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Encountering Mary Made Me Catholic

Bradlee Sargent
June 1, 2020 No Comments

I grew up in Westwood, Massachusetts, a small suburb of Boston.  My parents attended First Parish United Church, which was Unitarian, Universalist, and Congregational all rolled into one.  They attended until I was in the sixth grade, because after that there was no more Sunday school for children, so we all stopped attending church.  I remember receiving a Bible from that church and it sat in my bookcase.  I would read it from time to time but usually didn’t get farther than the genealogies.  

When I was a sophomore in high school, my best friend invited me to go to a Young Life meeting.  I really enjoyed it.  I often felt shy and left out in school, but at this Young Life meeting I felt accepted and listened closely to the stories of Jesus.  It was a lot of fun with skits and free food afterwards.  

It was at a weekend retreat that I listened to the story of the Passion (even though they didn’t call it that).  I was riveted.  The leaders then invited us to go outside alone and talk to God that night.  That evening, I remember looking up at the night sky and talking to God and sensing something happened to me.  It was December 2, 1972, the date I considered to be my born again experience.  After this experience, I started attending Bible studies as well as going back to the church where my parents attended and enrolling in a membership class.  The next year, on April 8, 1973, I was baptized at First Parish Church in Westwood.  

At college I became heavily involved in Campus Crusade for Christ at Wentworth Institute.  The staff leader and I would go around campus handing out the Four Spiritual Laws.  Having led some of the students to Christ, we started a Bible study and went on retreat during Christmas break.

The next year, I left Wentworth to go to Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  I studied Computer Science and also did an intensive weekly Bible study early Thursday mornings with a group of 12 guys headed by a member of the Navigator staff.  There was weekly evangelism and sometimes a weekend spent at the home of the leader for training and more intensive studies.  I remember the leader having a deep admiration for Mortimer Adler, who I found out later became a Catholic.

It was on a summer retreat that I felt a call to minister to Arabs and Muslims since, according to those I was associating with, they seemed to be some of the most unreached peoples.  Little did I know that the Arabs were already well evangelized.  But my primary focus at the time was Saudi Arabia.  I started praying for God to send me there.  To my great surprise, I was hired at a small company that sent me to Saudi Arabia where I worked for 15 months.  I got an intense exposure to Islam and how that religion looks and feels in its homeland.  I attended a Filipino church that met in secret on Fridays.  It’s interesting to note that whenever I went on vacation, I always made sure I stopped in Rome on the way back from America to Saudi Arabia.  I loved visiting the Vatican and its museums.  I also had visited a Catholic Mass in Greece, and upon entering the church I literally went to a pew and fell to my knees; I had never experienced the presence of God in my life before like I did at that church.  I also had been meeting with a Catholic friend of mine in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday evenings, him with his Missal and me with my Bible.

On returning to the United States, I was looking for a mission to the Saudis without many results.  I also finished my degree in Computer Science and graduated college in 1986. I started attending an Evangelical Free Church and became a deacon there.  When a friend told me about an Arabic church that met in Roslindale, I immediately decided to go.  I never heard of such a thing and was excited to meet Arab Christians who knew so much about the culture and religion of Islam.  I also became involved in missionary meetings that would come to our area and I met another individual who was interested in doing mission work with Muslims with North Africa Missions.  I was not interested in that mission since they had no plans to go to Saudi Arabia. I did, however, attend their one-month training program held in Philadelphia, called the Summer Institute for Islam.  During that training program I learned about the beliefs of Muslims and also had to spend 27 hours talking with Muslims, visiting the various Mosques in the area, and sometimes meeting evangelists to Muslims.

My friend from North Africa Mission introduced me to a girl who was going to be evangelizing Muslims from her office in France using Bible correspondence without worrying about living in a dangerous Muslim country.  I was so excited to find out about this possibility that I started praying that God would lead me in the same direction.  He did.  I was invited to a retreat in Colorado Springs for those interested in reaching Muslims in the United States.  It was on that retreat that I met a man from Germany who was reaching out to not only Saudi Arabia, but to the entire Muslim world to lead them to Christ and then to train and equip them to reach out to Muslims using Bible correspondence.  At the time I found out that I was eventually going to be laid off from my job.  Providentially, that man needed someone who could speak English to come to Germany to reach out to Muslims in Nigeria.  The position paid a full salary without having to raise funds for support.  I gave him my resume and testimony. In a few weeks, I was invited to live and work in Germany as a full time missionary to Muslims with the Evangelische Karmelmission.

In Germany, I went to chapel each morning and then answered letters from Muslims and Christians living in Nigeria.  I was also learning German. After four months of answering letters from Germany, they decided to put me in charge of all of the computers and I would be reporting directly to the leader of the mission I had met in Colorado.

I attended an English speaking European Baptist Church in Vaihingen, Germany on Sundays.  It took all day to travel there, getting up at 5:00 am, taking the train for 3 hours, and getting to a 10 am service.  I would take a nap in the afternoon.  I also started going to a Pentecostal church on the Army base, Patch Barracks.  It was during my early years there that I started dreaming about a city not knowing which city it was or why I was dreaming about it.  

On one of my longer vacations in America, going back home to Boston, I met my future wife, Nadia, at the Arabic Baptist church.  We fell in love on December 2, 1994, the same date I had become a born again Christian. We were married at that church while I was away again on vacation in June of 1996.  

