Tag Archives: conversion

Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Church

Patrick Madrid
Sophia Institute Press, 208 pages

Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid has assembled here a collection of personal stories of men and women who have come to embrace Catholicism because her teachings on life issues transformed their hearts.

Through this book you’ll meet individuals from an array of backgrounds — among them a prostitute, a Jewish lawyer, a promiscuous victim of sexual abuse, a contracepting couple, an unwed expectant teen, and a post-abortion suicide survivor — who endured many trials and errors before they discovered the truth and entered the Catholic Church. Their stories of conversion might also edify your heart — as many conversion stories are capable of doing.

Order: Sophia Institute Press, Amazon

Fearless Witness to the World

Dr. Scott Hahn has told the story of his conversion to Catholicism countless times, but he is always happy to do it again.

“I never get tired of sharing this story of my journey of faith because even though it’s been more than 30 years it still feels like yesterday,” Hahn said. Nowadays, “I’m not asked to share that story as much as answer questions from people who are experiencing that journey now and have questions, and it’s something I find always exciting.”

Hahn, who holds the Fr. Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), is the author or editor of more than 40 books and remains a popular lecturer and speaker on scripture, theology, and the Catholic faith. Rome Sweet Home, the book he and his wife, Kimberly, wrote about their conversion experiences, has sold millions of copies in more than 30 languages since it was first published in 1993.

The Hahns were Presbyterian students at an evangelical seminary near Boston in the early 1980s when they became convinced that contraception was morally wrong — a position Protestant churches had abandoned in the 1930s. That led Scott on an academic journey in which he came to question the foundational tenets of the Reformation, sola fide (“faith alone”) and sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), and to embrace the Catholic concept of covenant.

Later, while pastor of a Presbyterian congregation and a seminary teacher, he continued to be drawn increasingly to the truths of the Catholic faith. He presented his theological and biblical arguments to fellow Protestant scholars, hoping they would dissuade him. Some offered unsatisfactory answers. Some wound up converting to Catholicism ahead of him.

It was a gradual, inexorable journey. “I felt like I was knocked off my horse in slow motion over a three-year period,” Hahn said. “By the time I hit the ground I was scared, I was startled, but I was also very excited.”

The process was difficult also for Kimberly, whose father and uncle were Presbyterian ministers. It strained their marriage after Scott, with Kimberly’s consent, entered the Church in 1986. But Kimberly herself would convert four years later and join him as another powerful apologist for the CAtholic faith. Their marriage grew stronger than ever: They have now been wed 38 years and have six children and 15 grandchildren.

Fear: A Bad Investment

Hahn will be a keynoter at the 2018 Legatus Summit to be held January 25-27 in Orlando, Fla. The conference theme, “Be Not Afraid,” is a biblical admonition that was a signature phrase for St. John Paul II.

“I’ve heard recently that that phrase ‘be not afraid’ occurs 365 times in Sacred Scripture, which seems so fitting because you’ve got one for every day of the year,” Hahn noted. “Every single day, when you wake up, you have a new set of challenges that could easily cause you to give in to fear.”

God sends challenges our way, but He always gives us the grace we need to overcome them by living out our faith, he said. “A perfect love casts out all fear,” he added. “So we’ve got to really allow our love to grow and become perfected so that we trust more than we fear.”

Business leaders are not immune to such fear, Hahn said. Everyone has work-related concerns, whether it’s fear of losing to a competitor, losing in investments, or losing a job.

“Fear charges a great deal of interest but pays no dividends,” he said. If we view things from an eternal perspective, however, recognizing God as our Father and heaven as our lasting home, it can help us keep “kind of a loose grip” on earthly things that we are responsible for as stewards.

It also means keeping professional goals in perspective. “If you lose the world but gain your soul, you have gained everything,” said Hahn. “But if you gain the world but lose your soul, then everything is a failure, even all of your apparent successes.”

Evangelizing Through Friendship

Part of our baptismal commitment is to care for other souls through evangelization – a word that can strike fear in our hearts if we don’t know how to go about it or confuse it with soapbox preaching.

