Catholic Revert: Tom Ponchak
Tom Ponchak earned a degree in theology and was involved in ministry in the Catholic Church then left the Church for ten years. After spending time as an evangelical pastor he returned to the Church in 2007. Tom is the Director of Adult Faith Formation at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Carmel, IN, where he lives with his wife Lisa and their six children.
I was born into a strong Catholic home. My family was active in our parish. We attended mass in a church that my great grandfather helped to build. I was an altar boy for ten years. My father was a lector, extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, and parish council president. Every week our family occupied the first pew at the front of the church. I was active in my high school youth group. I spent time during my senior year of high school and freshman year of college discerning whether I was called to the priesthood. I attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville to study theology. My academic advisor was none other than famous Catholic convert, Dr. Scott Hahn. After graduating from college I worked as a parish youth minister and a high school religion teacher.
And then I left the Catholic Church.
Reflecting on that time of my life now I often wonder what I was thinking. At the time I felt so sure about the decision. I didn’t leave over disagreements with doctrine. I wasn’t put off by the moral teachings of the Church; in fact, my wife, Lisa, and I continued practicing Natural Family Planning the whole time we were away from the Church. I think my reasons were much more personal and complex. I’ll admit to some rationalizing and over thinking of certain things.
Franciscan University, for those who may not be familiar with the school, is a dynamically Catholic institution. It is not your typical Catholic college. The large majority of students, faculty and staff fully embrace their Catholic faith. There are three daily masses on campus that are well attended. Perpetual Eucharistic adoration is held in a chapel that is a replica of the one built by St. Francis of Assisi. They hold monthly Festivals of Praise, an evening of charismatic praise and worship, to a packed house. Most of the students participate in households, small Christian communities in the dorms similar to fraternities. To say that attending Franciscan University is an intense spiritual, as well as academic, experience is an understatement.
I married Lisa a week after graduation and we immediately we moved to Maryland after I accepted a position as a youth minister of an affluent suburban parish. It was culture shock. We came from such a nourishing, faith-filled community to a place where we received condescending looks (and comments) for getting pregnant during our first year of marriage because we didn’t have the common sense to use contraception. The associate pastor frequently preached a self-help gospel and shared his views that there was no such thing as personal sin and that we really just need to learn to accept ourselves as we are from the pulpit. Spiritual development of the youth was less important than making sure everyone was having fun and feeling good. Meanwhile, we were being neglected by the very parish we came to serve. Lisa had a very difficult pregnancy and we ended up in the hospital for several multi-day stays to combat preterm labor. Not once did we receive a visit from any of the clergy, nor did anyone at the parish office ask how we were doing. Rather, I received a lecture about the importance of being available for coffee and donuts after Sunday masses - while my wife was hospitalized!
We struggled to find any type of community with Catholics who took their faith seriously and not just something done out of obligation. It was hard and painful. Still we were convinced that ministry was our calling. After a year in Maryland we moved to Michigan. I was hired as one of three new religion teachers at the only Catholic high school in the diocese. The prior religion teachers had been relieved of their duties for not being “Catholic enough.” The diocese was looking for teachers who would teach sound, orthodox doctrine and clearly articulate the Church’s moral teachings. For me it sounded like a great fit, and I truly loved teaching. I was able to continue working with young people and trying to impart to them my own zeal for the faith.
Unfortunately, our experience at the local parishes was not as positive. Once again, Lisa and I were longing for community, for a group of peers we could share our lives with and encourage one another in our faith. This continued to prove to be more difficult than we thought. The parishes we attended in town had few young adults. I ran into stubborn opposition from people in leadership in the parishes when trying to help with youth ministry programs. I was actually told by one parish committee person that the goal for youth ministry should be to “create a fun atmosphere so that after these kids leave the Church when they’re in college maybe they’ll remember that they had fun and come back when it’s time to have their kids baptized.”
