Monday, July 10, 2006

Conversion Story

(This was originally e-published at The Cafeteria is Closed.)

I was born in Cedar City, Utah in June of 1965. My dad was a Marine Corp Artillery Officer and mom was a housewife. My dad’s father was a Lutheran boy from Chicago who married a Mormon girl from Utah and eventually converted. The other three sides of the family are all of pioneer Mormon stock. (Through one of them, though, I am descended from Emperor Heinrich the Fowler and his wife St. Mathilda.)

When I was six months old, dad was killed in action in Vietnam. His body was not found until nine years later.

Mom fell away from the practice of the Mormon faith when I was about three due to an unfortunate incident with our Mormon bishop. (A bishop is their equivalent of a pastor.) I went to church and their religious education sporadically until I was about eight. I considered myself Mormon, even though I was never baptized.

I had some Catholic relatives. My mom’s sister married a Catholic and converted. They later became Protestant through the influence of the dark side of the Charismatic Movement. The first times I went to Mass, at about nine, I went with them. I still remember these occasions vividly.

I remember being fascinated by portrayals of the Catholic Church and priests in the media. (It was a good thing I wasn’t born twenty years later.) I have always been a fan of horror movies. And who was Dracula and the Devil afraid of in the movies? The priest with his crucifix. This was not my motive for converting, but it did catch my attention and caused me to read about the Catholic Church. I also paid attention to more realistic movies like Keys to the Kingdom and The Cardinal. Being a SciFi/Fantasy geek, I was also influenced by the Narnia series and, later Tolkein.

The more I learned about the Faith the more it made sense. The Eucharist, the Papacy, and the Trinity simply made sense to me. Eventually, I decided that it made sense that the Church founded by Jesus would have been around since Jesus was on Earth and be one Church. Only the Catholic Church could make this claim. When I was about ten, I decided in my heart that I was going to be Catholic.

The election of Pope John Paul II made a profound impact on me. The pageantry and ritual fascinated me. He fascinated me. It was about this time that it occurred to me that I should be a priest. I just needed to follow through with it. It is hard to convert when you are a kid and unable to drive to church.

On Christmas break of my sophomore year of high school, I decided to hop a bus and visit the Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake. I vividly remember walking in the door for the first time, seeing the statues and stained glass, and smelling the traces of Christmas incense. I sat down in a pew. I think I prayed though I thought at the time I was just thinking. The thought came into my head: Do it! Become Catholic. I walked over to the Rectory and asked to see a priest. I told him, I wanted to be a Catholic. A few weeks later I was in instruction class. (This was prior to RCIA.) I was Baptized, Confirmed, and received First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil of 1981. I received these sacraments from Bishop William Wiegand, now of Sacramento, who also ordained me.

I was planning on going to the seminary right after high school, but several things scared me off including my pastor leaving the priesthood and getting married. I obtained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in philosophy for the University of Utah. I was working on a Doctorate in Medieval Philosophy at Marquette when I realized I was just delaying the inevitable and applied to study for the priesthood.

I was sent to Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. I was ordained to the priesthood on June 25, 1994. It hasn’t always been easy nor should it have been. The priesthood is about sharing in the Cross of Christ. I would do it again in a minute. I was able to baptize my mother when I was a deacon in 1993. I was also able to baptize her mother two years before she died in 2000. In 2002, I was blessed with being able to meet John Paul II in a semi-private audience.
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