5 Conversion Stories of People Who Became Catholic
As James Joyce famously wrote, ‘Here comes everybody’
What do these people have in common?
- Actors John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jim Nabors, Faye Dunaway, Vincent Price, Susan Hayward and Patricia Neal
- Academics and intellectuals Hadley Arkes (Amherst), Mortimer Adler (Great Books), Robert Bork (Yale) and G.K. Chesterton
- Royalty King Charles II (Great Britain)
- Artist Peter Paul Rubens
- Heroes of the Old West Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and Doc Holliday
- Musician Dave Brubeck
- Famed coach Knute Rockne (Notre Dame)
- Playwrights Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde
- Novelists Ernest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, Sigrid Undset and Dean Koontz
If you guessed, “They’re all converts to Catholicism,” you’re absolutely right! All of these famous people — and many thousands of others — have made the journey into the hushed reverence of the Catholic Church.
These converts have been drawn to Rome from mainline Protestantism, from Hinduism, from Judaism and agnosticism and full-bodied atheism. But why? What is the “spark” that caught them by surprise — the spark that led them to explore more deeply and, ultimately, to embrace the Catholic Church as their spiritual home?
I suppose there are as many reasons as there are people — that the Holy Spirit can summon the heart using the meager tools at hand. I am often amazed, though, at the serendipitous events which propel the individual to open the door to Grace.
X-Men Comics to the Rescue
I recently read the story of Libby Edwards, a self-described “neo-pagan witch” who had practiced “the craft” for 15 years, cultivating occult talents (healing and cursing) and organizing pagan events. Libby explained that she loved horror novels and horror movies — and she gradually realized that the solution to the evil in the storyline was never a Protestant pastor or a Wiccan priestess. Instead, the answer to every crisis was always to be found in the Catholic Church. In addition, Libby loved comic books, and she was especially attracted to “Nightcrawler,” a character in the X-Men comic series. A blue, fuzzy mutant with a forked tail and a sword, Nightcrawler was a devout Catholic, in love with God. In some strange way, it was the fictional Nightcrawler’s example that empowered Libby to pursue a study of the faith, to enroll in RCIA and, ultimately, to become Catholic.
The Passion of the Christ
Can’t forget that beautiful movie! One person who couldn’t forget it is Richard Evans, who had been away from the Church for 35 years and who had “come out” as a gay man in the early 1990s. Jim Caviezel’s dramatic performance as the suffering Jesus Christ planted a seed — which was nurtured as Richard became aware of the conversion stories of prominent evangelicals like Tom Howard and others he saw on EWTN, especially on Marcus Grodi’s show. Richard read Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s personal journey in their book Rome Sweet Home — and the weight of these deeply personal, well-reasoned conversions drew him back to the Catholic Church, and back to a life of chastity.
The Sign of the Cross
I remember a conversation I had with author/speaker and Catholic apologist Bert Ghezzi. Many people, he explained, made the Sign of the Cross reflexively, at Mass or before dinner, without really thinking about the words and the symbolism in the sign. He recognized the Sign of the Cross as a part of our heritage as Christians, a living symbol of discipleship, a celebration of Christ’s victory over the devil and a visible sign of our commitment to abandon self-indulgence and sin. Through the Sign of the Cross, that simplest of Catholic prayers and symbols, Bert found the impetus to grow in his faith and to embrace the rich traditions and well-defined tenets of Catholicism.
The Early Church Fathers
“To be deep in history,” said Cardinal John Henry Newman, “is to cease to be Protestant.” Such was the case for the late Deacon Alex Jones, who was a prominent Pentecostal preacher, pastoring a church in Detroit.
In the late 1980s, Pastor Jones set off to lead his congregation in a study of the early Church Fathers. The more he read Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and the writings of the early saints, the more Alex came to the startling conclusion that the Holy Mass is the same “worship service” as was celebrated in the early Church, and that the present-day Catholic Church is the same Church as the Church of the apostles.
Especially interesting to Alex along his journey was Catholic apologist Steve Ray’s popular book Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Catholic Church. At the Easter Vigil in 1991, Alex and most of his congregation were received into the Catholic Church. He went on to serve as a deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he used his preaching skills in the Office of Evangelization. Before his death in January 2017, Deacon Jones told the story of his conversion in his autobiography, No Price Too High: A Pentecostal Preacher Becomes Catholic.
A Two-Step Conversion: Physical Trauma and Intellectual Pursuit
Jeff Miller is a popular writer who blogs and tweets as the Curt Jester. He was not always deep into his faith, though, as he will attest. Following his early exposure to a weak Catholicism and a troubled family life (his parents divorced when he was in his teens), Jeff embraced atheism and what he calls “modern liberalism.”
Jeff tells a story, though, about a day that changed his life. Jeff used to ride a bike to work, and one day he saw, too late, a car barreling toward him. As the car struck him and threw him over the hood and onto the highway, Jeff was surprised — first, that he was still alive, and second, by a quick slipping away of his atheism, as he realized that had he been killed, he did not think that he would have been cast into oblivion.
With his newfound faith, however tenuous, Jeff began to study and read, focusing on the Catechism. At the same time, he was nurtured by a local Catholic radio station which broadcast EWTN programming, and Jeff’s intellectual conversion was spurred by the Q&A format of Catholic Answers Live.
As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”