A white wooden church sits beside a lonely two-lane highway in Sharon, Georgia, a town…
Called to deeper holiness
God calls each of us to conversion. Even those who are baptized as infants are immersed in a lifelong call to know God more deeply, to transform their lives in the Holy Spirit — whom the Church celebrates each year on Pentecost. This process of lifelong conversion is deeply linked to the universal call to holiness.
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, states that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. … In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”
More recently, in his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and be glad”), Pope Francis said, “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others.”
That awareness — of companions on a journey to answer this universal call — is why Our Sunday Visitor dedicates an In Focus each year to sharing the conversion stories of others. These can occur at any point in life’s trajectory and can range from turning away from a life of serious sin to a simple reversion and recovery of a neglected or superficial faith practice.
It is our hope that these stories are a source of inspiration and strength for our readers as we all strive to live more deeply and fully the universal call to holiness.
Miracle of my conversion
My parents didn’t practice any religion. I was not baptized. God was not part of my life, and most of the time I made fun of religion.
When I was in college, my father died of cancer. My brother died of a drug overdose several years later. I didn’t have a single thought about God during those times.
I met my future wife, Janet, during my senior year. She was a Catholic, so when we decided to get married, we met with her pastor. He had me agree that Janet would be allowed to practice her faith, and that our kids would be raised as Catholics.
When our first son was born, I decided to learn about Catholicism. I studied the Faith with a priest in Janet’s parish, but ultimately just walked away.
After our second son’s birth, Janet had some routine tests. The doctor called Janet shortly afterwards and said, “Bring your husband and come to my office.” He said Janet had cancer and needed to be hospitalized for more tests. Then he suggested we get our affairs in order.
I was terrified, and found myself going to Mass every day. I wasn’t sure what I believed, but begged God to help me anyway. Janet was in the hospital during Holy Week. The doctor called right after Easter and told Janet there was nothing wrong with her. He was mystified about why she no longer had cancer. Janet told him about my prayers. He said he would certainly not rule out a miracle.
I went to Janet’s parish and got instructions again, and was baptized and confirmed on June 12, 1977. I was ordained a deacon on June 9, 2012.
Deacon Peter Brause, Covina, California
Recognizing the absence
I was away from our faith for most of my adulthood, living a life of sinfulness and not really caring about religion or God. I knew he was there but I just didn’t give him much thought. It is amazing how he works, though. About 14 years ago I became interested in my Irish roots. I went to an Irish event in my town and became a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians — a Catholic men’s group. During one of the meetings, I had a revelation. We open the meetings with prayer, and during the prayer, I instantly realized what was missing from my life, and it was the Catholic faith and, more importantly, Jesus.
I started exploring our faith more. I realized that my marriage wasn’t blessed by the Church and made the necessary arrangements. Seemingly unconnected, I previously purchased a Sirius satellite radio to listen to Howard Stern and music. While going through the channels, I found and began to listen to EWTN. One of the first shows I listened to was Reasons for Faith, with Jesse Romero. He blew me away with his energy, love of the Faith and knowledge of the Faith. Now, Howard Stern is long gone from my life. I am praying as much as possible, reading and studying the Faith constantly. My marriage has been blessed by the Church, and I am back in good standing with the sacraments. Praise God!
John Klapouchy, Freehold, New Jersey
Never too late
This is the story of my father, Boris K. Radzin, which shows it is never too late to become Catholic. My father was raised Lutheran, and while he was very supportive of raising his kids as Catholic, my mom’s faith, he never converted to Catholicism. In November 2012, my father, age 97, came to live with us when my mom was seriously injured when hit by a car. We took him to Mass with us, to church functions, and included him in our prayers and devotions. Most of all we lived our faith and included him in our lives. Soon after he came to stay with us, he was hospitalized, and a priest gave him anointing of the sick. It really touched him in a way he wasn’t expecting.
Later, one of the ladies at church asked, “Why haven’t you ever become Catholic?” His response was, “No one asked.” She said, “Well, now you’ve been asked!” From there he talked to our pastor, who spent time with him answering questions, and as a family we also helped him gain a deeper understanding of the Faith. At Christmas 2014, at the age of 99, my father was received into the Church through the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation (with his son-in-law as his sponsor) and first Communion. He went on to live almost two more years and never missed a Sunday Mass or the opportunity to receive Communion. He died at home, in bed, having received Jesus in the Eucharist the afternoon prior.
Andrea Radzin Salazar, Carrington, North Dakota
Darkness of grief, light of faith
I was baptized in the Catholic Church in 1948 at 2 months of age. I received my holy Communion nine years later. I attended Mass every week with my mother and sister until the age of 12. I never attended confirmation classes, so my understanding of the Faith was minimal. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that we needed to confess our sins to have a relationship with him. I was guilty of sinning but never confessed, so I had no peace with God.