Protestants see evangelization as leading others to a personal relationship with Christ. That’s certainly very important, Hahn said, but it’s only the beginning, like a man and woman on a first date. The real purpose of evangelization from a Catholic perspective is to bring people into a covenant relationship, such as develops and continually deepens over time in a marriage commitment.

The “new evangelization” described by recent popes involves reaching those who are baptized but have strayed from the faith, Hahn said. We meet these fallen-away Catholics everywhere, in our workplace and neighborhood — which presents opportunities to evangelize.

“For us as Catholics, the principal form of evangelization is not preaching on the job during the coffee break, but establishing friendship, pursuing excellence in our work, reaching out to coworkers,” he explained. “It’s sharing the joy that we have from knowing our Lord and Our Lady, and the fact that we are in the family of God.”

Such friendships can stimulate conversations about faith that lead coworkers on the path back to the Church, he said. “They’re just looking for answers, looking for a friend who could help them find their way.”

Catholics commonly fear we aren’t capable of answering objections to the Catholic faith or citing Scripture verses to support her teachings. While it’s good to pursue those answers, “to share with others the joy that we have found is more effective than whatever counter-arguments or ‘proof texts’ we can memorize and deploy,” Hahn said. “In that way, evangelization becomes perfectly natural.”

Reclaiming Marriage as Covenant

At the Legatus Summit, Hahn will speak on “The First Society: The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and The Social Order.” The First Society is also the title of his new book due for a January release by Emmaus Road.

Matrimony, he emphasized, is not a contract, nor is it a human institution. It is a covenant, and it was designed by God at the beginning of creation. Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament, which gives us grace in order to transform us.

“A sacrament is what God does to make up for what we lack, to give us all we need to be faithful to what he calls us to be,” he said. “Being a sacrament doesn’t make matrimony easy, [but] the sacramentality of marriage is what makes lifelong fidelity possible.”

Restoring this understanding of marriage as a covenant, Hahn said, is “an essential part of the new evangelization,” particularly in a time when the institution of marriage is being sullied by rampant divorce, infidelity, contraception and same-sex relationships.

The answer, he said, lies in “reclaiming the sacramentality of marriage,” and entrusting to God “the task of rebuilding us, our lives, our marriages, our families and our society.”

Societal change “will be the net effect of enough Catholics allowing God to really transform us,” said Hahn. “I think that once He awakens the sleeping giant of faithful American Catholics and makes us more truly faithful, then the side effect will be a transformed society.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus Magazine staff writer

Why not Father Scott Hahn?

A 1980 pastoral provision established by Pope John Paul II makes it possible for married former Episcopal and Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism to seek ordination as Catholic priests. For married clergy of other Christian denominations who “swim the Tiber,” there is a separate potential pathway by which a diocesan bishop may petition Rome on the minister’s behalf for a dispensation from the celibacy requirement. In either instance, additional theological formation and certain limitations apply.

Today there are some 120 married priests serving in the Roman Catholic Church who once were clergy in the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian communions. Occasionally people ask why Dr. Scott Hahn, the popular Catholic apologist and theologian who was once a Presbyterian minister, is not among them.

“It was something I did consider, and I talked it over with Kimberly when she came into the Church as well,” Hahn said. He also has had conversations in more recent years with various bishops and priests. To date, however, “I have not felt such a calling.”

Hahn explained that for the past 27 years he has been a supernumerary of Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church that provides spiritual formation to lay men and women to help them seek personal holiness and do apostolic work in the midst of ordinary life.

“The thing I enjoy most about being a Catholic is my life as a lay person,” he said. “I have the sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage, and these give to me a really clear sense of apostolate. I don’t have to be numbered among the clergy to do apostolic work.”

He noted how some colleagues who have become married Catholic priests “describe their lives as sort of committing bigamy, where you have one wife and family but your congregation is like another wife and bigger family.” It’s a kind of “tug of war” that he felt even in his own days as a Presbyterian clergyman.

