The ultimate call-back
Legate Tom Peterson’s Catholics Come Home ministry is rebuilding the flock . . .
Mary Bane left the Catholic Church 10 years ago, but all it took was a 30-second television commercial to call her home.
The invitation came from former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz. The ad was produced by the Catholics Come Home apostolate founded by Atlanta Legate and former advertising executive Tom Peterson.
In the commercial, Holtz talks about staying focused on the goal, fumbling due to sin, and getting back on the field through the sacrament of Reconciliation. “So, if you haven’t been going to Mass lately,” he said, “get back in the game. We’re saving your seat on the starting bench this Sunday.”
A wife and mother of three sons, Bane said she felt Holtz was speaking directly to her in the Catholics Come Home “evangomercial.” When she saw it a second time, she called her husband to watch.
“He thought it was really neat that you can ‘come home’ because we thought once you left, you left, and there was no coming back,” she explained.
Thanks to that 30-second message, which reached 100 million people, and the material Bane later found on the Catholics Come Home website, she and her family are now back in the Catholic Church as members of St. Agnes Parish in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. After years in four different Protestant churches — and despite the good experiences they had in them — Bane said something always seemed to be missing.
The Banes tell their homecoming story in one of 13 episodes of EWTN’s new Catholics Come Home television series. In the 30-minute episodes filmed in various locations in the U.S. and Canada, viewers get to meet such returnees as a linguistics professor who was an atheist for 52 years, a former drug addict and dealer who now works at a Catholic hospice for homeless men, and a 27-year-old law student who attended Ave Maria University as a Protestant before converting to the Catholic faith.
Their stories are interspersed with “evangomercials” and other segments, including one hosted by Peterson’s 26-year-old daughter, Katie Warner, explaining how to share the faith.
The series, which debuted in October, airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. Eastern. Shows are also available on DVD and online on EWTN.com.
Besides the EWTN series, Catholics Come Home’s upcoming projects include a “Keep Christ in Christmas” ad to be shown during Advent and a Confession ad called “Heavy Burdens” set to air during Lent.
Calling Catholics home
The Catholics Come Home apostolate grew out of what Peterson calls his spiritual awakening at a 1997 parish retreat in Gilbert, Ariz. Although he went to Mass on Sundays and never disagreed with Church teaching, Peterson admits he was a lukewarm Catholic. As his retreat group was gathered in front of the Eucharist, however, God became real to him.
“He invited me to downsize and simplify my life and to have a relationship with him,” he explained. “His love was so apparent in my heart I couldn’t say no. It was like a light switch turned on and the adventure began.”
Peterson started attending daily Mass and reading the Bible. In the process, he asked God what he should do with his life and how he might use his talents in advertising to serve him.
At first, Peterson continued working in his own agency, Peterson Advertising Corp., while he started Virtue Media to produce pro-life messages. He also helped the Diocese of Phoenix with a campaign to invite people back to the Church.
Eventually, he went full-time with Catholics Come Home, giving up a lucrative income and selling both his homes to move to a smaller one. The apostolate, which includes Virtue Media, operates out of a donated office condo in Roswell, Ga., with one full-time staff member besides Peterson and a host of vendors, volunteers and part-time employees.
Since the startup — in addition to running four national campaigns — Peterson has helped 37 dioceses with Catholics Come Home efforts, and he is currently working with three more. In the 12 dioceses that have measured results, more than half a million people have returned to the faith.
The gold standard
Author, radio host and Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid said that to his knowledge no one has pitched a message asking Catholics and others to “come home” the way Peterson has.
Madrid said he has also been struck by the high quality of Peterson’s media work — so much so that when he first saw a presentation of Virtue Media’s pro-life commercials at a Phoenix parish several years ago, he immediately offered his support. Peterson later contacted Madrid, who now serves on the Catholics Come Home advisory board.
“He’s been able to catapult the level of quality so far forward that I would say Catholics Come Home has become the gold standard for outreach for Catholic causes,” Madrid said.
Through his speaking events and radio program, Madrid estimates he has met more than 100 people who have told him they returned to the Church after seeing a Catholics Come Home “evangomercial.”
“They say things like, ‘I can’t believe I saw this on a secular TV station. I was just watching sports and — wham! — here’s this Catholic commercial. I wasn’t looking for it, but it found me!’”
In the foreword to Peterson’s 2013 book, Catholics Come Home: God’s Extraordinary Plan for Your Life (Image Books), author and theologian Scott Hahn said he believes all Catholics are being asked to take up the work that Catholics Come Home is doing.
Peterson said that although not everyone is called to leave a secular career to work for the Church, he believes Legates especially can assist the New Evangelization right where they are by opening doors in their dioceses for Catholics Come Home to be invited — or by organizing book studies or viewings of the Catholics Come Home TV series in their parishes.
He attributes the apostolate’s success to the Holy Spirit, rather than to his own abilities.
“The ingenuity of men only goes so far, but when an apostolate is obedient to the Holy Spirit, things happen above and beyond what any smart person could do.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.