When I was 23, I married a Catholic woman who had a deep devotion to her faith. After about seven years of marriage, different circumstances led her to convert to the Protestant faith. I also converted, which helped me get closer to the Lord. Twenty-five years later my wife got cancer and died.
I ended up leaving the Protestant faith due to my grief. I was going through a dark period. I happen to live close to a Catholic church and kept seeing Catholic radio bumper stickers. I became curious and began listening and was shocked to hear the history of the Catholic Church and its teachings. It made so much sense that I decided to make an appointment with a priest and finally confessed my sins, which gave me peace with God. I went to RCIA and got confirmed. I love the Lord and live to please him.
John Paradela, Pinole, California
Inspired by Theresa of Avila
I am Jewish, and the happiest day of my life is when I converted to Catholicism. I have been a Catholic since 2005. I attribute it all to St. Theresa of Avila, for when I read her book, I found the truth. I went through the RCIA program, and at my confirmation I took the name of Edith Stein, herself a Jewish convert. I am totally in love with the Catholic faith, and I love all the saints, especially the Carmelite saints. I try to attend Mass as frequently as is possible while working a full-time job, but I do read Magnificat every day to keep up with the Mass and all the saints, feast days, etc. I have found the true answer, and I have found peace through Jesus, Mother Mary, the saints and the Catholic Church. There is no other way for me.
Melinda B. Calis, Hollywood, Florida
Letting Jesus in
I had the good fortune to grow up in a very Catholic home, I went to a Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school and Catholic college. My father was a professor who spent his spare time studying the Bible, Thomas Aquinas and the Church fathers, or sharing his extensive knowledge of what he called “our beautiful faith.” He traveled frequently to give lectures, and when he was home, priests and professors would come to our house for Sunday dinner and theological discussions.
My father’s example inspired me with a great love for Christ’s teaching, and I strove to learn as much as I could about the Faith, thinking it was the way to earn heaven.
Then I participated in ChristLife, and I discovered that Jesus is not primarily interested in what I know, but in how I love. Knowing Jesus’ teaching is a good thing but opening my heart to him, to his immense love, trusting him, was much more important. I learned that I don’t need to know lots of doctrines, that there are no entrance tests or requirements for Jesus to love me. He truly loves me just as I am. Finally, I discovered that I don’t have to pursue Jesus because he is already pursuing me. All I need to do is open my heart to receiving him.
I finally learned how to let myself be touched by Jesus, and I was transformed. I felt his healing love, and everything changed; everything was better. I discovered Christ.
Aggie Dows, Suffolk, Virginia
No limits to God’s mercy
Abuse of drugs and alcohol, the darkness of sin and the depressing literature I’d read as an English major led me by February 1979 to a point of insanity, where I believed that all reality was subjective and that my death would help the world. When I arrived at my aunt’s house in Exton, Pennsylvania, I was planning to leave the next morning to die. But that night it snowed so much that I couldn’t leave! Then my aunt gave me a Brown Scapular and plastic rosary. I put on the scapular and began to pray the Rosary. Instantly light flooded into my soul! I was no longer insane. I could see how many gifts God had given me and how I had wasted them. The next day I went to confession.
During the following year I struggled to follow the Lord while the devil tried to convince me that I had gone beyond the limits of God’s mercy and so must be damned. The turning point came on March 25, 1980, when I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary in the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia. Immediately I stopped thinking that I was damned and began to experience our Blessed Mother’s kind presence and help in every situation. On Aug. 16, 1980, I entered the convent. Now more than 37 years later, I can assure you there is no treasure I’d trade for the gift of being forgiven and espoused by Jesus Christ, King of Mercy!
Sister Mary Rose Reddy, DMML, Rochester, New Hampshire
There and back again
We Shannons were Irish Catholic and proud of it; grace before meals, scapulars, Sunday Mass (8:30 a.m. our preference). I can still hear my dad’s steady steps making their way up the stairs (we four boys slept on the second floor of our two-story bungalow — the barracks) before lights out, where the five of us knelt alongside our beds as Dad led prayer. Years pass, and in the latter part of high school (’68-’70), I’ve got Vietnam, Tigers’ baseball, Detroit riots and the Beatles on my mind. While I’d argue I never turned my back on my Catholicism, I can see now I was largely seduced by the ’60s counterculture scene.
Autumn 1972 found me living in Florida near Vero Beach, where one night I find myself sitting in the back row under the tattered canopy of an old-time revival tent and hearing in so many words that the road to “awareness” I trod was a trap, and if I didn’t wake up and see the light (Jesus), I was in danger of being eternally lost. Hence, a few months later I experienced what evangelicals refer to as being “born again.” A year later found me back in the Detroit area where I pastored a church (Shalom Ministry) for 11 years (1974-85) including hosting the first Christian rock show in Detroit, on WMZK FM 98, The Nightlight Show.
