Welcome Home! Stories of Fallen-Away Catholics Who Came Back Edited by Victor R. Claveau Ignatius Press, 2000 318 pages, $14.95

Reading about a conversion to the Catholic faith can be like following the story-line of the Odyssey: You know that the hero finally makes it to Ithaca, but you can't predict what obstacles he'll meet or how he'll overcome them.

Welcome Home! is an anthology of first-person accounts written not by converts, but by “reverts” — Catholics who left the Church but eventually found their way back. It's as though the Iliad has been included for good measure, except that instead of the battles fought over Helen of Troy, we read about the adventures of participants in the recent “culture wars.”

Nothing is as dramatic as real life, especially when God plays a major role. The stories in this volume can get complicated, but they are consistently well-told and revealing. The editor, Victor R. Claveau, took as the anthology's title the words spoken to him by the priest who heard his confession when he was reconciled with the Church. Having “been there” and come back, Claveau was able to help the other 10 contributors write autobiographical essays that are testimonies to their rediscovered faith.

The reader meets a few “celebrities” on these pages — notably Father John Corapi, the dynamic preacher of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. Most of the contributors, however, are just ordinary Catholics who developed above-average apologetics skills by grappling with questions about the faith.

Typically, a person raised Catholic does not so much break with the Church as drift away. One woman writes, “Actually, I would have to describe our exit as a fading out. If our participation in, and love of, the Church was a bright color photograph in 1967 when we married, by 1977 it had faded to a frayed brown and beige print.”

The stories illustrate a wide range of problems that Catholics have with the Catholic faith. In a few instances, the sins of parents were visited upon their children (such situations are handled with suitable restraint). The sorry state of recent Catholic catechesis is very much in evidence, though the glimpses that we get of contemporary secular education and the social work establishment are even more appalling.

Alcohol abuse, birth control, marital strife, and workaholism make their appearances, but often it is hard to say whether they are causes or merely symptoms of a loss of faith. It becomes almost a refrain: “For [my wife] and me, being Catholic was something we had been born into, but neither of us had really made the Faith our own.”

Again and again we watch uncommitted, uninstructed Catholics fall for Protestant arguments and fellowship and then develop an animus against the Catholic Church. When Jesse Romero began immersing himself in fundamentalist literature, his wife challenged him: “‘Before you run off to some other church or, worse yet, start your own, why don't you study Catholicism from Catholic sources?’” Romero reconsidered: “Being a deputy sheriff, I saw great validity to her argument. Hearsay testimony is inadmissible in a court of law, and all of my anti-Catholic biases were hearsay.”

Though they all arrived at the same destination, God got through to the reverts in many different ways. Some of them discovered the truths of the Catholic faith by reading encyclicals and Church history; others through Cursillo and Marriage Encounter, apologetics conferences, EWTN programs and audio tapes.

The stories in Welcome Home! bring many Gospel passages to life. The misadventures of these former-former Catholics demonstrate that it is safer to “enter by the narrow gate,” yet their homecoming proves that the door to our Father's house is always wide open.

Michael J. Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.