Hadley Arkes’s reception into the Catholic Church at the end of April was a “joyous and thrilling” occasion, according to Michael Novak who was his sponsor.

Speaking to the Register in Rome last week, Novak said it was a day of “great love, esteem and happiness.”

Arkes, a professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, and one of the country’s foremost pro-life legal scholars, was received into the Church at the chapel of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. on April 24.

Born and raised a Jew, he said in a recent interview with The Anchor, the Catholic newspaper of Fall River Diocese, that he realized more than a decade ago that there was something special about the Catholic Church as a “truth-telling institution”, despite the failings of some of its members. He said he saw the Catholic faith as a fulfilment of his Jewish faith rather than a departure, and that before he embraced the Church’s faith, he had embraced the Church’s respect for human reason.

Novak said he wasn’t surprised by his friend’s baptism. “His wife told me seven or eight years ago: ‘Don’t worry, he’s one of yours!’ So I just wondered if he’d ever make the leap,” he said. “He thinks so much like a Catholic that I always missed him at Communion. I told him: ‘I would like to think of you at the Communion rail in the Body of Christ’, and it happened.”

Novak said he didn’t know the precise reasons why Arkes chose to be received at this time. “I think these things sometimes ripen, and sometimes you wake up one morning and you say: ‘Why am I not doing this?’,” he said.

“I remember seven or eight weeks ago getting the message from him and it made me very happy,” he said. “It was such a joyous day, such a thrilling day. There were about 300 people, and it was a day of great love, esteem and happiness.” He said Arkes’s wife, Judy, who is Jewish, “is not becoming Catholic” but that she, too, “was filled with joy that day.” Arkes has said that he couldn’t have made the step without her support.

Novak describes Arkes as one of the country’s “great academics” and a “much-loved” scholar at Amherst College, one of America’s finest universities.

He has also written this poem in tribute to the scholar and his reception into the Catholic Church.