While Hahn looks back on his years of clerical ministry with gratitude, he sees “the gift of celibacy and the celibate priesthood as an even greater gift.”

So does his family, apparently: two of his sons are presently in the seminary preparing for the priesthood.

American Bandstand Star Revived by Faith

Robert Louis Ridarelli found fame at an early age as teen idol Bobby Rydell, but through his successful recording and performing career, he has never forgotten his Catholic faith.

“I’ve always had my faith in my religion and my God,” said Rydell, who is still singing at 75 and will appear at January’s Legatus Summit in Orlando, Fla. Remembered for his role in the 1963 film version of Bye Bye Birdie and known for such Top 40 hits as “Kissin’ Time,” “Wild One” and “Volare,” Rydell sold more than 25 million records during his career.

Philly Catholic Strong

Whenever he goes on stage, however, he remembers his Catholic roots, making the sign of the cross and kissing a crucifix ring on his right pinky finger. He first saw and admired such a ring on fellow Catholic entertainer Perry Como, and when he spied one in a shop in Italy, he bought it, put it on and has never removed it. It reminds him of the faith in which he was formed while growing up in South Philadelphia, where he served Mass as an altar boy and attended Catholic schools.

That same faith later rescued him from a bout with alcohol addiction following the death of his first wife, Camille, in 2003. During it, he said, “vodka became a very dear friend, to the point that it was excessive.” He would never drink before performing, but took refuge in the bottle afterward. “It finally caught up with me,” he said, adding that when he developed cirrhosis of the liver and renal failure, “I think it was God’s plan to put me in a position where I had to really stop, look, listen, look at my face in the mirror and say, ‘what are you doing?’” Rydell believes God gave him another chance. “He helped me to understand what I did, how I almost killed myself with liquor and being an alcoholic. Now I’m fine and I thank God every day.”

On the Brink

In 2012, however, Rydell’s health was such that he would not have survived without a double-organ transplant. He was preparing his second wife, Linda, for his death when he got a call from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia telling him that a kidney and liver were available. Going into the 20-hour surgery, Rydell knew he had only a 50-50 chance, but all went well and six months later, he was performing in Las Vegas.

That a compatible donor was found for him bordered on the miraculous because Rydell’s blood type was O-positive, meaning he could only accept an organ from an O-positive donor. Equally amazing was that 14 people on the list ahead of him had turned down the liver he received because it was to have been split between two recipients. Rydell shared the liver with a 4-year-old girl.

Today, Rydell continues to perform solo and as part of the Golden Boys with fellow teen idols Fabian (Fabiano Anthony Forte) and Frankie Avalon (Francis Thomas Avallone). The three, who grew up together in South Philadelphia, formed the act in 1985, expecting it to last a year or two, but 30-plus years later, it is still going strong. “Frankie has a line,” Rydell said. “He says, ‘Look at the three of us. We were three guys who hung out on a street corner in Philly and now we’re hanging out on stage together.’ We have a ball and people in the audience can see it.”

It was Avalon, Rydell recalled, who helped him get his first big break when he asked him to sit in for an ailing drummer with Rocco and the Saints, a dance band that played at local parishes, the Sons of Italy Hall and school sock hops. The job landed him an offer from manager Frankie Day, who arranged auditions with several recording labels, including Cameo Records. After three records that flopped, Rydell was about to give up on singing when Bernie Lowe, Cameo’s president, penned the song, “Kissin’ Time.” It became his first Top 40 hit and he went on to record 18 more.

Strength of Family

Although, as he relates in his recently published biography, Teen Idol on the Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances, Rydell’s life has not been trouble-free, he credits growing up in a closeknit Italian family with helping him avoid many of the pitfalls experienced by today’s young entertainers. He said it helped, too, that his progression into show business was such that he didn’t become an overnight sensation. For example, his father started taking him to night clubs to sing and do impersonations when he was 7, giving him time to prepare for bigger venues. He didn’t record his first Top 40 hit until he was 17 and he was 20 when he played opposite Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie.