After three years of looking, but not finding, community and being frustrated at every turn while trying to do ministry both my wife and I were definitely at a low point. We doubted that we would ever be able to do the kind of ministry we felt so strongly that God was calling us to do. We doubted that we would be able to find other committed Catholics who had a real relationship with Jesus and were truly interested in spiritual growth. We were convinced that we needed to find some way of feeding these needs that were not being met in the Church. In September 1996 we reached out to a local non-denominational church that was part of a national fellowship of charismatic, evangelical churches. We met with the pastor and explained that we weren’t looking to leave the Catholic Church, but wanted to hang out with his community for fellowship. It seemed like the perfect fit, we could still attend mass on Sundays and join a small fellowship group during the week that met at the pastor’s house.
We quickly felt a connection with the people gathering for this small group every week. Some were former Catholics, others had come from mainline Protestant denominations, and some had no prior church background at all. When we gathered we focused on how to apply our faith to our lives. People took their faith seriously and were deeply committed to each other and their church. There was a genuine interest in what was going on in each other’s lives from the joys to the struggles, from blessings to needs. Lisa and I immediately felt welcomed and loved. At last we had found a group of fellow believers who we could relate to on a spiritual level and who accepted and support us.
At the same time things continued to be frustrating at our parish and at my job. I always began my religion classes with prayer and would often go around the room asking the students for any intentions. One day a sophomore cheerleader asked for prayer because she had sprained her knee and wouldn’t be able to practice with her squad. From my podium I offered up a prayer asking that the Lord heal her knee along with some prayers for other needs in the class. The next day she came to class excited to share that her knee had been healed. The swelling and pain was gone and she was able to do all her cheerleading moves without difficulty. I took advantage of this little “miracle” to encourage my students to have faith that God wants to be involved in their lives and that they can turn to Him even for what they may think are trivial concerns. I reminded them that God is a good Father who wants to give his children good things if we ask.
About a week later I was summoned to the diocesan office to meet with the chancellor of the diocese. It seems that word had spread around the school about the cheerleader and some parents were calling the diocese to complain about religion teachers healing kids in their classrooms. I explained what happened and how I didn’t even think much of the prayer at the time I was praying. I respectfully pointed out that I didn’t heal anyone, but that if God wanted to answer a prayer then there wasn’t much I could do about that. After all, what’s the point of praying for something if you don’t expect your prayers to be answered? The chancellor listened and then politely asked that I stop praying for healings in my classroom lest anyone be offended or upset! He did allow for the formation of an after school club for such things, but insisted that this had no place in the classroom. At the same time my new evangelical community was asking me to help their church with forming a youth group to guide their teens in becoming disciples and maturing in their faith. The contrast could not have been more obvious.
Christmas of 1996 would be the last time we attended mass. We weren’t quite ready to fully commit to joining this new faith community, but we had grown so tired of the politics and resistance at our parish that we told ourselves we needed a break. We would read the lectionary readings for the week and share with each other our thoughts on the readings on Sunday mornings and listen to some praise and worship music. We were convinced that God was calling us to doing ministry that was incompatible with the local Catholic community. At first we considered moving, but I couldn’t find a job. Our mid-week small group meetings were a source of encouragement and affirmation. We finally decided to walk away from the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday of 1997 and became members of the evangelical congregation we had been spending time with.
This decision was not taken lightly and was not without cost. I knew I would have to resign as a Catholic religion teacher. I decided to stay on for the final couple months of the school year and then not renew my contract. The last thing we wanted to was cause scandal at the school. No one would need to know why I wasn’t returning. I ended up finding a new job in town as an insurance adjuster. Several of our Catholic friends had found out about our decision and would no longer speak to us. It was as if we were being shunned.
By far the hardest part of that choice was telling my family. There was once a time when I had contemplated becoming a priest and now I was leaving the faith. It was the hardest conversation of my life. There were harsh words exchanged, feelings hurt, and many tears. For years this became a source of division between me and the rest of my family. I had often enjoyed staying up late with my father discussing politics and religion over a cold beer and nice cigar. Now, those conversations were off limits. When we talked it was purely superficial. I could see how much pain it was causing my parents, and yet I was so convinced that we were doing the will of God that it didn’t matter.
Once we got through the initial reactions of our friends and family we began to immerse ourselves into the life of our new faith community. We couldn’t have been happier. We finally felt like we were at home; a supportive community and opportunities for doing ministry without having to fight the system were finally opening up before us. I was immediately entrusted with forming their youth ministry program while Lisa began working at a homeless women’s shelter. I was given the opportunity to preach on Sunday mornings to the entire congregation. We began hosting and leading a young adult small group in our home. In no time I had become one of the leaders of the church.
