He estimates that 75%-80% of 40 Days participants are Catholic, as is his wife of 26 years. And as of this past Easter, Bereit is Catholic, too. He entered the Church from the Presbyterian tradition, during the Easter vigil Mass at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parish in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His wife, Margaret, was his sponsor, his high-school son Patrick was an altar server, and his 20-year-old daughter Claire and mother-in-law were there to welcome him into the Church. He recently spoke to the Register about his decision.
You attended Sunday Mass for 28 years since your second date with your wife, Margaret, so what took you so long to become Catholic?
In the early days, I thought: “Oh, my poor girlfriend is misled. I’ll help her to find the truth.” I thought Margaret might one day come over to the Protestant realm, but early on, I saw that she loved the Catholic faith and that it is part of her identity.
It has been step by step. Early on, we had fertility problems and dug into the Catholic teachings on life. We went to the Pope Paul VI Institute, and Margaret had surgery, which is why we have our two children. I struggled with some of it at first, but came to understand the truth of the Catholic teachings on life.
What role did faith play in your decision to go from working as a pharmaceutical representative to a pro-life leader?
From the beginning, I realized I had to rely on God. I talked with Margaret about leaving my job to work for the Coalition for Life [in Bryan, Texas], expecting she would be against it. Instead, she supported the idea.
I went from a company car and good income to a job where they could pay me for 30-60 days, and after that I needed to fundraise. I had to trust in God. That led, three years later, to forming 40 Days for Life in 2004, with the idea to fast and pray for 40 days outside of abortion clinics.
During my time in the pro-life movement, I was attracted to the dedication and strength of the Catholic witnesses. It started to break down the barriers I had about the Church.
What were some of the barriers?
I had trouble with apostolic succession and the Real Presence and the Blessed Mother. But as I came to understand more of the teachings, I realized that the Church was right on so many things, and where I came from was dead wrong on some of the core teachings of the Gospel.
At what point did you consider converting?
Driving back from Texas to Virginia on Sept. 8, 2017, I was talking with a friend, Brian Westbrook, who runs 40 Days in St. Louis. He wanted to know if I had ever asked God about becoming a Catholic in adoration. I told him I would go to adoration when I went home.
“Why wait until you get home?” he asked. “Go to MassTimes.org and find a church.” I was going through the town of Charlottesville, to see my daughter who goes to college there, so I went to adoration at her parish.
I knew that I had to let go and let God be in charge. I was 90%-97% there, but was stuck on the last few percentages. I told God: “I know my parish starts RCIA this week. What do you want me to do?” Within minutes, an absolute peace came over me.
I got home and told Margaret: “Don’t get your hopes up, but I went to adoration and asked Our Lord what I’m supposed to do. I have a great peace that I am supposed to start RCIA, but it’s a discernment process.”
I struggled with every question throughout RCIA. As late as Holy Week, I told Margaret, “I’m still discerning.” At times, I got on the phone with Scott Hahn.
How did Scott Hahn help?
We were both invited to the White House when Pope Benedict was there. We also occasionally spoke at the same events and became friends. Scott told me that if I ever had questions about the Catholic faith, he’d be happy to visit with me. When I started RCIA, I contacted him.
I still struggled with devotion to Mary, and Scott shared his own struggles. He let me know that, before our call, he had prayed an entire Rosary for me. I was so moved by that and felt grace flow through me that moment. I started to realize in hindsight that our Blessed Mother’s fingerprint had been on so much of my pro-life work. For instance, the day we received clarity on beginning 40 Days for Life was the feast of the Assumption.
At what point did you make the commitment to become Catholic?
On Holy Thursday, Margaret asked me if I was going to go through with it. I said: “I think so, but I don’t yet have that complete peace.” We went in separate cars to church. After Mass, I spent time in adoration.
“God, what do you want me to do now?” I asked. The peace I received was around the word “continue.” I felt God telling me to continue into the Church, but that it’s a step, not the end of the journey.
What was it like becoming a Catholic?
Margaret said that I was the loudest one professing my faith at the Easter vigil. She cried tears of joy. I have never seen her so happy. I married an amazing woman, the rock who has been beside me on this whole faith journey.
I keep pinching myself and thinking: “This is real; this is awesome!” I feel comforted that this is my home, and it carries a lifetime of blessings as well as challenges.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from others?
The response has been off-the-chart positive. On Facebook, I posted that I had joined the Church; then I braced myself for any negative pushback. There have been 1,700 likes and only two “sad” emojis.
I’ve been deeply humbled by the outpouring of love. Even Michael Warsaw of EWTN congratulated me. I had no idea, beyond a handful of people, that anyone would notice.
Will being Catholic change your pro-life work?
Definitely! I am excited to experience deeper fellowship around my shared faith with fellow Catholic pro-lifers, whose witness inspired me and played an important role drawing me into full communion with the Church. The additional graces received through the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation and the Eucharist are already providing additional strength and peace for the spiritual battles.
I now am also working from a more thorough understanding of the richness of the Catholic Church’s unwavering teachings on the sanctity of human life, as taught throughout Church history and profoundly articulated in Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae. However, being Catholic will not change my love and appreciation for, and desire to continue collaborating with, Christians of other faith traditions.
What do you have planned for the future?
On the faith front, I’ve just scratched the surface and am continuing to discover the richness of the Catholic Church.
After I left 40 Days in 2016, I have been doing some speaking and consulting. I’m still discerning what will be next, but I do have a specific project percolating that you may be hearing about very soon.
Since becoming Catholic, there’s a whole new “playground” out there. It’s a matter of discerning how God wants me to apply my gifts.
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.