Finding a home with Rome
Four Legatus members talk about their inspired journey into the Catholic Church . . .
Mark Pierce thought Catholics were going to hell.
Laura Haslam found them stiff and unwelcoming.
Kurt Meyer was uncomfortable with the way Catholics showed their faith through practices like the sign of the cross.
And Lannette Turicchi had trouble understanding their devotion to Mary and the saints.
All four Legates overcame prejudices, misconceptions, doubts and fears and entered the Church from other Christian traditions — and each has gone on to become a devout follower of the faith.
Praying to statues
Pierce, founder of E5 Leader, a leadership mentoring and coaching company, was raised Southern Baptist. A member of Legatus’ Cleveland Chapter, he converted in 1992, more than 10 years after he married his Catholic wife, Linda. When they married, he promised not to interfere with her practice of the faith and to raise their children Catholic.
When he went to Mass with her, he recalled, “I would sit in the back pew with my arms crossed thinking, ‘They’re all going to hell because they’re praying to statues.’ It was a freaky thing for me. At times I wondered what I had gotten myself into.”
But through his wife’s witness, Pierce said, “I got to meet a God who was giving and loving, not crushing.” His heart was also softened by the Catholics he met and especially the priests who had given up life (as he thought men were meant to live it) to dedicate themselves to serving God and others.
Pierce started asking questions and, when he was asked to be his niece’s Godfather, he told his wife he wanted to investigate conversion. “The next thing I knew I was in RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults].”
For Meyer, who grew up in South Bend, Ind., awed by the golden dome and the basilica at the University of Notre Dame, the path from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod into the Catholic Church was much easier. When his then-fiancée, Julie, asked him to convert while both were students at Ball State University, he said, “Great! Where do I sign up?”
Haslam, a former Baptist, converted because of her marriage to a Catholic, but not until two years after their wedding. After much prayer, Haslam said she made the decision to join the Catholic Church because she wanted to be unified with her husband John in their religious belief and practice.
“I just knew it was something I needed to do and that it was important for our marriage.”
Turicchi, who had been exposed to multiple Christian traditions, converted while she was dating the Catholic man she later married. The decision to enter the Church, she said, had to be right for her and separate from her connection to anyone else.
“Ultimately, it was about my relationship with God and trying to define faith,” she said.
One of the first things Turicchi learned about becoming Catholic from the priest who prepared her was that her choice might divide her family.
“And it did,” she said. “When you embrace the Catholic faith, you have to embrace the teachings and there are some things you can no longer participate in.”
For her, this included having to tell her sister that she could not stay with her boyfriend in their house at Christmas.
Turicchi, who with her husband Scott belongs to Legatus’ Hollywood and Pasadena chapters, said she sometimes gets frustrated with Catholics who take their faith for granted.
“I sacrificed something to be Catholic,” she explained. “There is a price to pay. It’s a hard concept that your family and your faith are at odds.”
Pierce, Meyer, and Haslam had similar experiences. After his conversion, Pierce said, most of his family told him they would pray that he wouldn’t go to hell. However, his father attended his reception into the Church and both his parents came to a party for him the next day. Others in his family have essentially disowned him.
Meyer, who is president of Legatus’ South Bend-Elkhart Chapter in Indiana, said his mother went to the Easter Vigil when he entered the Church and cried through the whole service. His father was too distraught to attend.
“I had no idea it was going to be that impactful to them,” he explained. “I didn’t think it was that big a change.”
Haslam’s parents also had a difficult time with her decision because, she said, “they had tried so hard to raise me being Baptist.” But once they saw that she was serious about Catholicism and had embraced it for the sake of her marriage and family, they gave their support.
Despite the conviction she felt about becoming Catholic, Haslam, a member of Legatus’ Savannah Chapter, confesses to having struggled with the difference between the typical Catholic parish and the Baptist church where she grew up.
“As Baptists, we enjoy each other’s company and everyone knows each other, and there is such fellowship,” she explained. “In the Catholic Church, people do their thing and move on. There’s more of a stiffness.”
Haslam and her family have since moved to a parish that is more welcoming.
These converts struggled with particular Catholic teachings, especially those on Mary and the saints. Pierce said these were among the biggest issues for him.
“Something brilliant happened when a priest said to me, ‘Mark, in your old faith, did you ask anybody to pray for you?’” The priest likened praying to Mary and the saints to requesting intercessory prayer. “Once I knew that, I thought, ‘I’ve been doing that all my life. Now I can ask the really important people who can make a difference.’”
Turicchi, who works in the film industry as owner of Falling Upwards Productions, said she also struggled with the role of Mary and the saints and had to accept some teachings on faith, and then work through them.
Despite the difficulties they’ve encountered, Pierce and the others say their conversions have borne much fruit.
Haslam said that when she and her husband lost a baby in 2006, the people they had met through the Church surrounded them with support. “It helped me to know we were in the right place.”
Having had what she calls “an amazing life,” Turicchi said, “I just know it would have been different — and not for the better — had I not become Catholic.”
Pierce says his conversion aided the growth he has seen in his business, his marriage, and his relationship with God. “Everything in my life began to blossom.”
Meyer, who is vice president of human resources for St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, Ind., said the Catholic faith has nurtured his family and, he believes, protected his children when they went to public schools. His oldest son Jacob is now a diocesan priest in Fort Wayne.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Meyer. “My faith has made the other aspects of my life — physical and mental — much richer because I have a great depth in the spiritual life.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.