Amid his success, Rydell said he has always remembered the advice Bernie Lowe gave him when he was 17: “You meet the same people coming up the ladder as you do coming down.”

“That always stuck in my head. To this day, I’m just a normal guy. I love what I do, but I love being home, too.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path Through the Riddles of God

Derya Little
Ignatius Press, 204 pages

Conversion stories often make good narratives, and this one is no exception. Born and raised in Turkey, Derya Little was still an adolescent when she rejected her Muslim faith, embraced atheism, and then lost her moral compass. During her college years in Istanbul, she met an American woman whose friendship and conversation challenged her beliefs and led her on the difficult path to Christianity. Eventually, her search for the fullness of truth led her to the Catholic Church. Little’s eloquent descriptions of her interior struggles, fears and joys in each step of her journey make this inspiring reading.

Night’s Bright Darkness


Sally Read

Ignatius Press, 2016
152 pages, paperback $17.95

In the space of nine months, Sally Read went from being a staunch atheist to a devout Catholic. The British poet’s conversion is nothing short of miraculous. Feminist, atheist and deeply anti-Catholic, she was writing a book about women’s sexuality when, during her research, she spoke with a Catholic priest. That encounter led her on a dramatic journey of spiritual quest.

Read confronts head-on the burning question for God that every true Christian harbors: What do You want me to do? In an age of increasing secularism, her book takes us to the core of what the Church is all about: Christ and the yearning to be near Him.

Order: Ignatius PressAmazon

Finding the fullness of truth

As a Catholic convert, Kevin Lowry feels like he’s been adopted by a wealthy family and brought to live in a mansion. “You’re just overwhelmed — like a kid in a candy store,” said Lowry, a member of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter.

Spreading the faith

Kevin and Kathryn Lowry are members of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter

Kevin and Kathryn Lowry are members of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter

Lowry and other converts like Murray and Patty Neilson, members of Legatus’ Vancouver Chapter, say they’ve found in the Catholic Church a rich treasure that has given them a new understanding and experience of the Christian faith.

Catholicism “not only has the fullness of truth, but it’s the most effective means that I have ever experienced to help me grow in holiness,” Lowry said.

“I’m happier and more fulfilled and have a real interest to learn more about the saints and the mysteries of the faith,” Murray Neilson said. “I have a real hunger to learn more and I don’t know that I had that as a Protestant.”

His wife Patty, an interior designer, agrees. “One of the biggest things that happened for me was understanding that Catholics worship God in all the senses. I had grown up worshiping God from the head, but not eyes and ears and touch. I’m creative and the beauty of the Church expressing itself resonated deeply with me.”

Murray and Patty Neilson pose with Legatus founder Tom Monaghan and Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller at the chapter’s chartering on March 3, 2016

Murray and Patty Neilson pose with Legatus founder Tom Monaghan and Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller at the chapter’s chartering on March 3, 2016

Even before they converted, Murray, a financial services and business development professional, said that he and his wife were so moved by the beauty of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist that they would kneel and weep during Communion. To this day, they love going to Mass and, since coming into the Church in 1995, have never missed on Sundays, even when it has required great effort.

“We have hopped on boats to get off an island and get to the mainland just so we could go to Mass,” Murray said.

As former evangelical Protestants, the Lowrys and the Neilsons find it easy to share their love of the Church with fellow Catholics and others.

Lowry, the chief financial officer for a digital marketing company, is spreading the good news through speaking, writing and his website, GratefulConvert.com. In July, Our Sunday Visitor published his latest book, How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church.

After years of being active in an evangelical church they helped found, the Neilsons are mainly devoting their efforts to their parish and Catholic causes. In addition, Patty has started Women and Wine on the Veranda, a women’s Bible study. Murray is hoping to offer an Alpha class at their parish to give cradle Catholics an opportunity to explore the basics of the faith. The Neilsons, who have helped bring at least six people into the Church, are joined in their mission by their adult children — one of whom was instrumental in their conversion.