After a couple of years I was offered a church planting internship in Florida within the same association of churches with which we had been involved. It seemed like perfect, divine timing to move us on to our next stage of ministry. We moved to Florida and joined this new congregation. As an unpaid church planting intern I worked full time as an insurance adjuster, but devoted many hours to helping around the church and learning the responsibilities of being a pastor. Once again Lisa and I were given a great deal of favor and immediately began ministry activities. I was afforded greater opportunities to preach and teach. We started a mid-week alternative worship service that combined praise and worship with discussion and visual arts. I started attending regional and national conferences for this association of churches and writing for an emerging church movement magazine.
It may seem odd, but when we left the Catholic Church we still felt a connection to its theology and liturgy. Although we had become frustrated on a personal level with the people in the Church there was still much that we loved about her. We often found ourselves defending Church teaching against misconceptions and prejudices. I was often drafted into the role of apologist for the Church even as a “former” Catholic. I was able to explain topics like Mary, the saints and infallibility in ways that were disarming and resulted in a better understanding and appreciation of the Catholic Church’s doctrine. We also used some of our Catholic background covertly while doing ministry. We taught lectio divina in our small group and introduced ashes and an Ash Wednesday alternative worship service.
Recently my teenage daughter (who now wants to be a nun) asked me how we could have left the Eucharist during those years. This was obviously a big issue for our Catholic friends and my family as well. It was also one of our biggest hurdles to leaving the Church originally. How we got around that is a lesson in the ability of the human mind to rationalize just about anything. I had a degree in Catholic theology from a doctrinally sound university. I had spent hours in Eucharistic adoration. I taught on the Eucharist as a youth minister and religion teacher. How could I have turned my back on the Eucharistic Lord? I was guilty of idolatry. I had desired ministry as the highest good. I had convinced myself, and my wife, that “doing the stuff” that God was calling us to was the most important thing. At first I told myself that giving up the Eucharist was a necessary sacrifice to be able to reach others with the gospel. Then I started rationalizing away the doctrine of transubstantiation. I told myself that the spiritual is more real than the physical, heaven more real than earth. If I wanted Jesus to be really spiritually present, then all I needed was my faith. I misappropriated Eastern Orthodox theology that emphasized mystery to justify my new found position that Jesus really was present, but we just can’t understand how he is present. All it took was some theological cartwheels backed up by blinded zeal to do the ministry I wanted to do.
After a couple of years of interning and assisting, Lisa and I were commissioned to plant a new church in our current hometown of Lakeland, FL. Finally, we had arrived. Now we could build the kind of church we wanted and do the ministry we wanted without having to answer to anyone but ourselves and our hand-picked leadership team. We named our new church Matthew’s House and intended from the start to be an unconventional church. We wanted to start as a house church and remain as a network of house churches as we grew. We wanted to reach out to people who had been turned off or burned out on traditional church. Our new faith community was soon full of pastors’ kids who had grown up and burnt out in church, faculty and staff from the nearby Assemblies of God affiliated college, and some folks who were ready to give up on church altogether.
We felt more strongly than ever that we needed to incorporate more of what we valued and missed from the Catholic Church. We celebrated communion weekly as I used prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. We followed the liturgical seasons and even liturgical colors for our table cloth and candles. I taught how communion was something more than just a symbol. When our third daughter was born I taught about the sacramental nature of baptism and the validity of infant baptism. To my surprise our ragtag group of burned out evangelicals and Pentecostals fully embraced this teaching. I baptized my daughter and several others in those years secretly using the Catholic Rite of Baptism. We studied the Church Fathers and questioned Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. We studied the communion of saints. The more we introduced our community to various Catholic and Orthodox theology and practices the more they were interested in it, and the more I began to question what I was doing.
