Searching for Scott Hahn in London

The event at St. Dominic’s Priory Church was sold out weeks in advance

St. Dominic's Priory Church
St. Dominic's Priory Church (photo: via Wikimedia Commons)

Scott Hahn has been with me for 20 years.

It may be longer than that but it is definitely 20 years or thereabouts that he has been ‘with me.’ When I say ‘with me’, I do not mean he has ever met me, nor for that matter has he ever communicated with me. He has been with me, nevertheless.

Let me explain.

The name ‘Scott Hahn’ started to circulate around London in the mid-1990s. No know knew who Scott Hahn was then, but among a certain set he was referred to as the ‘Protestant minister who had become Catholic.’

At that time it was a cassette case bearing the legend: ‘Protestant Minister Converts to Rome’, or some such, which was passed around, copied and then listened to. The former Pastor Hahn’s testimony was riveting, his manner of delivery masterful. Yet for all that, and here’s the thing, he seemed very much a Protestant still. He talked of Catholic things but everything was sourced in Sacred Scriptures and that knowledge of both Old and New Testaments was something not usually on display in Catholic circles. This seemed only to deepen the mystery about the man and his recently chosen path.

Although Hahn was by no means the first Protestant clergyman who had converted to Rome, to the generation in the U.K. raised in the shadow of the Second Vatican Council it seemed a curious thing indeed. Of course there was the odd Anglican clergyman who had ‘swam the Tiber.’ That said, those clergy making their ‘swim’ were often High Church: so less of a drama and more of a deciding on which ‘bank of the river’ they truly belonged.

No, Scott Hahn was different. Most of us knew enough then to know that he was a full-blooded Protestant. Hahn’s creed had been Calvinist; Calvinists were perceived as anti-Catholic to the core. There was no ‘High Church’ element within this Reformed group who could, in any way, be persuaded that they were really not that far from Rome. The stern face of John Calvin seemed to be perpetually turned away from the Roman ‘anti-Christ.’

Eventually, the book arrived. Rome, Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism was a must-read when it began to appear in bookshops and then on friends’ bookshelves. All at once it seemed to be everywhere. It was better than the average conversion story. It had all the drama of any good convert’s tale: the pain, the surprise and the eventual joy. But it had another angle to it. Kimberly Hahn was the book’s co-author, something sometimes forgotten. Her testimony to her marriage, her husband and to her own journey proved just as interesting. The stresses and strains between the couple at the ‘fast-track’ conversion of Scott in opposition to the gentler walk of his wife added another dramatic dimension to proceedings. Let’s face it, when you pick up a conversion story you know how it is going to end. In Rome, Sweet Home, it was never clear, until the end, if the Hahn marriage would survive Scott’s embrace of Catholicism. It was an all-too-human dilemma enfolded in a spiritual adventure.

The Hahns did survive. They prospered, in fact. More books followed. There was the beginning of a ‘Hahn style of writing’ in these volumes. Books shot through with Scripture, with the Church Fathers, and with a word play and sense of fun that only those fully in control of their material can get away with. Friends on this side of the Atlantic would sometimes bemoan Hahn’s puns. I liked them. No one bemoaned, however, the way he made us reach for our Bibles afresh while wondering: Does Scripture really say that? With this global Bible Study, came an awakening amongst Catholics that this book — The Book — was as much ours as anyone else’s, and that there was nothing to be feared by studying it. In fact, there was everything to be gained by so doing, and, not least, much new to found there.

As the years passed, we on this side of the Atlantic finally saw Hahn. He appeared online. Normally, he was being interviewed about his latest book. He was sober and serious. He was dignified; he had gravitas. He looked slightly constrained by the studio, and the producers, and the time allotted to such things as discussions around his newly published book. He looked like a cinema actor on a small screen — a performer too big for the medium.

Long ago, I had reconciled myself to the idea that I would never see or hear, let alone meet Scott Hahn. Maybe my resignation was in the manner many of us think of our favorite Hollywood actors. Glad they are there, glad of the films they make, the performances they give, but what to do if the doorbell rang and we found such a star upon the doorstep? Hahn is a Catholic ‘superstar’ of sorts and he seemed to exist in a firmament somewhere far, far away.

Then, out of the blue, a friend asked if I would like to go to see Scott Hahn. What? It seemed soon he was coming to London, something of which I was unaware. My friend had a ticket but was unable to use it: would I like the ticket?

So there I was, one Friday in late winter, boarding a brightly lit train on a dark night heading for the Hampstead area of London and a church where Scott Hahn was speaking. I had with me a bag full of books. My friend had loaded me up with his multiple copies that he wished signed by their author. I was only too happy to oblige.

As the train sped on into the city, I thought of how I would present each copy, and helpfully tell Scott to whom it was to be dedicated. How Scott and I would exchange a few words, just a few, but enough to tell him how much I appreciated his writing and his witness. We would laugh and shake hands and bid each other farewell. How then I would walk back to the Underground Station feeling that somehow I had achieved one of my life’s unwritten goals. And how for years after people would say: ‘You met Scott Hahn?’ This amazement would quickly be followed by their question: ‘What was he like?’ In time my replies would grow vaguer, if the story larger, to the point where I was sure that Scott had ‘asked me to help him write his next book’ — yes, he must have — but I had had to decline being so busy… You know how things are...

The reverie ended as the destination was announced for the Underground Station at which I had to disembark. Off into the night I strolled with the backpack of books, which felt no weight at all. After all, I was off to meet Scott Hahn.

In the audience that night, I watched Scott Hahn appear at St. Dominic’s Priory Church. How he looked out upon the crowd who had come to hear him — the event was sold out weeks in advance — and then how he conquered. He was better than I expected. Funnier, more perceptive, with greater stage presence, humbler with it too, I noted the careful and deliberate genuflection each time he was in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He talked for over an hour. It seemed like mere minutes. As he spoke of the Scriptures, I kept making mental notes ‘to look that up when I get home.’

And then the end came, and, he left the sanctuary.

A number of the audience went forward clutching books but it was futile. My heart sank. There was to be no book signing.

The subsequent walk back to the Underground Station and the journey home did not have the same excitement as the journey out. There was much to mull over though, much to recall, much for which to be grateful. As well, there was a bag of books to shoulder home, all unsigned and seemingly heavier than before.

Later that night, while sitting poring over the Book of Kings and looking for the clues laid earlier in the evening by Hahn, I caught sight, out of the corner of my eye, the still unsigned books neatly stacked before me. It was then, returning to The Book, I realized that, already, long ago, Scott Hahn had ‘signed’ a book to me, and it was there in front of me.