Steubenville connection

Coincidentally for Lowry and the Neilsons, all Canadians, the road to Catholicism started at a small Catholic college in Ohio — Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Lowry’s father Doug, who then was a Presbyterian minister, had read about the school and suggested it for his son. Kevin readily agreed, but not because he was interested in Franciscan’s faith element. Having graduated from high school early, he merely wanted to get away from home and have a good time — a track that eventually led to his expulsion. However, after working for four years, he returned to earn a degree in business, in the process receiving sound instruction in the Catholic faith.

When, after graduating, he began to consider becoming Catholic, Lowry decided to seek out former Presbyterian minister Scott Hahn, a convert who had just begun teaching at Franciscan.

“The first thing he started doing was like writing a prescription with the names of books I needed to read,” Lowry recalled, “and then he pulled out a rosary.”

In writing about his conversion story, Lowry said, “the medicine worked.” He read the books and prayed the rosary as he and his wife Kathi, also a Protestant and Franciscan alum, went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program.

Lowry, who entered the Church with his wife in 1992, credits the rosary with helping him overcome the remaining obstacles he faced as he began to look more deeply at Catholicism.

“Becoming Catholic, going from Presbyterian to Catholic, is almost like changing your worldview and it doesn’t happen easily or quickly. That’s where I believe Mary’s intercession was decisive. It was the change of heart. That’s what the rosary did for me. I still can’t explain it. I just know that it happened and how real it was.”

Breaking down prejudice

Murray and Patty Neilson find great joy in their children and grandchildren

Murray and Patty Neilson find great joy in their children and grandchildren

The Neilsons’ conversion was influenced by their son Kyle, who entered the Church after going to graduate school at Franciscan University. Patty said Kyle had become curious about Catholicism while studying at a Protestant university and was especially struck by the fact that the Church had been around for 2,000 years without fracturing. “It made sense to him that something had stayed the course,” she said.

Patty said that as she and her son started talking, “I was afraid for him. I had all the biases of many other people who say the pope is the antichrist and Catholics are not really Christians — they just sin and go to Confession and do the same thing again.”

She also thought Catholics didn’t know the Bible and that they believed they were saved by works, not faith. “I said I didn’t want him to do this, but being me, I got some books to read.” Thinking she could gather enough information to save Kyle, she was surprised to discover that what she read made sense to her.

Murray responded similarly. He took Kyle to some theologian friends hoping they would talk him out of his affinity for Catholicism but, he said, “They had no problem with him becoming a Catholic.”

Kyle converted, as did his wife Denise, and went on to study at Franciscan. When his parents visited him, they were surprised to find 3,000 students on fire with their faith. “And they were Catholic!” Murray said. Patty continued to read and even sat in on some of Kyle’s classes. Neither identified any deal-breakers or bad theology.

“We were just ignorant and prejudiced,” Murray said.

After earning his master’s degree from Franciscan, Kyle returned home and began teaching RCIA classes. Among his first students were his parents. By that time, his older brother Adam and his wife Sarah had become Catholic. Two years after his parents entered the Church, his sister Brie, who is married to a cradle Catholic, converted.

Lowry’s story also ended happily with his parents’ conversion in 1993.

“I’ve had people say converts make the best Catholics,” Lowry said, “but I disagree. There are benefits to both the convert and the cradle Catholic. Converts bring enthusiasm and a sense of discovery, but the cradle Catholic has the benefit of growing up in a sacramental, beautiful, incredible church and absorbing the culture in a way you don’t when you are a convert. This Easter, it will be 25 years for me, and I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

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Kicking and Screaming

Kevin Lowry
Our Sunday Visitor, 2016
160 pages, paperback $15.95

This book’s full title is a mouthful: How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church. However, you’d expect nothing less from Lowry, a member of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter.