I can remember talking to Lisa one day about the direction we were taking our church. I remember thinking that we were just kidding ourselves, that we really weren’t an evangelical church anymore, at least not by conventional terms. At the same time, we felt a deep responsibility for our community. We couldn’t just walk away from them, but we didn’t know if they would be ready to follow us, or where exactly we were going. We started to look into different denominations that might accept our little faith community. We looked at the Eastern Orthodox, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and even the Old Catholic Church, a schismatic group that split with Rome after the First Vatican Council. On Easter Sunday 2007 we gathered in our home for our Sunday worship. By now we had grown to two house churches but we gathered together as one for Easter. The newspaper had sent their religion correspondent and a photographer to Matthew’s House the week before and that Sunday’s paper had a full color, above the fold, front page picture and story about us. That was our last Easter away from the Catholic Church.
Lisa and I deeply felt that everything we were trying to do were simply attempts at being Catholic without having the honesty to admit it. More than anything we realized that our rationalizations about Jesus being really present in our communion every week couldn’t have been more untrue. Although everyone in our house church loved our communion service, we knew in our spirits what his sacramental presence was like, and we knew that our attempts at recreating that were woefully inadequate. It was like a light finally went on and we realized our hunger for the Eucharistic presence of the Lord. It became an all-consuming desire; we had to return to the Eucharist. We met with the leadership team of Matthew’s House and told them we were stepping down as pastors and returning to the Catholic Church. No one was surprised to hear the news and they all blessed us and encouraged us. When we told those who were meeting in our home they were likewise very supportive. In fact, one family decided to join the local Orthodox Church saying they couldn’t go back to a Protestant one (they just couldn’t agree to the papacy). A young adult from our group decided to become Catholic and I had the honor of being his sponsor. Finally another family also expressed a desire to join the Church. I was allowed to be their RCIA instructor, but they moved out of town before finishing their formation.
Since coming back to the Church we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I believe that the time we spent away from the Church has given us a fresh perspective and deeper love for her. We learned many lessons with important applications as individual believers and, I believe, for the Church at large. I think the Church is missing opportunities to keep Catholics, call back those who have left, and attract others who are searching for spiritual meaning. I also believe that too many fall into the trap of believing that following God’s will means trying to find out what God wants you to do, rather than becoming who God wants you to be.
I love sharing my love for Christ in and through his Church with others. I love getting my fellow Catholics excited about their faith. Both my wife and I have become actively involved in our parish. We’ve been blessed to help with a dynamic young adult ministry and a Eucharistic adoration ministry that combines adoration with praise, worship and meditation. We’ve even started our own speaking ministry to share our love for Christ and the Church with others. I only hope my story and the lessons I learned can become a blessing for others and for the Church.
To learn more about the Ponchaks or contact them regarding their speaking ministry you can visit Tom’s blog at www.CasualTheology.com and www.mysteriumdei.com or Lisa’s blog at www.BeautifulThorns.com.
Agnostic Convert: Whitney Belprez
Whitney Belprez was received into the Catholic Church in 2008 in Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband own & operate Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, Michigan (www.twosparrowsfarm.com) She also blogs at www.simplylivingloving.com
I grew up in a home that was politely Protestant yet sometimes hostile towards organized religion. My younger brother and I were baptized in a interdenominational church when I was 5, and though I remember occasionally attending Sunday School, most religious endeavors and efforts had ceased by the time I was in elementary school. I always felt a curiosity toward my friends and classmates who were from families of faith, but generally didn’t feel left out – all but one of my friends came from fairly non-religious families. I entered high school externally indifferent about the existence of God, and even professed some strong agnostic beliefs, but deep down I never lost this feeling that there was something more.
Whether by Divine Providence, or just good luck, I exclusively dated Catholic guys throughout high school (interestingly enough, all of French Canadian descent). Through them, I was introduced to the world of Catholicism – it was mysterious, sensual, and completely foreign to me. The first time I ever entered a Catholic church was to attend Mass with my boyfriend and his family when I was still in high school. As his family sat and unfolded the kneelers I said, “Oh wow! Footrests!” I honestly thought the church had footrests installed and had no idea that they were used to kneel in prayer. Needless to say, his family didn’t find it very amusing!
Even when I wasn’t dating a Catholic, I still thought about the Church and somehow felt drawn there from time to time. I remember feeling something physically different about being in a Catholic church than any other church I had ever been in. I remember feeling warmth, comfort, peace, and calm wash over me as I would sit silently. I loved the way the candles flickered and gently illuminated the mesmerizing statues of Mary. It would be years before my heart was open enough to identify that physical feeling with Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, and even longer before I recognized Mary as my mother, gently and patiently calling her child into her Son's waiting arms.
