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BY Tim Drake
Former Congressman and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was received into the Catholic Church on March 30, 2009, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Washington. Yesterday I spoke with him about his decision to convert from being Baptist to Catholic.
Here’s part of what he had to say. To read the entire interview, you’ll have to obtain the print edition of the Register.
How does a Baptist come to be Catholic?
It was a pretty long progression. My Ph.D. is in European history. You can’t engage in understanding Europe and America without trying to understand the Bible, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. From that standpoint, you inexorably have to engage the Church, and you come to realize that it’s this 2,000-year-old structure.
I’ve lived in Germany, France and Belgium. Part of my being is medieval in that I resonate with large Cathedrals and the pageantry of the Church at its fullest. It didn’t occur to me for the longest time that that might have personal ramifications.
My wife, Callista, was raised in a Catholic family and has attended church every week of her life since she was a premature newborn. She sings in the choir at the Basilica [of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington]. I got into the habit of trying to be a good husband and would attend the noon Mass to hear her sing. It made the week go better. The basilica is the largest Catholic church in America. It’s a beautiful church and has a perfect music program.
Year by year, I was drawn in by the work of rectors Msgr. Michael Bransfield and Msgr. Walter Rossi. Five years ago, we went to Europe with the choir. I had no responsibilities other than being a spouse. Msgr. Rossi and I got into conversations about the crisis of our civilization. The more I began to think about how we are parallel to Paul’s world, the more I thought about the Church.
What role did your wife play?
For nine years, I watched Callista take Communion and could see the power of the Eucharist in her life.
Callista’s view had always been that she was glad that I came to church with her. She has a deep need to be at Mass every week and sing at the basilica. That’s part of her service. She would occasionally say to me that “the Church is available.” That’s as hard as she would push. She didn’t try to twist my arm. When I was received into the Church, she was beyond delighted.
I recall seeing you at the basilica during Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit in April 2008. Did his visit have an impact on your decision to join the Church?
I had met Pope John Paul II twice, both as a junior member of Congress and as speaker. Those were official meetings. I watched Pope Benedict XVI’s week in the U.S.; Callista sang for him at the basilica. I thought his choice of “Christ Our Hope” [as the theme of his pastoral visit] was exactly right. He expressed in his eyes such joy that night that he was at the basilica. That evening I told Msgr. Rossi, “I want you to know that I’m going to convert. My experience today convinces me that my natural home is in the Church.”
From that background, I began studying with him and reading books. I had been influenced by George Weigel’s The Final Revolution. All of that fit both my personal sense of reality that there is a dual world — the spiritual world that transcends and is larger than the physical world — and also my personal sense of finding a place where I could rest.