The former preacher’s kid at a Catholic university recalls settling into a double major in beer and billiards, followed by uncomfortable run-ins with pious students and failing grades. After getting his act together, he got the MBA, and also got the girl. Meanwhile, God was drawing him to the inevitable conclusion that Catholicism was true despite his objections. Lowry’s journey to Catholicism is fascinating, often funny, and demonstrates God’s unfailing love for us all.

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Our Sunday Visitor

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

Laura Haslam and family of the Savannah Chapter.

Laura Haslam and family of the Savannah Chapter.

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?”

homerome-meyer

Kurt Meyer and family of the South Bend-Elkhart Chapter.

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.”

Personal sacrifice

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.

homerome-turicchi

Scott and Lannette Turicchi of the Hollywood and Pasadena chapters.

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.

Fantastic journey

homerome-pierce

Mark Pierce of the Cleveland Chapter.

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.

sinise-veterans

Rallying the troops

GARY SINISE talks about his conversion and his passion for aiding wounded vets . . .

cover-dec14Gary Sinise had one foot in the Catholic Church more than 15 years before he signed up for RCIA. Even though he was raised in an unchurched Chicago- area family, Sinise wore his brother-in-law’s rosary around his neck while filming his role as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump.

In that Oscar-nominated role, Sinise wore the rosary — with a St. Christopher medal inscribed with “Protect Us In Combat” — and dog tags belonging to Jack Treese, his wife’s brother who served as a Vietnam combat medic in the late 1960s.

A few years after wrapping his most famous film role, Sinise and his wife Moira were driving to Charlotte, N.C., in an effort to outrun a hurricane and catch a plane to safer ground.

“She was already thinking of going through the RCIA program,” Sinise explained in a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles. “It’s raining and the storm is coming in, and we’re trying to outrun this hurricane. She turned to me and said that when we got home she was going to become a Catholic and our kids were going to go to Catholic school.

“All I knew about Catholic school at that point was from some of my Catholic buddies who said nuns were scary and that kind of thing,” he said. “So I’m like, ‘Catholic school? No. We just moved, and there’s a public school across the street — and it’s free!’”

Coming home

Moira Sinise made good on her promise to become Catholic. She entered an RCIA program and enrolled the couple’s three children in a local Catholic school. The family began going to Mass together, and the actor soon started noticing changes in his family.

sinise-2

Gary Sinise was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994 for his role as Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump”

“Back in the late ’90s, we had gone through some very dark times in our family with alcohol,” he explained. “My wife had recently given up drinking and became Catholic, and I had started to see just how positive it was for our kids being in the Catholic school — compared to the public school — as we were bumping over that period of time. It became a kind of comforting place. Even though I wasn’t Catholic, I was grateful for this little school and the Church and what it was providing for our family.”

Meanwhile, his career was on a role. After Forrest Gump picked up six Academy Awards — including Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Sinise — he went on to star in Apollo 13, The Green Mile and Ransom before landing the lead role as Detective Mac Taylor in the CBS drama CSI: NY.

During this time, Sinise says his perception of Catholicism began to change radically. He sought out a priest who took him through a private RCIA program. Then, on Christmas Eve 2010, the actor was ready to spring a life-changing surprise on his family.

“I asked everybody to dress up and put on good clothes,” he said. “We were on our way to Morton’s Steakhouse, and I pulled into the church parking lot and my wife said, ‘What are we doing here? Aren’t we going to dinner?’

“I said, ‘We’re stopping here for a minute.’ The priest was there and he officially confirmed me with just my family — just my three kids and my wife. We had it all set up to surprise them and then we went out to dinner.”

Faith and service

Sinise received critical acclaim for his role as Detective Mac Taylor in “CSI:NY”

Sinise received critical acclaim for his role as Detective Mac Taylor in “CSI:NY”

Sinise — who headlines the Annual Legatus Summit Jan. 29-31 in Naples, Fla. —  says his journey to the Catholic Church went hand-in-glove with his passion for serving the troops — and in particular wounded veterans.

