‘The Things That Drew Me Back to the Catholic Church’
By Bryan Kemper
My first real introduction to the Catholic Church as an adult came with my entrance to full-time pro-life work. While I had been baptized as a Catholic as a child, it was only done for the sake of my great-grandmother and meant nothing to my family.
In 1993 I joined Missionaries to the Pre-Born in California, a ministry of Operation Rescue. My first day in the office I was shocked to find three of the five other people there were Catholic. I actually spent my first few days trying to explain to the Catholics why they were in danger of going to hell and could not possibly be Christians.
The problem I had was that what I had been told about Catholicism was simply not true; it was distorted teaching from Protestants who did not bother to discover the truth. While I was not ready to convert back then, I was extremely happy to work alongside my Catholic brothers and sisters.
Even though I was able to understand that Catholics were truly Christians, I was still convinced that they were just deceived. I thought if I could study the Catholic Church I would be able to use this knowledge to convert them and show them where they were deceived.
In the late 1990s, I met Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. He was the first priest I really got to know personally. During this time, I was running Rock for Life, a youth pro-life organization. We would have huge youth events during the March for Life week in Washington, bringing hundreds of young people to D.C. for a four-day pro-life training camp.
These groups of kids were split almost half Protestant and half Catholic, a phenomenon that can only really happen in the pro-life movement. Father Pavone would join me every year to help provide leadership and lead prayer for the Catholic kids during the week.
In 2003, when I left Rock for Life and started Stand True: Christ Centered Pro-Life, it was Priests for Life and Father Pavone who helped launch this new ministry. They not only helped us in starting this new pro-life youth ministry — they helped out my family also.
Over the last several years, I have known deep down that the Catholic Church must be more than I thought it was. I fought myself and denied all the signs I was seeing. I was afraid; even though I knew deep down there can only be one truth, I would always find something to dismiss Catholicism. At this time I had been a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for almost 10 years, as I was so inspired by the liturgy and reverence I found there.
One concern of mine that has been eating at me for many years was teachings on pro-life issues and contraception. I have actually followed the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception since 1993 and have been trying to bring this truth to Protestants. There is only one Church that has been consistent from the time of Christ to today on the teaching of pro-life issues and contraception. Before 1930 there was never a single Christian church in history to accept any form of contraception, and today the Catholic Church is the only one that absolutely has kept this Christian truth.
Another major concern for me was Communion and the way it is mostly dismissed as just a symbol by most churches. I have always believed that Communion was more than just a symbol, and in looking back at early Church teaching, it is crystal clear that this was taught from day one. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a student of John the Apostle, taught on this and clarified it well.
These are just a few of the things that drew me back to the Catholic Church; however, there is so much more. I was baptized Catholic as a child, so the process is not as complicated for me. I will be starting RCIA classes and working towards confirmation.
Bryan Kemper is founder of Stand True: Christ Centered Pro-Life ministry.
‘I Simply Knew This Was Where I Had to Be’
By Josiah Bunting III
I was raised in a conventional Protestant household; “went to church” with my parents in a small New England village — a Congregational church, one of whose ministers was Richard Niebuhr (whose piety and earnestness I well remember, and with gratitude). My boarding school obliged us to “attend chapel” daily, the rituals and hymns being more or less standard Episcopalian observances; the music of some of the great old hymns made a far more powerful impression on me than the sermons we heard and “responsive readings” we recited.
In college in the United States, and at the University of Oxford, and in significant ways through my reading of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and his early spiritual mentor, Cardinal John Henry Newman, I began to recognize what I might call a spiritual hunger for something which the church of which I remained a nominal member was unable to assuage. I began also, through Newman, but also through much reading (not very purposive or well-organized), to be drawn to the very early Church (Paul in particular), to the Church Fathers, to the sacrifices of its first Christians, and to what I was coming to believe was the Christian communion that had sustained their creeds, their faith, their consciousness of Christ’s glory.
This must be the holy Catholic Church. Its creeds were dogma — immanent, unchanging, beyond cavil — and I embraced them with an overwhelming consciousness that I was called to embrace them. I had to.
My conversion took many years, and I was not received into the Church until 2010, in my 70th year. I had made a long silent retreat through the offices of Opus Dei; the priest who had become my guide and dear friend sat down with me one autumn day in Evanston, Ill., and began responding to a question I had put to him the night before at dinner, a question about some Church issue that seemed contentious at the time. He began to explain … and I remember as though it were an hour ago that I broke in to say to him, “Father, I am already there.” To which he replied, “I know you are. I’ve been praying for you.” I simply knew this was where I had to be.
At my baptism in Washington, after my first confession, Father C. John McCloskey asked me what saint’s name I would like to honor in my own “new” name. I said, easily, “St. Thomas More.” So I was baptized. An hour later, a boy who had served at the Mass asked me to join him — he wanted to show me something on the grounds of the school in whose chapel the Mass had been celebrated. I had never been to the school before. We walked through a small patch of woods near the edge of the school’s property. In front of me was a small bronze statute … of St. Thomas More.
I experience an overwhelming comfort whose substance and elements I am powerless to describe or explain when I attend Mass. I know it is where I should be. Must be. It is my Church, and, perhaps, the long, long journey towards this fulfillment has made my joy in attaining it all the richer.
Josiah Bunting III is president of the Lehrman American Studies Center.
Read the essays in their entirety and other conversion stories online at NCRegister.com.