Late in high school, I went through a series of trials that included a serious medical condition complicated by the end of my parents’ 20-year marriage. At this time, I met the man whom I would eventually marry. He was, of course, a cradle Catholic and French Canadian, but something was different about his faith – and especially his family’s.
Meeting my future husband’s family proved difficult and challenging to everything I had come to believe and think. However, never had I seen people live their faith in a more authentic way. Not one of them claimed to be superior or holy in any way, but they joyfully answered the call to pick up their cross and follow Christ, even when it made them unpopular, foolish, and counter-cultural. I certainly didn’t agree with what they believed, or necessarily how they chose to live their life – but I deeply respected how authentically they attempted to live their Catholic faith. I was hooked.
Around this same period of time, I made the seemingly innocuous decision to drop my math class my final semester of my senior year of high school, instead electing to take a Comparative Religion course that one English teacher at my high school offered. I fell in love with learning about the sacred writings, traditions, and practices of the world’s great faith traditions. So much so, that I declared a Religious Studies major in college the following Fall and devoted all of my time to discovering the world of religion that I was so ignorant to as a child. I had no idea what I would do with this degree, but I had found something I loved and trusted that the money would somehow follow (which it did).
The Fall of my freshman year in college, I was wrestling with whether or not I should pursue joining the Church; at this point, I had been attending Mass on a regular basis and had come to believe the core tenets of the faith. I had prayed, read Scripture, and was discovering the Catechism of the Catholic Church but finally decided that I was perfectly comfortable attending Mass, and even marrying in the Catholic Church, but not “making it official.” This was a decision that had taken me several months to come to, though I never felt any pressure from anyone in my "Catholic cohort,” and for this I was (and am) immensely grateful. Within days of making the decision to not enter the Church I woke up one morning and knew that God was inviting me to become Catholic - I knew it like I know that I love my daughter. It was the most real, physical feeling I had on my heart and felt in my whole body – I can’t explain it any more than I knew with my entire being what God was asking of me.
After this realization, I immediately started my parish’s R.C.I.A. program. I found the process at my parish to be very prayer-filled and spiritual, but was frustrated when no one provided any real answers to my questions about the Church, many of which included the “W.O.C.A.H.” topics (as I’ve heard them called): Women’s Ordination, Contraception, Abortion, and Homosexuality. Beyond that, I had questions of heaven, hell, purgatory, salvation, grace, the Sacraments (did I really need to confess my sins to a priest?), the list went on and on. I was so thankful that I had the Catechism that at least gave me the “official” Church teaching and could point me to other resources to help me, and it was truly my desire for the Eucharist that kept pulling me all the way to the Easter Vigil. I know this is a difficult issue for many people, but, oddly enough, it never was for me. I had felt an inexplicable physical difference between Catholic churches and Protestant churches - God’s grace had finally broken into my heart and I realized that the physical reaction I was having was Christ calling to me to Him in the Eucharist. After that realization, I yearned and desired to commune with him in that physical way.
At the Easter Vigil in 2008, I was fully received into the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I felt so blessed and joyful that God had led me home to the Catholic Church. Looking back, I was probably unprepared to be fully received into the Church that spring, but God’s wisdom and mercy are infinite, and my new faith played a key role in the development and growth of my (now) husband and I.
Becoming Catholic strengthened my relationship with my (now) husband, whose passion for the Church was ignited by my interest, and he began to rediscover his faith as an adult and take ownership of it. The summer after my reception into the Church, my boyfriend and I decided to move in together. His family was, of course, not supportive of us living together before marriage and my family thought we were young but had no moral problem with the decision. As Catholics, my husband and I knew what the Church taught about premarital sex, cohabitation, and contraception but had no understanding of the theology behind it. Though my fascination and love of the Church had grown, I still had no regard for the Church’s teachings on this matter. No one at our parish, including our priest, seemed to have any objection to our situation and lifestyle choice.
