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From Heathen to Catholic Ministry to Men

Robert Tunmire
October 20, 2021 No Comments

I was raised in a military family; my dad was in the Marine Corps for 20 years, and I grew up in California and North Carolina. In my freshman year of high school, I moved to Waco, Texas, where my dad and his mom were originally from. I started working at a young age and went into business for myself by the time I was 17 years old.

From that time on, I lived pretty much as a heathen, burned through two marriages, and was responsible for an abortion by 1981. I was never baptized and never went to church. While I would have called myself an honest person those first 40 years, my moral compass was very limited.

My journey of becoming a Christian began in late January of 1999. On the third Friday of January, I was scheduled to deliver a presentation at a conference. I awoke at three o’clock in the morning and there was a bright light on our high, vaulted ceiling. Within the light was a figure. All it said was “Robert,” and then my whole body shook violently. I would have passed it off as a dream if my body hadn’t shaken so violently. After composing myself, I flew out to Las Vegas, delivered my presentation, and then had a late-night flight home. I had stopped at Ceasars Forum Shops, an art gallery. I found a picture that I thought would look good behind my desk. As I was standing there admiring it, suddenly this thought came ripping into my mind: “You can’t spend that money, it’s God’s money.” I thought, “What?!?” I walked out of the art gallery, thinking, “What’s going on here?” I had never had a thought like that in my life.

I flew back to Waco, and my assistant, who had been with me many years, came in on Monday morning and said, “Robert, I went to this church on Sunday. You really ought to look into going, too.” This was unusual because my assistant knew that I didn’t go to church and was not a Christian. I thought to myself, “Well I’ve had these three things happen in the last 72 hours. Maybe that’s a sign that I should go to church!” So the following Sunday I went to church — Fellowship Bible Church, on the corner of 11th and Washington. I had a good experience. I can’t say I learned anything from a Christian perspective, but I enjoyed meeting the people, and the music was good. I thought I’d go back the following week and give it a second try, so I did. After church, the associate pastor told me, “Hey Robert, you ought to look at coming to this newcomers’ class we have next weekend before church.” I thought, “Maybe I should.” And I did.

I’ll never forget that class. In the middle of it, a thought entered my heart and mind. It was like I had walked into a dark room and someone turned on the light — that’s how clear it was. I realized that I had lived the first forty years of my life absolutely backwards. Sitting down next to my assistant, Linda, who was there that day, I said, “You know, Linda, I’m beginning to realize that I have lived the first forty years of my life just backwards.” But I didn’t know what that meant or what I should do about it. So I grabbed Buck Rogers, the associate pastor, and told him what had happened: “I don’t really know where to go from here, Buck.” And he said, “Well, have you ever been baptized?” I said no. I wasn’t really aware of the purpose behind Baptism. So over the next couple of weeks, he walked me through understanding the significance of Baptism and, on February 28, 1999, I was baptized.

Buck started coming by my office every week. We would read Scripture. I started diving into my faith, reading everything Christian I could get my hands on. It was at that point when a longtime friend of mine, who was an attorney in Waco, told me, “Robert, this guy is coming to town to speak. You ought to come and hear him. His name is Patrick Morley, and he wrote a book called Man in the Mirror, a book about Christian growth.”

When I decide to do something, I tend to dive deep into it. So I went and heard this guy speak and I was very intrigued by his message. I bought a copy of his book, read it, and it hit home with me. I even struck up a relationship with Pat, and we continued to read and study. Meanwhile, Buck and I also continued to meet every week. 

It was during that same time period, I met Kitty on February 6, 1999. We married a year and eight months later, on October 7, 2000. She had two daughters and I had two sons by previous marriages. Her daughters were grown when we got married, while my two sons were seven and nine.

Kitty was a cradle Catholic, and sometimes we’d go to my church and other times we’d go to the Catholic church. Kitty was great at respecting my attachment to the Protestant church, but finally said, “Robert, I don’t really like going to a non-Catholic church, why don’t we just go to the Catholic church?” I had no problem with it, so that’s what we began doing. I became involved with the men of St. Jerome’s and would go up and receive Communion. My thought was that, if Jesus was standing there, He wouldn’t deny me Communion. I knew I was receiving Christ, but I didn’t really give it much thought. Obviously, I didn’t understand the full teaching of the Catholic Church at this point.

Meanwhile, as I got more involved with Patrick Morley and Man in the Mirror, he asked me if I would fly down to Orlando and participate in a training session connected with the book. On Friday evening, while I was in Orlando, I was in my hotel room praying and reading when suddenly these two thoughts came to my mind. They weren’t audible, but they were very clear. Jesus said, “I want you to do two things. I want you to go back and get a Man in the Mirror ministry going in Waco, Texas, and I want you to get the ministry to men going in the Catholic Church, in the Austin Diocese.” I thought to myself, “God you are talking to the wrong person! I am a businessman. And on top of that, I can’t even spell Catholic — I’m not Catholic.” 

When I arrived home, however, I talked to some friends, and we did get the Man in the Mirror ministry going, meeting at a hotel every Thursday morning. We had 50 or 60 guys from all denominations attending.

