George Washington Made Me Catholic
Featuring Christy Kellner/
October 13, 2014
My mother was raised in the Methodist Church. My father was raised Catholic, but his graduation ceremony at Roger Bacon Catholic High School may have been the last day he ever attended to Mass. He went on to study philosophy at Seattle and Xavier universities. And — imagine this — he became an atheist. My parents met in Cincinnati, and dad finished his degree while mom was studying at Morehead State University in Kentucky.
My grandmother was responsible for my religious education. We started out as Methodist, church jumped to Presbyterian (where I was baptized in my teens), and occasionally attended the non-denominational Vineyard while I was in college. I pretty much left church after my sophomore year. I met my husband, Kevin, my senior year of college in 1997, and we were married a year later in a civil ceremony. He was raised Catholic, but had left the Church.
How did a gal raised in the Protestant Church come to fall in love with the universal teaching of Mother Church? How did I finally stop “protesting” God and come to love Him? Well, besides the obvious (God’s grace), I had to choose and form other relationships that would bring me closer to Him.
So, how did it start? With George Washington!
If you ever want to hear from a priest’s lips, “I’ve never heard that one before,” tell them George Washington brought you to the Catholic Church! But, I guess I should unpack that statement a bit and add that my brother, my father, my husband, and quite a few other people, helped me along the way.
Roughly seven years ago, my brother enlisted in the U.S. Navy. As we sat through his graduation ceremony, and he pledged his life to serve our country and its Constitution, I thought, If he’s willing to die for that piece of paper, maybe I had better sit down and read it.
It was soon after this that I lost my father. When he passed, I lost the man that always had an answer. Dad lived his own edited version of 1 Peter 3:15 (“but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence”). He always had a defense for those beliefs that had lain within him — and 98% of the time, he was right. His statements were always made with such conviction and confidence that they always sounded plausible and true. His advice was always 100%. When I lost my father, I lost that source of wisdom. Being the oldest child, I felt it was my duty to fill that niche.
When I ordered a copy of the U.S. Constitution, the package came with two other books, The 5000 Year Leap and A Patriot’s History of the United States. As I began to devour these books, I was surprised to learn our Founding Fathers were men of great Faith willing to sacrifice their fortunes, their lives, and their sacred honor to claim and preserve freedom for all.
When I got a hold of the biography George Washington’s Sacred Fire and learned of George Washington’s faith, it ignited my own and instilled in me a longing to “get back to church.” I longed for his same faith, trust in Divine Providence, and love of neighbor.
Journeying together: “Date Nights”
As I was beginning my conversion, my husband was beginning his reversion. It wasn’t enough for him that I find my place in a church; no, it was important for us to find the Church. Besides the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the other two books that were instrumental in his reversion to Catholicism were Be A Man by Father Larry Richards and The Imitation of Jesus Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Upon reading these, the chase was on! Through his search, he was becoming the spiritual leader of our family — the role God asks all men to embrace.
And thus began “Date Nights.” After the kids snuggled into bed, we would spend hours discussing what we were learning. However, what started as fun and entertaining conversations, soon turned into challenging disagreements and debates, usually ending with me stomping up the stairs to bed. Looking back, I see that he was right — I just didn’t want to admit it.
I remember one time he brought home a book on sola Scriptura. Demonstrating how ignorant I was of my Protestant roots, I asked, “What’s that?”
He replied, “It’s what you Protestants’ believe, that the Bible is your only source.”
“That’s absurd,” I said. “If that were true, then a sermon would only be the pastor standing at the pulpit, quoting Bible verse after Bible verse! Look at how many times they use C.S. Lewis, other Christians, and other Christian sources to get their point across. It’s absolutely ridiculous for Protestant’s to believe in the Bible alone.”
Pope John Paul II must have been a fan of the American Founding Fathers!
We own a hunting property about an hour and a half from our home. This property has allowed us to “hunt” for God in so many ways. It is our respite to bang out the dents and repair our armor; it has deepened our spiritual development and become a stronghold for our family. As a side note, now, we have also found asecond home at the Catholic parish there, St. Mary. Saint Mike — I mean, Father Mike — leads the parish, and he’s the most joy-filled priest you’ll ever meet! His love of neighbor and love for Jesus Christ shine through at every Mass.
