Saturday, January 06, 2007

My Conversion Story. I'll put the published version from This Rock up when it becomes available online.

Patrick's Conversion Story

Every conversion story has its dramatic moments. This should be no surprise considering that history is the drama of God’s search for man and man’s response to being found (cf. CCC section I, chapters 2 and 3). Indeed, conversion is the most radical moment in a person’s life. In this process, God’s grace effects a change in a person’s relation to Himself. Therefore, it really is no surprise that each conversion story can be counted among the events of history no matter how mundane, glamorous, or unique it is. Each story is truly the recapitulation of salvation history in the individual.

My own story begins like this. I was raised in a serious Christian home. We were Evangelicals of the non-denominational, charismatic kind. In our home, we prayed devoutly, the Holy Scriptures were our life, and charity was the ideal. It could be said truly that Christ ruled our home.

My parents were excellent examples of Christian faith and piety. I well recall getting up early and seeing my dad praying alone in the dark on his knees. My mom perfectly fulfilled the vocation of a Christian wife and mother in her sacrifice, untiring service and love. So to me, Christianity was real and alive. It had profound effects on people’s lives. I knew that to be a Christian was to take Christ and His Word seriously. There could be no such thing as lifeless Christianity for one who had come to “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). This atmosphere encouraged seriousness toward Christianity and prepared the ground of my soul for the seeds of Catholic Christian faith.

After attending an Evangelical grade school for kindergarten and a Catholic grade school for first grade (Providence was working even then, I see now), I was homeschooled until I entered college at age fifteen. College awakened me to what the French Dominican A.G. Sertillanges called, “the intellectual life.” I became fascinated with and absorbed in questions of truth, apologetics, and meaning, the answers to which revealed to me the illogicality of a divided Christianity. I also became convinced that “truth cannot contradict truth” and that accepting a Christianity which affirmed differences in opinion which were simply thinly-veiled violations of the law of non-contradiction could not itself be true. I wondered, as most Protestant converts eventually do, “Why would Christ have left such a confusing mess for us to sort out?” I thought hard, “Which church has the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

During that same time, the non-denominational church we were attending became enthralled by the vapid and inane teaching of the prosperity gospel, or the word-faith movement, led by figures such as Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts, and Kenneth Copeland. What the word-faith version of Christianity lacked in substantive doctrine it made up for in snappy slogans such as “name it and claim it” which means something like, if you say something (anything!), by the sheer power of your words, it will come true, if only you have enough faith. Or, “don’t speak it into your life” which means, if you admit—even when you have a headache—that you are sick, you are opening yourself up to sickness and closing yourself to the life of health, wealth, and prosperity God promised for you in the Atonement.

I found this “health and wealth gospel” to be nonsensical, offensive, anti-intellectual and deeply perverting of authentic Christianity. It not only bothered me, it induced a crisis of faith in which I had to figure out (or so I then thought) what to believe. I concluded, “If this is Christianity, then I’m out.”

One can imagine how relieved I was when I became a Catholic and found that I did not have to figure out every doctrine of faith or moral truth on my own; the Church had already been doing this, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as promised in John 14:26, for 2000 years. I needed only assent to her claim of authority and rest in the peace it brings. I quickly learned that to be a Christian did not mean that I had to be something like a pope (or rather what some non-Catholics view the pope to be) or an avatar of Truth itself. The world had already had a number of popes to defend Christian doctrine, preserve the unity of Christendom, and prevent heresy. It did not need me to pretend to the papacy. And the world had certainly already experienced the Incarnation of Our Lord, and He had entrusted the Church, not me, to be the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

My aversion to the word-faith movement came from an unlikely source. My dad worked in Christian radio. Accordingly, we always and only listened to Christian music. My favorite artist was Rich Mullins, who wrote the inspirational “Awesome God.” Rich was somewhat of a Protestant ascetic. Significantly, he was also something of, what I call, an “asymptotic Catholic.” His music is replete with Catholic ideas about such things as the Eucharist and liturgy, and he himself planned on entering the Church before his tragic death on September 19, 1997.

At any rate, after a successful career in Christian music, he sold his possessions and gave up his royalties to live in on a Navajo reservation in order to teach music to children. For a music artist, he had a deep sense of piety, and his lyrics betrayed a sophisticated theology.

Rich Mullins admired St. Francis of Assisi. Or better, he had a devotion to St. Francis. And his devotion deeply affected me. I read the Little Flowers of Saint Francis and saw a clear glimpse of what it meant to live as a Christian. Reckless abandon to Christ was the only way to serve Our Lord. However, I also noticed that St. Francis attended the Mass, invoked Our Lady in the most endearing and dignified terms, and received the holy stigmata. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “St. Francis was Catholic!” Any of my previously held animadversions toward Catholicism evanesced. I concluded, “If Rich, the best Christian I knew, could venerate and model his life after St. Francis, who was obviously a devout Catholic, then Catholics must be all right.”

With that thought, I began looking for more authentic expressions of Christianity. I attended Lutheran and Presbyterian services, Anglican liturgies, and various youth groups, none of which struck a cord with me. However, one day in the fall of 2001 I looked in the newspaper and saw an advertisement for a Memorial Mass for the victims of the September 11th tragedy. I decided to give it a try, as it were.

