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
Jack and Barb Carson, Sts. Anne and Joachim Parish, Fargo
Jack and Barb Carson had an up and down relationship with the Church. They rejected organized religion after Vatican II because he wasn’t comfortable with the handshake of peace, guitar music and liturgical changes. When Barb was later attracted to the charismatic movement, he wasn’t. Then he grew to love what he had rejected and returned to the Church.
They left again, but missed the liturgy, the Eucharist and so much about their Catholic roots.
The passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005 finally drew them back because, she said, his sickness was “not only teaching us how to live in the Lord, but how to die.”
Deacon Carl Orthman, St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Valley City
“Looking back over nearly 70 years, I can clearly see what a difference faith makes over a lifetime,” said Deacon Carl Orthman, who is pictured with his wife, Nancy. “It isn’t so much that it changes what we experience, as that it carries us through those experiences, without being torn apart by all of those devastating trials that life can bring to our doorstep.”
He calls his faith “a treasure that lives within me,” and carries it with him into the RCIA classes, Cursillo meetings, prison ministry and everywhere he goes, “praying to Almighty God” that it will touch everyone he encounters.
Beth Lemer, St. Michael’s Parish, Grand Forks
Newlyweds Bo and Beth Lemer felt awkward sharing spirituality, and Beth was struggling with hearing God calling her away from her New Age interests. She lost friends when she left that “energy” community, but found a deeper richness in a Cursillo retreat and new friends in the Faith.
She began a journey in formation as a Third Order Carmelite and is learning to “pray all day in many ways.” She and Bo are now comfortable with their faith and he often initiates prayer.
“We may have gone into our marriage without fully showing our most intimate self in prayer,” Beth said, “but as our marriage continues to grow and mature, so does our prayer life.”
Jennifer Lagein, Immaculate Heart Church, Rock Lake
Jennifer Lagein hesitated to date her future husband Patrick, because since he was a Catholic, she thought he “wasn’t a Christian.” Love won out and they were married in his church. She began attending with him, but didn’t convert.
The couple drew closer when they faced infertility, and she said she heard God speaking to her when she sought a priest’s prayers.
“It was as if he was sitting right next to me, whispering in my ear, ‘It’s OK to be Catholic,’” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone at the time, including my husband, but at that instant I was Catholic in my heart.”
Lagein was received into the Church at Easter 2006. The couple parents three foster children.
Father Chris Markman, ordained in 2011
Father Chris Markman drifted from his Catholic faith in his youth because he thought he could “do just fine” on his own. He couldn’t.
“There were wounds growing in my heart from my own sins and the sins of others against me that I did not realize were there until many years later,” he said. “The world and my sinfulness began to trap me in a lie.”
In his senior year in high school, a friend urged him to go to confession. Reluctantly, he did, and found his heart reawakening. “I finally started to realize that there was someone so much greater than the world to live for. Someone truly interested in me being at peace, being well, being loved … being a person who truly lives life and does not cower from life because of my own faults and fears.”
He credits the grace of God, the Church and the sacraments for his call to vocation.
Carrie Michaelson, St. Mary Cathedral, Fargo
Carrie Michaelson grew up surrounded by alcoholism, verbal and physical abuse, poverty and a lack of religion. She learned of Jesus at Bible camp at age 12, but by the time she was 17, she was into alcohol, drugs and promiscuity, and was a single mom.
She unsuccessfully attempted to connect with religion, married a man who had no faith, dabbled in New Age, restarted drinking and smoking marijuana, yet longed for something more. She found it when she worked for a Catholic non-profit and heard church bells nudging her to Mass. The homilies made sense to her.
She was invited to a pilgrimage to Medjugorje where she felt the presence of the Blessed Mother. “I cried tears of joy and experienced love like I have never known,” she said. “My heart was filled to the point of exploding.”
She felt called to enter full communion with the Church. “The Sacrament of [Penance] freed me from anguish and guilt,” she said. “I knew God had truly forgiven me and that I could come back as often as needed for his healing, mercy and forgiveness.”
Susan Braun, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Lakota
Susan Braun became a Catholic to please her future husband, Steve, but she was disappointed when he gave her a silver rosary as a wedding gift.
Several moves and the beginning of their family of eight distracted her from thinking about the decision of conversion until a Baptist friend challenged her about salvation. That led her to seriously reading and learning about Catholicism, and one night she took out the rosary and learned to pray.
“It had taken nine years for the object of my disappointment to become my treasured gift,” Braun said about the rosary. “It was then that I knew I was truly converted.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.