With “Date Nights” quickly deteriorating, my husband employed a new tactic. Preparing for our next trip up to the property, he scoured the Catechism to find any passages that related to the U.S. Constitution. As we started out on our hour and a half drive, Kevin handed me the Catechism and said, “You know, I read something in here today, and it didn’t quite make sense. Can you read it aloud to me?”
I remember we were reading about one of the Ten Commandments, and I was struck by how much the commentary resembled our nation’s founding documents. I asked Kevin, “Who wrote this? When was it written?” I flipped to the front of the book and saw that it was published in the 1990s under Saint John Paul II’s pontificate. I exclaimed, “He probably read our Founding documents, realized how fantastic our country is, and decided to adopt this language into your book. Pope John Paul II must have been a James Madison, John Adams, and George Washington fan!”
Kevin replied, “The Church has roughly 2,000 years of teaching. Maybe you ought to look into that.”
That statement stopped me. I am a huge fan of David Barton and his WallBuilders organization, which is “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built.” One thing Mr. Barton stresses is to read original documents; so, with the help of a dearly beloved and respected, devoutly Catholic neighbor, I started reading original Church documents.
The most dangerous things an open-minded Protestant could get his or her hands on are the writings of the early Church Fathers. As I started reading the Didache and the letters of Sts. Clement and Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and many others, I realized that everything I thought about the Catholic Church was changing. I was enjoying what I was reading. The documents of the early Church opened the door to learning the wisdom, advice, and example of the Saints — which may be the second most dangerous thing for a Protestant to start reading about!
Catholic teaching on the back burner
But as I was gaining knowledge and respect for the Church, we began to hit a few roadblocks. The Devil doesn’t like it when to start nearing the target and he will send all kinds of obstacles to try to get you to veer off course.
I signed up to take a class at a local parish. I had read the entire Protestant Bible, more of the Catechism, and just finished a book by Father Robert Sirico, regarding the way in which corporeal works of mercy can lift people out of their poverty. What was taught in this class, however, did not seem to me to match up with what I was reading about Catholic teaching, so I made a beeline to my devout Catholic neighbor’s house to figure out what was going on!
It was there I started learning about “Liberation Theology” and “Social Justice” and how the Sexual Revolution, the internal schism surrounding Humana Vitae, and the confusion after Vatican II left the Church in kind of a dark age of catechesis between the 1960s and the 1980s. Nevertheless, that class put me into such a tail spin that I decided to put Catholic teaching on the back burner, and head back to digesting U.S. History.
That year at Christmas, my husband put me back on the right track. He gave me the two gifts I wanted most The Founder’s Bible edited by Mr. Barton’s WallBuilders group and a Henry .22 repeating rifle, which is known as the gun that settled the American West. But, he also surprised me with my own copy of the Catechism, and a schedule to read the Catholic Bible and the Catechism in a year.
When he asked me if I would read them, I had my Ephesians 5 moment and said, “Yes.” Imagine my surprise when I learned I had seven more books to read than I had in my Protestant Bible! I was back to, not only intellectualizing and respecting the Catholic Church, but I think, it was at this point, that I began to fall in love.
The big “C”
However, the smoldering embers were reignited only to be doused with another bucket of very cold water!
My husband and I had to take on one of the hardest teachings of the Catholic Church: the big “C” — contraception! To put it mildly, the Church’s teaching on openness to life was not a truth I wanted to hear! But, what started out as a very rough and rocky climb eventually plateaued into a beautiful valley filled with the most precious and prolific flowers of wisdom. Our marriage, our bond, our love, and our respect for one another has grown and deepened as we learned about the healthy and scientific teachings of Natural Family Planning and NaPro Technology and began to really trust God.
One question helped me better understand personally the Church’s stance on contraception: do I want to be like Eve? The Devil preyed on Eve’s pride. She wanted to be like God; she didn’t want to serve Him. She told Him “no” and then defiantly took that bite. That defiance quickly brought on the Devil’s other dastardly “D”s — division, destruction, devastation, and death in her family.
I answer, “No! I want to be like Mary.” When God asked Mary to trust Him and asked her go against popular opinion and norms, to put her pride aside, she replied, “Yes!” And it is her family that is the ideal, her family that is filled with life, and her family that I wish to model mine after — not Eve’s.
If Mary had enough courage, moxie, strength, and trust to reply, “yes”, then who was I to keep telling God, “No?”