Though I would never admit it at the time, I had increasingly felt uncomfortable living together and engaging in premarital sex, though my discomfort was tempered when we became engaged just a few months after moving in together. Even though I wasn’t ready to listen, God was patiently and quietly directing us to a more moral choice - making the best of our less-than-perfect (or prayerful!) decisions.
We married a little more than a year after I become Catholic in the same church in which I was received into the Church. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful Sacrament, but once again I was disappointed with the lack of sacramental preparation we experienced - we were required to attend a one-day retreat through the Diocese, which was conversational fodder for our trip home. It was a concern when we discovered that many of the couples in our group had never discussed many of the retreat topics – finances, prayer life, family size, etc. We felt much more prepared for marriage, comparatively, yet not once did anyone even mention things like Theology of the Body or Natural Family Planning. It was quietly assumed that everyone was probably having premarital sex, contracepting, and cohabitating, and that seemed to be perfectly acceptable.
Our first year of marriage passed by generally uneventful – nothing seemed to have changed after getting married. We were living just like we did before, but we had just gotten a lot of gifts and a great big party. Around the time of our anniversary, I began feeling uncomfortable because I increasingly felt that God was asking us to stop using artificial contraception. Again, I can only describe it as this tangible, physical feeling that my entire being knew what God was asking of us (yet my will still wouldn’t obey!). I was put on the pill at 15 for irregular periods, like many young women are, and had continued to be on every brand and dose imaginable. My husband still saw no moral reason why we should stop using hormonal birth control, especially since he did not want to become pregnant until we were in a better financial position. I visited my doctor because I was experiencing excessive pain and bleeding from uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts, which he reluctantly said were probably a side effect of the prolonged hormonal contraception. This was enough to convince my husband to go off the pill.
Still, we had no idea how to practice Natural Family Planning - by God’s grace, my sister-in-law was (and is) an NFP instructor and when I quietly approached her about learning NFP she graciously, and without judgment, gave me all the resources I needed to transition to NFP. The entire year after I stopped taking the Pill was very difficult for us. It took my body a full six months to begin ovulating again, and it wasn’t until my body purged itself of all the synthetic hormones that had built up from years of taking the pill did I fully realize how damaging it had been to my entire being - body and spirit.
After we stopped contracepting, I had never felt healthier in my entire life – the cysts and fibroids had disappeared, my cycles were completely regular, and my migraines had become almost non-existent. I fell in love with the body that God created for me! As a woman, I felt that society and the medical profession had only ever told me that something was wrong with my body and that it was never good enough – finally I reveled in the fact that God had created a perfect and beautiful body that worked without always being on some prescription! My self-esteem and confidence soared – all because God was quietly and patiently leading me.
To challenge us even more, however, my husband and I felt clearly called to be more open to life in our marriage. We had only been married about 18 months at this point, and we had both finished college but my husband had been struggling to find consistent work and I was the primary breadwinner. We were living paycheck to paycheck, yet we had a lovely rental house, two working cars and always enough money for groceries. Not exactly what we wanted – but just what we needed. Yet, for several months we felt that we should be open to the possibility of a child. This was frightening, uncharted territory for both of us, and required a radical obedience to His call. Once again, I felt Christ calling me to be foolish in the eyes of the world so I could grow in holiness in the eyes of the Lord.
Using the gift of NFP, we conceived in Spring 2011. Our life immediately became more difficult and burdensome. Money was tight; our relationship was strained for many weeks, and my body was desperately trying to adjust to supporting the new life within me. God's ways are not always our own and we had so much to think and pray about. During those weeks of darkness, God truly carried us both.
However, God gave me such a gift in teaching me to embrace my femininity and my incredible ability to cooperate in His creation through bringing new life into the world. I chose to use a midwife and give birth at home, because of the confidence God gave me in my body's abilities. Our daughter, Cecilia Catherine was born on December 1, 2011 at 11:35 p.m. in our living room. Minutes after she was born, snow began gently falling outside and two of my best friends were there quietly praying a Rosary, supporting our new family. My husband had helped to catch Cecilia and we basked in the glory and perfection of our newborn daughter. She is the most beautiful gift I have ever been given and I believe with all my heart that she is not truly mine - all children are on loan to us from God and we have the responsibility of making sure they are returned to Him.
