Anna Abbott is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has written for Catholic World Report and Canticle. She had a weekly column on religion for four years at the Napa Valley Register, the Weekly Calistogan, the St. Helena Star and the American Canyon Eagle. She is aunt and godmother to two boys, as well as a newborn girl. She currently resides in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
A decade ago, Steve Dawson had a conversion experience; now, he hopes to bring the Good News to others with St. Paul Street Evangelization. When Dawson went to Portland, Oregon, to finish his business degree with his wife Maria, he saw numerous street vendors. He saw Protestant preachers, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he wondered: What about the Catholic presence?
Dawson started St. Paul Street Evangelization in May 2012. He said, “We’re all called to evangelize. I learned about St. Maximilian Kolbe giving out Miraculous Medals… We would pass out Miraculous Medals and rosaries. Portland is a very liberal place; I thought there’d be a negative backlash. Most of the time, there were conversions. There were very few angry people. I was surprised; I didn’t expect it to be successful.”
Dawson returned to his hometown of Detroit after completing his BS in Finance at Portland State University. Initially, he ran St. Paul Street Evangelization out of his house. He said, “We had a basement full of evangelization supplies. We were shipping thousands of supplies.”
The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Indiana offered him a building, where he currently spends most of his time behind the desk as an administrator. He commented that he is now Bloomington, Indiana, “not far from Indiana University, where the sexual revolution started.” Dawson said that Indiana has the same challenges as Oregon.
St. Paul Street Evangelization recently got social media publicity when Fr. David Jenuwine of St. Apollonaris parish in Napa was offering street corner confessions during the Bottlerock festival this past May. Dawson himself came to attend the Napa Institute in late July, and spoke with the local chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization about his conversion.
Currently, Dawson evangelizes weekly for a couple of hours, and travels occasionally. He said, “My primary vocation is as husband and father… My family comes first; my office is close to home.”
St. Paul Street Evangelization offers online training and certification for team leaders, with courses on hospitality and apologetics. He said, “We provide tools and resources for ordinary Catholics to do the extraordinary work of evangelization.” There is also a Catholic Hospitality Training Institute for parish staff. Dawson explained, “It’s a balance of training and allowing the Holy Spirit to do what He’s going to do. It’s all about a person loving their faith and telling their story.”
When Dawson returned to the Church, he studied the Catechism, the Baltimore Catechism, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa. Now, St. Paul Street Evangelization offers the Catechetical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas. He also offers the Fr. John Hardon, SJ, Basic Catholic Catechism course. While sharing personal testimonies is important to St. Paul Street Evangelization, the courses offer a deeper and broader grounding in the Faith.
For Dawson, the biggest barriers aren’t anti-Catholicism and hostility, but indifference and apathy. He said, “There’s an ‘I’m OK, you’re OK mentality.” Dawson commented that evangelizing Protestants requires prudence, depending on their level of discipleship. He said, “There are lukewarm Protestants, just like there are lukewarm Catholics… They are living like the rest of the world, but believing in Jesus. It becomes indifferentism with an ‘as long as you believe in and have faith in Jesus, it doesn’t matter what you do.’ We can’t treat all Protestants the same. I look for common ground with fervent Protestants. I emphasize the importance of discipleship with indifferent Protestants. We have a responsibility to bring people into the Catholic Church. The Magisterium is a great gift.” Dawson commented that Catholics have an obligation to share the fullness of Faith, using the example of the Eucharist and the Real Presence, with their separated brethren.
St. Paul Street Evangelization engages in door-to-door missionary work when in rural regions, or if there is a lack of major public spaces. Dawson said, “Every parish should have door-to-door evangelization. It’s a good way to reach everybody. However, street evangelization is less confrontational.” He considers door-to-door evangelization more delicate, since it involves going to other people’s homes.
The centennial of Our Lady of Fatima is inspirational for Dawson. He commented, “I love talking about Our Lady of Fatima. Even ‘spiritual, but not religious’ like miracles, such as the Miracle of the Sun… The miracle confirms the message of Fatima. It is about a personal God who cares for us, the Incarnation, the Trinity. Our Lady appeared in a Catholic context.” He spoke of how the angel’s message to the children about the Eucharist is about taking one’s faith seriously. He once discussed the Miracle of the Sun with an indifferent young man, who eventually bought three books about it.
St. Paul Street Evangelization began with a dozen groups. It now has 330 teams, adding 80 teams a year. His Facebook page has 400,000 followers. Dawson described his vision for St. Paul Street Evangelization’s future, saying, “Every major metropolitan area will have dozens of teams working in parishes… Every parish needs to have active outreach to the community. Within ten years, we will have (regional) directors. They’ll train and equip evangelists. I have added the positions of director and assistant director. I’m piloting this in two local dioceses; Detroit will have a director. We have to equip, form, and train. We have a long way to go.”
As St. Paul himself eloquently states in preaching the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:22-25), “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”