“Because of the Vietnam veterans on my wife’s side of the family — including my brother-in-law Jack — I started focusing on Vietnam veterans in the early ’80s,” he explained. “I started talking to them, learning what they’d done in the war and how things were when they got home. That started me thinking a lot.”

When Sinise had the opportunity in 1993 to audition for Lt. Dan opposite Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, he jumped at it.

“I wanted that role very badly because I had been involved with Vietnam veterans for 10 years prior to that,” he said. “I was lucky that I was given that part. That’s how I got involved with our wounded, because I was playing a wounded soldier and that led me to getting involved with the Disabled American Veterans organization. That’s lasted 20 years now.”

But it wasn’t until after the 9/11 attacks that the Academy Award nominee really ramped up his efforts to aid the troops.

“I felt this calling, very clear calling as to where my service efforts could be most effective,” he explained. “I remember standing in the church a few days after Sept. 11. The church was packed and the priest was very moving. I was crying through all that stuff. I felt this calling to use what I had to support our men and women who are serving.”

The actor established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, which raises funds to build custom “smart homes” for America’s severely wounded heroes. Each home features automated amenities to help wounded vets restore their everyday independence. By the end of 2014, the foundation will have begun or finished 30 smart homes.

sinise-3Sinise also raises awareness and funds for wounded vets through his other passion — music.

He got his first guitar in fourth grade. “We would just put records on and have concerts in our living room for the neighborhood kids who would watch us lip-synch to Beach Boys records,” he said. “And then eventually I learned how to play a little bit. I was playing in bands from sixth grade all the way up to my early 20s.”

His Lt. Dan Band has performed for more than 300,000 troops and their families in the U.S., Belgium, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others. They have performed in more than 60 USO tours and 140 USO concerts. The band plays 30 to 40 shows each year, with 75% of those shows for charities, benefits or the USO.

Sinise’s passion for service is born from his love of country and from his Catholic faith. But it also flows from his profound admiration for those who selflessly lay down their lives to keep America free.

When Sinise was in Afghanistan a few years ago, he had the chance to watch the preparations at Bagram Air Field for an angel flight, which takes fallen soldiers home.

“I walked with the general onto the plane and the casket was there covered with an American flag,” he said. “We knelt down by the casket and had a moment. This happened over and over with the soldiers who were there before the flight took off. I’ve had lots of very moving, important moments that have played a significant role in me trying to keep awareness up as to what our men and women in uniform are going through.

“It’s very much part of the same thing — the veterans’ work and the Catholic faith journey,” he said. “Service work, charitable giving and all that selfless sacrifice are so much part of the faith.”

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

 

Your invitation to the 2015 Summit

The clock is ticking down to Legatus’ 2015 Summit — and excitement is building toward the Jan. 29-31 event at The Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples, Fla. Because a capacity crowd of more than 500 participants is anticipated, organizers suggest booking a room as early as possible.

“The schedule is full of speakers that will entertain, educate and enrich our spiritual lives,” said Laura Sacha, Legatus’ conference director. “Hosted by Legatus’ Indianapolis Chapter, the Summit’s theme — Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s — is timely given the tremendous attack on religious liberty from today’s secular culture.”

The Summit’s roster of speakers and special guests is impressive:
Bret Baier, host of Fox News’ Special Report
• Legates Peter & Marilyn Coors, Coors Brewing Co.
• Author Chris Crowley
Paul Darrow, Courage ministry
Bishop Frank Dewane, Diocese of Venice
• New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan
• Comedian Tom Dreesen
Jennifer Fulwiler, author and convert
• Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
Al Kresta, Ave Maria Radio
• Actor and activist Gary Sinise
Fr. Robert Sirico, Acton Institute founder
Pam Stenzel, Chastity author and activist

A special exhibit of artifacts and memorabilia that once belonged to St. Mother Theodore Guerin will be on display. Thomas Aquinas College hosts a discussion seminar about the meaning and importance of Dignitatus Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, and the annual Legatus golf outing takes place at Tiburon.

For more details, click here or call (866) 534-2887.