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
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.”
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.
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
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.