There’s a saying that reality is stranger than fiction, and I believe this is always true when we walk through our life with the Lord. In my personal journey, there are two lessons He is continually teaching me through His Church: trust and obey. Always. Because He is God and I am not. I have given up asking for what I want because I know it’s a useless endeavor with Him. Instead, I only ask for the strength to do His Will, whatever that may be. And I am so much happier for it – He offers us true happiness and true freedom if we only listen to the wisdom of His Church. Following the Way of the Cross is not easy, comfortable, or always pleasant, but the Eternal Creator always knows what is best for us - radical love, trust, and obedience to the Living God that is Love.
Whitney Belprez was received into the Catholic Church in 2008 in Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband own & operate Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, Michigan (www.twosparrowsfarm.com) She also blogs at www.simplylivingloving.com
Whitney Belprez’s Recommended Reading
- 1) "Rome Sweet Home" by Dr. Scott Hahn
- 2) "Seven Storey Mountain" by Thomas Merton
- 3) "Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton
Evangelical Convert: Mindy Goorchenko
Mindy Goorchenko is a Catholic convert, mother of five, and nurse in Alaska.
My journey toward Catholicism began when I attended a small, intimate prayer session led by a group of college students in our evangelistic Protestant congregation. The talented young leader guided us in prayer amidst electrifying contemporary worship music. A wave was rippling through our church~~one which may have been present since ever there were youth in a church congregation. These beloved kids invited us old folk to be a part of something deeper, more authentic~~to have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit.
My children were welcome and I brought them along, dubious not so much about my own fate in the area of deep and authentic worship (I knew that it was unlikely I’d give myself wholly to the Spirit while peeking out from one eye at them the entire time) but whether anyone else would be able to with my several young children present. Indeed, as I lifted my own arms in praise of God, my opportunistic six year old immediately reached up and tickled my armpits. This consequently distracted me, and I decided to take my dancing, whooping youngsters out of the room. We played for an hour in the gymnasium at the church~~to simply engage in our vocations called motherhood and childhood.
Evangelical Convert: Jaymie Stuart Wolfe
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a convert to the Catholic faith who entered the Church in 1983. Her apostolate, Loaves and Fishes, is dedicated to teaching, evangelism and prayer through word and song.
I was baptized Catholic, but raised, Confirmed and Communicated in the Episcopal Church because my parents had both been divorced and remarried. My mother and I attended a Billy Graham Crusade the summer before I entered the 6th grade. That event introduced us to a personal relationship with Jesus which led to our joining an Evangelical Free church with a choir, Bible studies, and a dynamic youth ministry. I graduated from a Catholic girls' High School. Then, I left home for college.
When I became a Roman Catholic, I became the unimaginable—at least what had been up until that point, unimaginable to me. There was no reason to make a drastic move like that. After all, I had Christ. I certainly didn't need anything else. Both faith and Scripture were in my back pocket. Aside from my ambitions and goals, Jesus was the focus of my life. In my teens, it was easy for me to believe that even my unquenchable drive for success, somehow, served Him. Freelancing faith seemed like the best of this world and the next. But a series of experiences over the course of five years added up to convince me otherwise, so much so, that on the Vigil of Easter in 1983, at St. Paul's Church, as a senior at Harvard, I came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Evangelical Convert: Russell Stutler
On August 14, 2011, at the age of 54, Russell Stutler joined the Catholic Church after being an evangelical Protestant his entire life. Russell currently resides in Tokyo, Japan.
I was raised in a Protestant Christian home in Akron, Ohio, and we went to church every Sunday. During my childhood my family changed churches several times. We went to the Lutheran Church, Church of the Nazarene (where I promised God I would become a missionary someday), United Methodist Church (where I was baptized), Presbyterian Church, and a non-denominational evangelical mega-church called the Chapel in University Park where I became a member in my early 20s. It was a great teaching church, and I studied the Bible and memorized parts of it, which was the norm for members of that church. I studied New Testament Greek on my own so I could get at the underlying nuances in the text. I was very active in fellowship and evangelism programs, and my sense of calling to be a missionary was re-kindled there. I even went to Japan on a summer missionary program in 1983.
