4 Prominent Converts Describe Their Journeys of Faith

Testimonies from Bishop James Conley, Mother Mary Augustine, Scott Sullivan and Msgr. Peter Wilkinson

CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: Bishop James Conley, Msgr. Peter Wilkinson, Mother Mary Augustine, Scott Sullivan
CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: Bishop James Conley, Msgr. Peter Wilkinson, Mother Mary Augustine, Scott Sullivan (photo: Multiple)

I spoke to four prominent Catholic converts who were either previously part of a non-Catholic religion, or who had no religion at all and asked them to share about their conversion.


Bishop James Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska

I was raised in the Presbyterian church. We were nominal Presbyterians, only occasionally going to church. My father was a salesman, and my mother a stay-at-home mom.

I went to the University of Kansas, where I enrolled in a Great Books program for freshmen and sophomores. It was a popular program in the 70s and early 1980s. It was through that experience that I discovered the Catholic faith. I remember I was impressed by books such as the Confessions of St. Augustine, and anything by John Henry Newman. I was received into the Church at age 20.

My parents were not too happy about my conversion. They had misconceptions about the Catholic faith. They thought I had given up the freedom to think for myself. I had been a Grateful Deadhead before my conversion, however, so my mom was happy I had my hair cut!


Mother Mary Augustine, O.Praem., mother superior of the Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph

I am from a family from Alsace (France), and was born and raised in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific between Australia and New Zealand. I had no religious formation until God brought about my conversion at the age of 42. I am perhaps similar in this way to my patron, St. Augustine, as, like him, my conversion became the very beginning of my true life.

From that point on, there was no going back, and it became whatever God's will would be for my life. Like Jesus, my food became to do the Father's Will. Over time, and through many trials, it became clear that God wanted me to have an undivided heart for Him alone. It was through time and events that His plan unfolded for me, bringing me first to the Catholic Church, then religious life, and then specifically, at the request of the Norbertine Fathers, to become the foundress of this community. 


Scott Sullivan, Catholic philosopher and founder of Classical Theist Productions

I’m originally from Indiana, where I was raised in a loving Christian home. I was serious about my faith—I was “born again”—but in high school I fell away from it. I didn’t think Christianity was true, but instead Santa Claus for grown-ups. I became agnostic. I wasn’t sure about the existence of God or that He had revealed Himself through the person of Jesus Christ.

I was a professional kickboxer in college, and as there wasn’t much money in it, I worked evenings as a bouncer at a bar. One night, sitting there in the bar, I wrote up all my intellectual objections to Christianity. I thought it was a pretty good list at the time, but I later found out that all these objections had been raised and refuted long before I made them.

After graduating college, I was still intellectually seeking the truth, and one day I found myself in a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the religion section. I happened upon the Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. It changed my life. I was introduced to arguments for the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament. 

Up to that point, I did not know the historical arguments for Christianity. I didn’t have any good reasons to think Christianity was true. No one had told me. So I got into philosophy myself, became Catholic, and made it my mission to share what I’d learned with others.


Msgr. Peter Wilkinson, a former Canadian Anglican bishop who became a Catholic priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

[I was led to join the Catholic Church because] the 1960s were taking over. People began to drift from sound doctrine. The liturgy was changing. There was a general malaise in the church. I was serving as a priest in England, and it was a difficult time there. The zeitgeist seemed to rule.

Pope Benedict himself has commented that 1968 was an axial year. There was a shift in consciousness. There were Marxist riots in England as well as in the United States; Woodstock followed the following year. 

It was an unhappy time. I was a novice in religious life, and I could not remain in that atmosphere. What was going on with the outside world affected the community. I returned to Canada, where the same things were going on, but at least I was home. I thought my home diocese would employ me. However, I was branded as “Catholic” and not accepted.

[When I became a Roman Catholic] I made a profession of faith, and received Communion for the first time as a Roman Catholic in St. Andrew’s Cathedral in downtown Victoria. The Bishop of Victoria was there. He’s been a good friend to us former Anglicans. He couldn’t have been any better.

I was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood on Dec. 8, 2012. A month later, the Holy Father surprised me by making me an Honorary Prelate [with the title monsignor]. As a former Anglican bishop, I have permission to wear the miter and carry the crozier. I have only done it once; if I were to do a Confirmation, I might do it again. I cannot wear a pectoral cross or bishop’s ring.

… I was comfortable being an Anglican. It was like living in a nice den. But, when I became Roman Catholic, and it was like throwing open the door to a magnificent ballroom and the rest of the world is out there waiting for you.

L to R: Archbishop Coakley and Bishops Conley and Wall enjoy God’s creation along ‘The Way.’ | Diocese of Lincoln

Hooked on the Camino de Santiago (Sept. 24)

‘Hooked on the Camino’ — that’s how one bishop described his fifth pilgrimage on the ancient way of St. James. Recently, three U.S. bishops traveled the Camino de Santiago together for two and half weeks. They shared their pilgrimage experience with the National Catholic Register’s Senior Editor Jonathan Liedl.