I was completely enamored of the grandeur of the Mass, the reverence of the people, the expression of longing and contentment on the faces of those proceeding to receive the Eucharist, and the palpable ancientness and eternal character of the liturgy. In contrast to the Protestant services, the Catholic Mass was focused on Christ and His work, not on what the minister had to say about the day’s readings.

At the end of this mysterious drama of the Last Supper, I thanked the priest. “I am not a Catholic”, I said. “Um” I stumbled, “Minister? “Reverend?” “I am not sure what to call you. But I am deeply impressed with what just happened.” The priest responded, “I am Father Mike Williams. Call me ‘Father.’ And, if you’re interested in learning more about Catholicism come to the RCIA classes beginning next Tuesday.” RCIA is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and is the normal way non-Catholics enter the Church. It involves formation in Catholic teaching, fellowship, prayer, and preparation for the Sacraments.

That Tuesday, I somehow convinced my former-Catholic parents to take me to the classes. I was considerably nervous. I was only fifteen at the time and always self-conscious about my youth. I seriously feared that one had to be over eighteen years of age to convert to Catholicism (it seemed then that one had to be over eighteen to do just about anything). Thankfully, that is not true!

From the first moments of RCIA, I began to read Catholic apologetic works voraciously. Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Truth was heartening. Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism provided me with arguments to justify my newly fulfilled faith to my parents and friends. Karl Adam’s immortal The Spirit of Catholicism gave me a firm understanding of authentic Catholic tradition.

I began having an uncountable number of “ah ha” moments, where I realized, “This person is Catholic too.” I was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, my favorite book, and realized Augustine was Catholic. In my philosophy course, I realized that my favorite philosopher was Catholic: St. Thomas Aquinas. Even the author of the history of philosophy I was reading, Frederick Copleston, S.J., was Catholic! In my English course, I realized that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a story about Catholics. “So Chaucer is Catholic too?” I thought. Then the biggest realization came: everyone who was a Christian until the sixteenth century was a Catholic (I did not then know about the Eastern Orthodox). To be a Christian—before the Protestant Reformation tragically sundered the unity of Christianity and splintered the Church into churches—was to be a Catholic. A Eucharist-receiving, Bible-believing, Pope-defending, Mary-honoring, genuflecting, confessing Catholic!

I was planning on entering the Church at the Easter Vigil, but for various familial reasons, I decided to postpone my conversion for an indefinite period of time. Someone arranged for me to meet with a Protestant minister who wanted to expose the errors of Catholicism. Unfortunately, he recommended Dave Hunt’s work, A Woman Rides the Beast, which is fraught with so many fabrications and falsehoods it is unbelievable. Fortunately, I had the previous mentioned work of Keating and other apologists. I was needless to say, unconvinced by the minister. I called Father Mike and told him that no matter what, I had to enter the Church. I had made a huge mistake in delaying.

On May 18, 2002 at the Pentecost Vigil, I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. I was confirmed (to become a defender of the faith and a soldier in the Church Militant) and made my first communion, tremulously but confidently taking the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ onto my tongue. My paternal grandfather, a Catholic his whole life, stood as my sponsor. But neither the Holy Spirit’s work nor the prayers of Our Lady ended.

A year later, my wife (then, my girlfriend and a member of my “old church”) and I started the marriage preparation process. We knew we wanted to live our Christian vocations in the Sacrament of Marriage. She decided to enter RCIA a little over two years after I did, and was received into the Church, to my great joy (and all of Heaven’s), on Easter Vigil 2004. About a month later we were married.

Moreover, my dad and mom recently returned to the Church, both making a decades-overdue confession; further, my two younger sisters entered the church Easter Vigil 2006. Lastly, my mom’s friend, who also attended the aforementioned non-denominational Church, completed RCIA and in so doing brought her husband back to the practice of the faith “ever ancient, ever new”. God really does answer prayer!

In looking back, I am grateful for mine and my family members’ conversions (or reversions) to the Catholic faith. My wife and I often thank God for the simple joy of being Catholic. I encourage everyone who is praying for the conversion of a family member to persevere. Even the most unlikely converts often unexpectedly find themselves aboard the Barque of St. Peter. I know I did.

Patrick is a former lecturer in philosophy at Cleveland State University (M.A.‘05). He holds a B.A. from Franciscan University and will begin medical school in August at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. He is now twenty-one years old and has a daughter, Evangeline Grace, and another child due in February (Augustine, if the baby’s a boy). He can be reached at


  1. WOW! That is an outstanding testimony. Reminds me a little of Scott Hahn! Congratulations of your fervant prayers being answered. My wife came to the Church in a similar way (and brought her mother with her a year later!) It was especially inspiring to hear your impression of the Mass and the effect it had on you. That is definately the sort of impression the Mass should have on a non-Catholic! I assume you weren't re-baptised, but wonder whether evangelicals go in for infant baptism at all? Were you baptised? It sure makes it easier in terms of confession purposes! Its a shame you had to wait so long though. It makes me want to post my testimony on my blog (available here) but mine is a 'reversion' testimony. To some extent. You'll have probably found by now that lapsed Catholics were never taught the faith well to begin with!! God bless you!

  2. what a wonderful testimony!!
    God Bless you for hearing His call!!

    I am a married Catholic medic also, but living in England!

    I look forward to reading more!