Fast forward 35 years, and after much study (apologetics, theology, Church Fathers), coupled with a growing disenchantment with many things Protestant-evangelical, visits to Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan, conversations with old pal Al Kresta (himself a revert) and Father Ed Friede, I made my way back to full communion with the Church of my youth. Currently, I am the father of three with two grandsons. I teach history at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan, a unique school in that 90 percent of the faculty and student body identify themselves as Muslim — an adventure to be sure.
Joseph Shannon, Detroit
Finding where you belong
As did so many young people in the ’80s and ’90s, I had a disappointing catechism class experience. While I had many teachers, the one I remember most completely was a fire-and-brimstone Irish Catholic who had very little use for the Lord’s mercy and a “classical” understanding of grace. It was his presentation of a religion of fear that drove me away from the Church after first Communion.
As a teenager and young adult, I was a “devout” neo-pagan, worshipping the embodiment of nature in the guise of Celtic and Egyptian deities. I considered but never performed any of the awful rites that the neo-pagans can perform (thanks, I believe, to the intercession of our Blessed Mother), but my ideology was behind it fully. I was liberal to absurdity and extremely relativistic. As I grew older, I came to discover that the “old faith” was actually new, and almost entirely self-worshipping. This realization took me on a tour of the religions on the world, in search of the truth — I studied Eastern faiths and considered pantheism and atheism. All the while, all these faiths appeared as a veil over my eyes.
It was the baptism of my children, inspired by my mother-in-law, who help me remember where home was. I rediscovered divine mercy, found St. Augustine and found a foretaste of Christ and heaven in Adoration and the Eucharist. How joyful to discover that where you started is where you truly belong.
Matthew Tucker, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
A Lutheran’s journey
I was born and raised in a wonderful Lutheran family in Williamsport, Maryland. My parents were very active in the Lutheran church, teaching Sunday school, confirmation, vacation Bible school and more. In fact, after my father’s death, my mother went to Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary and was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1985. I was also very active in my church through my high school years, which culminated in me being confirmed and being the president of the church youth group, the Luther League.
Then with college and young adulthood, my faith took a low priority in my life. Enter my wife-to-be Theresa, a cradle but at the time non-practicing Roman Catholic. We were married in the Lutheran church. For the next few years we attended a small mission Lutheran church in the area, but my wife had already begun her return to her Roman Catholic roots.
Shortly before our first child was born, I reluctantly agreed to have our marriage blessed in the Catholic Church so she could return to the sacraments. However, when our son William was born he was baptized in the Lutheran church.
He attended church and Sunday school with me until he was 7 years old. But my wife and I also decided it would be best to send him to the local Catholic elementary school because we wanted the best education for him. Then when he was in the second grade he informed my wife and I that he wanted to receive first Communion and join the Catholic Church.
So I was 0-for-2! Both my wife and son had chosen the Catholic faith. But I knew I would never be Catholic.
This is where EWTN entered my life. It cleared up many misconceptions and misunderstandings I had about the Catholic faith, and it got to the point where Mother Angelica, Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi and other EWTN personalities were becoming my favorite TV stars!
This caused me to delve even deeper into the Catholic faith. One resource was a Catholic bookstore that was close to my work office. I’d spend my lunch hour a few days a week researching the Faith. During my research I discovered the Real Presence, Mary and the saints, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and all my Catholic objections were melting away. However, I didn’t tell anyone about my journey, not even my wife.
In the spring of 2002, I was to the point where I knew “spiritually” (through my revelations in the Mass) and “intellectually” (through my research of the Church) that I was “Catholic.” However even though my wife and son were both Catholic, most of my family was Lutheran and of course my mother was a Lutheran minister. The “social” consequences of telling my family and church friends that I was converting to the Catholic faith scared me to death.
Then one evening my son informed me and my wife that he wanted to start a Rosary prayer group at his Catholic middle school. When we asked him why, he simply stated “he knew that God wanted him to do this.” My wife and I were both pleased but shocked. Our son was a great kid, but generally a very low-key boy who avoided the limelight. He understood that a boy starting a Rosary group for seventh and eighth graders would not be regarded as a very “cool” thing to do among his peers, but yet he felt he had to “answer the call.”
One day, out of the blue, I received a letter from Sister Jude Cianfrogna, the pastoral associate at my wife and son’s parish. The letter was an invitation to RCIA! Once again, in a not-too-subtle way, the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me something. The letter sat on my desk for a month, but finally I told my wife of my journey. She couldn’t believe it! I told my mother also, and even though we agreed to disagree on some points of theology, she was happy for my newfound religious fervor.
So after a year, I finally followed my son’s example and “answered the call.” I entered the Church at the 2004 Easter Vigil.
By the way, my son started his Rosary group with a few other kids and he led the group for two years until he graduated to high school. The group grew to over 40 children under his leadership and now, 10 years later, the group he named “Beads of Strength” still exists and prays the Rosary every week.
Ron Doub, Williamsport, Maryland