Tammy Peterson’s Conversion Story: Finding God Amid the Ordeal of Illness
The wife of celebrated psychologist Jordan Peterson, soon to be received into the Catholic Church, discusses the life-changing experience that led to her conversion.
LONDON — The daily practice of the Rosary is not always easy to observe for many Catholics, as it requires time, patience and prolonged immersion in the implacable silence of interiority. This is indeed no easy task in a world of noise, entertainment and immediacy.
Yet, it was through this demanding heart-to-heart devotion to God through the Virgin Mary that Tammy Peterson first discovered the restorative power of divine love. In 2019, she was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of kidney cancer, which, statistically, she should not have survived.
In the long months of her ordeal, marked by painful physical suffering, the daily practice of the Rosary, discovered during a hospital stay, became a sanctuary from which she drew comfort and the strength to keep her gaze on Christ. Her unexplained healing following the prayers of a novena provided by a Catholic priest led her to embark on a journey of conversion that will culminate in her confirmation at Easter 2024.
The 58-year-old wife of renowned Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has made a name for herself thanks to her YouTube podcast, launched in 2022, in which she tackles the major challenges of our time through the lens of human sciences and biblical symbolism.
The Register sat down with her on the sidelines of the first Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) forum in London, an event bringing together leading political and media figures. The ARC was co-founded by Jordan Peterson, with the aim of creating a large international consortium to confront the West’s identity crisis and build an alternative to the “apocalyptic view” of the future.
You’ve just made public during this ARC gathering that you will soon be received into the Catholic Church. How did you engage in this spiritual journey?
I'm currently following a catechism course to be received into the Catholic Church at Easter in Toronto. I was baptized a Protestant when I was a baby. I went to church until I was about 12 years old, and then I stopped going. My church, the United Church of Canada, has gone very woke; some of their churches even fly rainbow flags.
When I had children, I wanted to baptize them, to go back to church, but I didn’t insist; it didn’t happen. I know that’s my own failing, but that’s how it went. My daughter [Mikhalia Peterson] has come to faith as a grown-up, and I'm grateful for that because that’s definitely my case, too, and I imagine the rest of my family will follow. I was initially drawn to Catholicism because my great-grandmother was a Polish Catholic.
I found that about her when I was sick in 2019 — my cousin sent me a rosary and said that it was my great-grandmother’s. I thought it was a great sign. I must say that, in my quest for God, I initially hesitated between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. I had doubts about the state of the Catholic Church. I wondered how healthy it was at this time in history and if the Orthodox faith was somehow more solid. It probably took me a year or two to discern. I’ve been praying the Rosary for a couple of years and have enjoyed it. I notice that my day always goes better when I do it.
I met with a Toronto teacher who has 51 years of experience and is speaking out against gender ideology and all the bad ideologies that are taught in schools. She told me about a good church close by my house, and that’s where I met with a good priest who accepted to accompany me.
So I decided that I would go through it [catechesis] and to go to Mass. I want to know everything. I want to know the meaning of every prayer, of the liturgy. For now, I’m just a bit confused, because I'm not familiar with all this; I just have to be patient. But so far, I don’t have any trouble with lessons. I agree with it all.
What was the triggering point of your spiritual quest?
When I became sick, I was told that I only had a few months to live. I came home to see my son and I told him. When I saw the grief on his face, the grief in his eyes, I realized that, for him, to lose his mother was a profound loss, much more than I would have imagined. I didn’t hold my own life as precious as he held it. And in that moment of realization, of seeing that in him, I could physically feel all kind of cynicism and self-doubt lifted off my shoulders. I felt filled with God’s love for the first time in my life. And I felt completely at peace. I wouldn’t say that I’ve felt completely at peace ever since; life is not always easy, but I have strived to keep this inner peace through prayer. I’ve practiced self-reflections and examination in order to try to recognize when self-will is getting the best of me again. And I pray to be able to get on my knees, and it works. And then I move forward that way, just doing the next great thing. And that is a so much better way to live, that I’m now completely convinced of the faith. I’m convinced of the Bible; I’m convinced of God’s love which fills me up, right from my boots to the top of my head.
Did this first encounter with God, through the perspective of imminent death, help you go through the pain afterwards?
