Tom Peterson knows the exact date his life changed forever.
June 11, 1997.
It was the date of my spiritual reversion,” Peterson, 58, a member of the Legatus Atlanta Chapter, said.
Peterson, who never missed Mass but said he did not make God his first priority, went on a married men’ s weekend retreat. That weekend, the Holy Spirit touched his heart and gave him an ”epiphany of faith” that led him to understand that his priorities were not in right order.
A couple of months later, while attending daily Mass, Peterson asked God what He wanted him to do with his life. That night, Peterson said he had two dreams, one pertaining to the prolife movement, and the other focused on evangelization.
The next morning, Peterson’ s two apostolates were born: VirtueMedia and Catholics Come Home.
Many thousands respond to ‘evangomercials,‘ TV show
“It’s been an exciting adventure, definitely fueled by the Holy Spirit,” said Peterson, whose betterknown apostolate, Catholics Come Home, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In those two decades, hundreds of thousands of lapsed and fallenaway Catholics have seen the apostolate’s commercials – “evangomercials” – on television welcoming them home to the Church.
Dioceses that have partnered with Catholics Come Home have reported seeing increases of tens of thousands of people returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Mass after the apostolate began airing its commercials on local television.
Millions of people around the world have visited the apostolate’s website. Peterson also hosts a Catholics Come Home primetime television show on EWTN, where he spotlights reversion stories of people who embraced their Catholic faith after years of being away from the Church.
“Our messages have always been positive,” Peterson said. “They’ve been inviting. They’ve been merciful, and we use the tone that Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount. We have found that they’ve been very effective because people don’t find them judgmental or condemning. They find them hopeful and inviting.”
Former ad exec, several legates turn talents toward Christ
Peterson has been a member of Legatus for more than 17 years. He helped found the Legatus chapters in Phoenix and Atlanta, holding leadership positions for both chapters. He was on the Legatus’ International Board of Governors for two terms, where he served as vice chairman. Peterson began Catholics Come Home after a 25- year career as an award-winning ad executive.
Several Legates have played key roles in making Catholics Come Home to become a successful apostolate. Legates Jack Hake from the St. Louis Chapter and Russ Scaramella from the Phoenix Chapter are advisory board members for Catholics Come Home. Robert Trussell Jr., a Legatus member in Lexington, Kentucky and founder of Tempur-Pedic, is the chairman of Catholics Come Home. David Fischer from the Fort Worth Chapter is the apostolate’s treasurer.
“Scripture tells us, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” Peterson said. “Many of us Legates have been blessed with incredible intellect, business savvy, talents, and gifts. Through the vision of Tom Monaghan and through the Legatus infrastructure, we have a group of like-minded people to bolster our hope and pave a way for us to be more sacrificial and more energetic and passionate in sharing our faith with these God-given talents He’s given us.”
Ad efficacy tested first – proof in the pudding since
Peterson used his advertising talents in launching Catholics Come Home’s first test campaign in Phoenix in 1998. After that initial campaign, local pastors reported seeing several thousand people return to the sacraments.
“We tested the effectiveness of the ads through focus groups and dial testing. It was scoring very highly so we knew it was safe, and it could be effective to run the ads,” Peterson said. “And then when we did, we saw that tens of thousands of people were coming back to church.”
Several years later, a Catholics Come Home campaign drive motivated as many as 92,000 Catholics to return to Mass in Phoenix.
“I am deeply grateful to Catholics Come Home for the projects they have undertaken in support of the Church and of virtuous living. I highly recommend them,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in a testimony posted on the apostolate’s website.
Around 37,000 Catholics reportedly returned home to the Church after the Catholics Come Home campaign ran in the Archdiocese of St. Louis during Advent 2011. That translated to an 8.3 percent overall increase in local Mass attendance.
“I can’t tell you how many times Catholic families shared with me how proud they were when they saw the commercials talking about our Catholic faith,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis said in a testimony also posted on the apostolate website.
“We are thrilled when one person comes home and responds to us, or checks out our website,” Peterson said. “But it’s also heart-warming to see such large numbers when we partner with archdioceses or dioceses around the world who welcome them home to the sacramental church in their parish family”
Evangelizing means not being afraid – but Christ-like
Peterson noted that Catholics Come Home was founded during the pontificate of Pope St. Pope John Paul II, who called for a New Evangelization and asked Catholic organizations during Jubilee 2000 to reach out to inactive Catholics and welcome them back into the life of the Church.
“John Paul II reminded us not to be afraid,” Peterson said. “That phrase is a similar call to arms that is in the Bible at least 365 times, one for every day of the year. It’s there to remind us, with all the scandals and other challenges of secularism, that now is not the time to cower in fear. Now is the time to boldly preach the Gospel, the good news of Christ, to those who are drowning in secularism and who need this message of hope.”
Person said he has found that most people fall away from the Church after becoming distracted by life’s demands. Over time, they slowly drift away and stop attending Mass. Many of them do not have deep-seated animosity toward the Catholic faith. They just need someone to invite them home.
“The invitation is critical,” Peterson said.
For people who are estranged from the Church because of trauma related to sex abuse or other deeply personal reasons, Peterson said God calls upon Catholics to show them love and warmth, to provide a listening ear and a compassionate attitude; in short, to be Christ- like.
Ramping global message – effort for hope in Christ
“Now is not a time for despair. Now is a time to ramp up our enthusiasm and our efforts, knowing full well that Christ has already won the war,” said Peterson, who added that Catholics Come Home plans to ramp up its evangelizing efforts in the coming years.
Peterson added that the apostolate has plans to expand internationally, publish more books, and release a web app designed to help people identify and combat the hidden vices in their lives, to focus on building their will power and strengthening virtue.
Peterson said one of his most important messages in his evangelization efforts is, “Don’t lose hope. With God, all things are possible.” In many of his talks, Peterson begins with a phrase attributed to St. Teresa of Avila.
“Jesus has so many enemies and too few friends. It’s important for us, his few friends, to be good friends,” Peterson said. “Doesn’t that tie in with the message of Legatus, to be ambassadors for Christ, to study, live, and share the faith?”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer
Real Catholics who’ve come home
Michael Mark (and his father, age 90), in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Michael left the faith when his mother died and he felt God didn’t answer prayers to heal her. He returned after years of substance abuse, after seeing a Catholics Come Home ad, crying, and feeling God’s healing mercy in Confession and in his parish. Now he is like “Mother Teresa” giving care to homeless men in a hospice run by the archdiocese.
Chris Ahrens, Denton Texas, former Marine and Firefighter. After having a son, he felt he was disciplined in everything but faith. He visited Catholics Come Home website and began his journey back to faith. Soon after returning, he helped his mother come home to her Catholic faith, too.
Daniel Bui, University of TexasAustin grad living in Houston, high school teacher. Daniel was raised in Vietnam in a Buddhist family that converted to Protestant Christianity when they moved to Texas. Upon looking deeper into faith, he discovered the truth of Catholicism and now serves at Latin Masses. He also has discerned the priesthood.
Thomas Manns, Vancouver BC, Canada. When his girlfriend left him after high school, Thomas became a loner, a literal hermit. He was struck by a car, and nearly killed. Upon reading the Catholics Come Home book, Thomas returned to church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and traveled out of his city for the first time in decades, including attending a Catholic men’s conference.