Baptist Convert: Steve Ray
Steve is a Catholic speaker, author, pilgrimage guide, and frequent guest on EWTN. The proud father of four, Steve lives with his wife Janet in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
I can still smell the green vinyl of the used couch in our living room as I knelt with my mom, with my face buried in my hands and my nose pressed into the vinyl. She had decided I was old enough — after all I was four years old. She didn't want to wait any longer. She was eager.
When I was born I was taken to the front of Joy Road Baptist Church in Detroit Michigan held aloft and dedicated to Christ. I did not receive infant baptism. The thought of baptizing an infant was repugnant. Where do you find that in the Bible? That was a surely a man-made Catholic tradition.
My parents had "found Christ" less than a year earlier. After twelve years of painful miscarriages my parents had discovered Jesus through the preaching of Billy Graham. The radio was on one morning as my mother was getting ready to go shopping. With keys in one hand and purse in the other she stopped in the kitchen before heading out the door. She heard something she's never heard before.
Methodist Convert: Eric Sammons
Eric began his study of the Catholic faith in 1991 as an Methodist/Evangelical Protestant, converting to the Catholic Church in 1993. Eric is married and has six children.
From Ignorance to Bliss
My Journey to the Catholic Church
Manicured lawns, kids playing in the streets, and dads barbequing in the summer: I grew up in the quintessential suburban American neighborhood. Each family was similar to the next, having the same values and outlook and each relatively the same size. One family on my street, however, broke the mold. Instead of the standard two or three children, this family had seven. I remember asking my mother why that family was so large, and her simple answer was, "Oh, they're Catholic." Knowing little of Catholicism and even less of how children were conceived, I figured that these "Catholics" must have a better relationship with the stork than the rest of us.
Though I'd learn soon enough how babies came to be, my ignorance of Catholicism persisted, mingled with some minor, usually stereotypical, details. I knew that Catholics took a different view of alcohol than the folks at my church, and I heard rumors that they had even added a few books to their bibles, but in general I was woefully ignorant of this church - it may have had over a billion members, but I personally knew very few of them.
Evangelical Convert: Jason Workmaster
Jason is a lawyer and Evangelical convert to Catholicism who entered the Church in the Summer of 2011. He lives in the suburbs of Washington DC with his wife Nikki and four children. You can read Nikki's conversion story (from the Baptist tradition) here.
As a lifelong evangelical Protestant, I am right now at a place I never thought I would be, having just entered the Catholic Church with my wife and kids at the Feast of the Assumption in August. How I "came home" is difficult to explain. As many Catholic converts have commented, "all roads lead to Rome," which makes it hard to know where to start the story.
Before anything else, though, I must give thanks that I was raised in a Christian home. Because of that, I can't remember a time that I did not believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and that on the third day He rose again from the dead. I also was always taught that I should follow Jesus no matter where He led. And, so, from that time to now, although there have been detours and a number of twists and turns, I've had this sense that I've been chasing Him. It was only as I came closer to the Catholic Church, however, that I felt that He--to an unimaginably greater extent--had been pursuing me.
Evangelical Convert: Laura Locke
Laura is an educator and freelance writer in Calgary, Canada.
The road to Catholicism for new converts is as varied as the personalities of converts themselves. Mine came by means of the sublimely cracked perspective of a neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome.
Raised in a mainstream Protestant church, I found myself drawn to evangelical circles in early adult life by the zeal and commitment I found there. Active church involvement, university, marriage, three kids and a fulfilling career in education filled the years that followed. Time sailed along at the hectic pace of most young families, until our youngest son, Peter, started having marked difficulty coping with the normal, everyday stresses of school life.
Evangelical Convert: Richard Maffeo
Richard was born into a Jewish home in 1950. Twenty-two years later, he discovered Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and served Him in evangelical Protestant churches for more than thirty-two years. In 2005 he was received into the Catholic Church.
My movement in 1972 from Jewish faith to Christ was so profound an experience, I can tell you when it happened, where I was and what I was doing when I committed myself to the Lord and joined the Protestant church.
But I cannot tell you when I knew I belonged in the Catholic Church. That process was more gradual. I didn't know I was moving toward Rome until I opened my eyes and discovered I had arrived.