In 1996, my wife and I both started working for the Evangelische Karmelmission, but due to a change in leadership I was getting more and more uncomfortable working there.  I was left to develop software in Arabic without really knowing the language and encountering difficulties with the database that had been somehow designed for English and western European languages.  So in 1997, we left the mission, and took a short trip to France before returning to the United States. My wife got her old job back and we returned to the Arabic Baptist church. Ultimately, though, I wanted to move to Florida since, while on our honeymoon at Epcot, I realized that Orlando was the city I had been dreaming about for all those years.  After a year and half working in Naples, Florida for a small company there, we moved to Orlando.  I renewed ties to the Evangelische Karmelmission and did some work for them while working as a computer consultant.  

It was then that my career started encountering severe challenges.  I was out of work for months on end and it got to the point where I was let go from an important job and then began working again as a contractor.  

I went to work as a contractor in Indianapolis for 6 months and was living in a hotel run by a Protestant ministry.  During this time in Indianapolis, I was looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary on the Facebook page and heard Jesus saying in my heart, “behold your Mother.” At this moment the most amazing thing happened to me: a die-hard Protestant who had led Catholics to a born again experience had Mother Mary enter into my heart.  She just came in with the words of Jesus and changed my life upside down.  I fell head over heels in love with the Virgin Mary.  She was in my heart and I was at a total loss as to what to do about it.  She was all I could think about for the days and months that followed.  I called a Lutheran pastor friend of mine to ask what to do.  He told me to relax and enjoy it and not to worry as long as I don’t get her position mixed up with the Trinity.

Then I was out of work for over a year and I became desperate.  I was reading my Bible and didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of it.  I decided that I needed to find a church where I could hear the Bible read to me out loud every day.  I discovered there was a church like that — it was the local Catholic church.  I was also watching EWTN’s The Journey Home program and was hearing stories of Protestant pastors who gave up their careers in order to become Catholic based on their conviction of what Scripture taught.  As I started looking into these verses more carefully, an amazing thing happened to me.  I felt I was being split in two.  On the one side, I remembered the interpretation of verses that I had heard from the pulpit and in Bible study my entire life, and the word “symbol” kept popping up.  But then, on the other side, were the clear words of Jesus taken at face value, reflecting what the Catholic Church taught. 

I also realized that at the Baptist church I was attending the services were loud from beginning to end.  While they were singing about kneeling, no one was kneeling.  I noticed, however, that at the Catholic church there were plenty of times during Mass that people knelt.  I also realized during Mass that there were several readings directly from Scripture and that the prayers of the Mass were very scriptural.  The Mass always included a Gospel reading, the very words of Jesus.  Whereas, at other churches, it was hit or miss — sometimes you would hear Scriptures with the words of Jesus and sometimes you would go through an entire service without hearing more than a Bible verse or two and sometimes none.  

While I was at a Protestant Arabic Baptist Bible study, we were studying Acts 15 and 16. This was the very first Church council, resolving an issue about circumcision, and I realized that the only church that is still holding councils is the Catholic Church.  Acts 16:4 made a deep impression on me since Paul was going out to ensure that the churches were going to obey the decision of the Apostles and elders.  That was in stark contrast to the idea that the Bible alone was the final authority.  

So I went to the local parish and asked to join the RCIA program.  When my wife, however, found out about my becoming Catholic, she called the parish and asked them what they were doing with her husband.  She asked, “he is already a Christian so why does he need to become a Catholic?”  That’s when the leader recommended I take a break and reconsider what I was doing and make sure God was leading me in this direction.  So I stopped RCIA.  I was still attending daily Mass and receiving a blessing from the priest, then I would go to Baptist and Arabic churches on Sundays.  

At one point, I was attending a Baptist church and during communion I realized I was no longer feeling comfortable receiving symbolic communion.  Next door to the church was a Knights of Columbus hall with a statue of Mary with the Child Jesus outside.  I left the service and walked over to Knights of Columbus hall and prayed to Mary and Jesus.

So eventually on May 20, 2012, I was received into the Catholic Church.  For the first time, I received the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ and felt like I was finally obeying His command in John 6.  

I was thrilled to be able to attend Mass on a daily basis and receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  Parts of the Bible came alive for me for the first time.  I now had new friends, and was attending a Catholic Bible study put on by a man who knew both Greek and Hebrew.  It was exciting for me, since I hadn’t studied Greek or Hebrew for Bible Study since college with the Navigators.  My first time there, my daughter was with me and they gave her flowers, and they gave me a book defending the Catholic Faith. 

I continue to face ever-increasing challenges to my faith.  God is humbling me by continuing to make me realize just how weak I am and how much more I need to work on developing my devotional life.  I am buying and reading lots of Catholic books as well as watching Catholic videos, both on TV and online.  I continue to watch The Journey Home program and continue to pray for my family to come home as well.   My wife and I continue to maintain relationships with Protestant friends, and God gives me opportunities to invite them to come to Mass.  I am even able to share my faith with Muslims I meet.

I would encourage anyone to explore the riches of the Catholic Faith and consider going to a Catholic Mass to see what it is like, to go to a Catholic church any time it’s open and just to sit inside and pray quietly even if there’s no particular service or activity going on.  There are even chapels open in some places 24/7.  Becoming a Catholic was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I thought becoming a Christian was all there was until I became a Catholic and can enjoy the riches of the fullness of the Faith, feeling at home and drinking from the riches of all the Church has to offer.


Bradlee Sargent

Bradlee Sargent graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.  He has been involved in outreach to Muslims in various ways over the years.  After a powerful encounter with the Virgin Mary, he was drawn to become Catholic and was received into the Catholic Church in 2012.