It definitely did, and I did suffer a lot. The doctors first thought I had a treatable cancer. But then they realized that it was a very aggressive type of kidney cancer, so aggressive that no one had ever survived it, because it just metastasizes to your body and you die quickly. So it is usually diagnosed when people are already dead. I went to a number of different hospitals in the United States and in Canada, and everybody said that nothing could be done, there was no treatment, so I had to hope that surgeons could take care of it and just hope for the best. I was pretty scared the night before my surgery, and so was my husband. But since I knew that so many people were praying for me, and I just imagined they were all lined up on a nice beach and I would imagine that I “breathed in” all their prayers, I breathed them down to where the cancer was.
The surgery went really well the day after. I was cancer-free at the end of it, but there were complications afterwards. Some fluid was leaking out of my system, just filling up my body. I felt like I was literally drowning. I constantly had an external bag on my side collecting the fluid out of my body. I became very uncomfortable. I couldn’t even sit down properly.
I had to stay at the hospital for five weeks. The first week I was there, a woman came to me with a rosary and asked me to pray with her. And I said, “Yes, absolutely,” because I was already sure that God was guiding me. She was a Catholic, and she taught me to pray the Rosary. We prayed every day, at 10 in the morning, for five weeks. She came every day, and we became very close friends. She taught me how to pray the Rosary with intentions of prayer. I just did my prayers every day; I would cry and tell her my life story. It was a beautiful time. I didn't worry; I just prayed, and it filled my life.
Some nights were difficult. I was freezing because I had no body fat. But if I woke up, I would pray the Lord’s Prayer until I fell back asleep. And then I would start over the next day. My poor husband was so worried about me. And he was also suffering terribly.
One day, in June 2019, I told him, “You know, I think I’ll be better by our anniversary,” which is on Aug. 19. In August, I was sent to Philadelphia for an examination that didn’t help matters. But before I traveled there, a priest blessed me and gave me a novena for the ill that I would pray for nine days, and he told me to focus on gratitude. And that’s what I did; I was praying, obsessing on gratitude, praying the novena every day. After the first procedure failed, a second procedure was supposed to happen on the fifth day of the novena. Before the doctors took me to surgery, they checked the bag on my side and discovered, with surprise, that it was clear. They ran some tests, and I was actually cured. They pulled out my IVs and my TPM and all the painful things I had inside of me, and within half an hour, I was out of the hospital. That’s when I realized that it was my wedding anniversary, Aug. 19. I found it pretty amazing.
What has been the most inspiring discovery in your journey towards the Catholic faith so far?
The morning Rosary with intention remains the most important thing for me. It centers me, it grounds me, it puts me on my knees, so I am ready for whatever God has in store for me every day. I know that I will have challenges, and I’m okay with that. I accept that it is part of the learning process, and I have to go through it. And I think that what is happening in my life is just remarkable.
Then I’m learning about saints. I have to learn about all the saints now. I’m currently reading about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower”; that is a great discovery. I’ll keep going.
While much of your husband’s work is dedicated to helping young men make sense of their lives and reconcile with a healthy masculinity in a world where any idea associated with patriarchy is demonized, your podcast focuses very much on the feminine, on women’s challenges and on all the ideologies you find destructive to women, such as modern feminism. How did you personally decide to tackle such a difficult subject?
When I was a young girl, I don’t think that I was a good advocate for myself. And so, to make amends for the years that I had gone astray, I’m devoting myself to all women, but mostly young women, hoping that I can make amends with my younger self and help others to find themselves in this difficult world context.
Also, I think it is important to address the spread of ideologies that lead to the demoralization of men and women, inducing them not having children. There’s a statistic now showing that for all women who are 30 and don’t yet have a family, 50% of them will not have a baby. And it will be a terrible thing for most of them because they did want to become mothers. Something must be done; that’s why I started this podcast.
You’re attending this ARC conference that is seeking to bring together ideas and personalities in order to foster a cultural shift in our Western culture and also help it reconnect with its Christian roots. In such context, what is the message you’d like to convey to our readers?
I want to tell them: Stay steady with your faith, no matter what. Practice your faith. It’s very important to keep in mind that faith is a practice, not just an abstract spirituality. That’s how it works, and it will bear great fruit into your life if you practice daily.