“The [dangerous] Book”
The next hurdle I needed to jump was rooted in pride. That particular sin represents is the first level of cleansing needed to climb out of Dante’s mountain of purgatory!
I had so much patriotic pride that I was offended that the Catholic Church didn’t appear to have more of a presence in the Founding of our country. Until I could understand why, I simply wasn’t interested in RCIA classes. So, God changed His tactics to pursue me.
I volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. A friend and fellow volunteer used to call me “the best Protestant Catholic ever”. One day, she brought in “The Book”. I knew instantly by looking at the title and cover of “That Book” that I didn’t want to read it; it made my gut churn. I knew if I read “The Book” I was going to go somewhere I was not ready to go. Therefore, I politely declined, thinking, Whew! Problem evaded!
The very next day, my husband — who had not met this woman, nor ever even talked to her — brought “The Book” home from the local Catholic bookstore! Dumbfounded, I had my “come to Jesus” moment. I lifted my eyes to heaven and said, “You win!”
Over that weekend, I began to read “The Book” — I couldn’t put it down! When I was finished, I knew everything I thought about the Catholic Church had changed, and the patriotic pride was pushed aside. I didn’t care. I wanted to come into the Church. I was ready!
That book was Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, a former anti-Catholic, Protestant pastor and his wife who converted to Catholicism.
A time of waiting
A month later — on my husband’s birthday, no less — I told him I was ready to come into the Catholic Church. Through tears of surprise and joy, he confided that he didn’t think he would ever hear me say those words. He revealed that he had been religiously praying the daily rosary for over a year and had committed himself to praying the rosary every day until I was ready to convert! We now say the rosary as a family, as a way to pray with and for one another, but also with the intention of bringing others to Christ’s Church.
Kevin was ready to start yelling from the rooftops that I wanted to become Catholic, but I said, “Whoa, buckaroo! Slow up thar pard and hold your horses! I’m not ready for that stampede!”
Since it was April, I had to wait for RCIA to start again, and God, through His wonderful timely sense of humor, answered my questions about the founding of America by introducing me to the logic of G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, and sixteenth-century, Dominican lawyer and priest Bartolomé de las Casas. I was listening pretty devotedly to Sacred Heart Radio and we were also becoming huge Catholic Lighthouse Media junkies. (LCM is an organization that provides Catholic media, particularly audio, at a not-for-profit cost.)
During that time of waiting, a devout friend mentioned, “If you ever have any questions about the Faith, go talk to Father Ezra at St. Gertrude’s.” I decided to seek out this Fr. Ezra.
You ever have one of those mornings where everything is going wrong? Where you are the ball instead of the bat? The bug instead of the windshield? The fly instead of the swatter? On one such morning, I threw up my hands, looked at the clock and said, “I’m going to Mass.” I quickly got my daughter and me ready, looked up directions, and headed out.
Mothers with small children will relate to what follows.
I promised everything under the sun to our small, God-gifted blessing if she would saintly sit through the entire Mass. I was so proud as I rolled into St. Gertrude’s parking lot twenty minutes early for Mass. I proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes playing with our daughter in hopes to tucker her out into a willing, sedated, seated position. I threw open the doors at five minutes to noon only to perceive that something was not right. As we abashedly shuffled into a pew, I realized all the cajoling, begging, and negotiating had been in vain: Mass had started at 11:30!
But the day brightened; an announcement for Fr. Ezra’s classes on spiritual warfare caught my eye, and I made the mental commitment to at least make it to one. Can I get an “Amen!” on a Fr. Ezra talk? I ended up making it to four classes! Fr. Ezra was incredibly important in my ultimate conversion to the Catholic Church.
Was the journey worth it?
Through an unexpected series of events, I ended up joining St. Gertrude’s RCIA classes late. Without going into detail, I can just say, the Devil doesn’t like it when you begin to leave his world, and he will use smart tactics to keep you from God and further enslaved to him. Although I joined late, it is clear that St. Gertrude’s RCIA classes were the classes I needed to prepare me for becoming Catholic. The teachers were solid and charitably related the teachings of the Catholic Church. They wisely used reason and evidence, not only to support God existence, but to demonstrate that throughout history Mother Church has always been the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Christ founded.
Was the journey hard? Yes! Was it scary? You bet! Did it challenge everything I thought I knew about God? Definitely! Did it change relationships with friends and family? Yup! Was it worth it? Absolutely!