In 2002, the men of St. Jerome Catholic Church said they wanted to have a campout, and I offered our home, which had 20 acres. So they all came out to the house. As we were sitting around the campfire that night, they said, “Hey Robert, tell us your story!” So I did. Only then did they realize that I was not Catholic! Nobody had ever asked me about it, and I had never discussed it with anyone. 

The next day one of the men came up to me, the one who ultimately became my sponsor, Chuck Felderhoff. He said, “Robert, can I talk to you?” I told him sure. He said, “Have you ever thought about going to RCIA?” “What’s that?” I asked. He explained it to me. “You know, Chuck, that membership thing never even occurred to me.” The only thing I did think was that it seemed awfully long — one night a week, three hours each night, for seven months. He said, “You know, since you’re not a member, you really shouldn’t go up for Communion.” I replied, “Well, Chuck, let me think about that.” I had no understanding of the Real Presence and what receiving the Eucharist really meant. So I prayed about what I should do about receiving the Eucharist. Based on my brief discussion with Chuck, it dawned on me that I really did not have an understanding of the meaning of receiving the Eucharist and the teachings of the Church on this point. So I stopped going up for Communion, and it seemed like a good idea to attend RCIA and learn the teachings of the Catholic Church so I could act appropriately. Chuck would be my sponsor. I did not go with the intention of becoming Catholic; that was not on my radar. I was just going to learn. Kitty was with me for the introductory class. I remember saying on the way home, “Kitty, I’m not sure there is anybody in this class that really wants to be there. I think they are either married to a Catholic or about to marry one. But I don’t think they want to be there.” However, I decided I was going to go, and like my style, when I get involved in something, I dive all the way in.

I told the instructors, “Look, you can tell me all day long what you believe, but if you can’t tell me why, I will question whether you really believe it or not.” It turned out that I really enjoyed learning. Chuck had told me, “Robert, there are going to be some mysteries here; you’re just not going to understand everything.” I said, “Oh no, Chuck, there can’t be any mysteries. Everything’s got to be clear.” I did dive into it, and about midway through, they played this recording by Dr. Scott Hahn, “The Lamb’s Supper.” Dr. Hahn explained the Eucharist and the Real Presence in a way that was like “Wow!” The Mass and Communion really came together for me; I finally understood that this was the fullness of truth.

As I went through RCIA, the truth of the Catholic Church became more and more clear to me. I began to understand what the Church’s teachings really were, and that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ when I receive Him. At this point, I also understood that the Catholic Church was truly the Church founded by Christ, the one, holy, and true Church. It was almost like someone had turned on a light switch in my head and heart. Up to this point I was just going through RCIA to learn, without planning on becoming Catholic, but once I realized the truth and the fullness of the Catholic Church, I knew that I had to become Catholic. There was nothing else I could do.

I discussed this with the deacon after one of the RCIA sessions, and at that time I decided that I should become Catholic. From that day on, this is what I concentrated on.

The challenge was that I had two previous marriages which had to be judged invalid in order for me to become Catholic, so we started on the paperwork. But since there was a lot of preparatory work involved, I set it aside. When Easter came around, the normal time for entering the Church, I wasn’t ready to enter the Church. Once again, I met with the deacon and got busy with the paperwork. As we were going through it, he said, “You know, Robert, the first forty years of your life were really fascinating and complex. Maybe you should write a letter about your first forty years that we could send along with the paperwork.” I ultimately got all the paperwork completed, along with the letter, and sent it off in early 2004. Then, in August of that year, I received a notice that both my previous marriages had been annulled. The deacon said to me, “Robert, I’ve never seen one marriage get annulled so fast, much less two.” This allowed me to have my marriage to Kitty regularized and me to come into full communion with the Catholic Church on October 17, 2004. I was now Catholic, and a whole new journey started.

In the fall of 2005, I received a call from the bishop. At that time, our bishop was Bishop Aymond, who is now Archbishop of New Orleans. He wanted to have dinner with us, so I called Kitty. She said, “How did you get a call from our bishop? I’ve never had a call from a bishop!” I had no idea; I had never met the bishop. So we had dinner with him. According to my custom, I had this layout of things I had discovered while coming into the Catholic Church that I wanted to share with him. One of those things was that the diocese had no ministry to men. So I laid out a plan to get a ministry going. He looked at me and said, “Go do it!” That certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. I finally asked him what we could do for him. He said they were starting a capital campaign and were looking for a few key donors and wanted to know if we would help out. So I did eventually find out why he wanted to meet me at dinner!

Let me back up a little here. After I became Catholic, Patrick Morley had introduced me to someone who had an organization called the National Fellowship of Catholic Men. Maurice Bloomberg, who has since passed away, was an incredible man. It was through him that I met other Catholic leaders around the country. I met some Catholic men around the Waco area and talked to the head of the diocese’s local deanery. Together, we set about organizing a Central Texas Fellowship of Catholic Men. We had the kickoff meeting in June of 2005. Since then we’ve had nine Annual Men’s Conferences, paid for an Executive Director for the organization, and we now have a ministry to men in 40 to 45 parishes in the area dioceses. Our current Waco Bishop is Joe S. Vasquez, who has been very supportive of this ministry. 

In early 2018, some leaders whom I had been associated with started bringing leaders together to discuss what we should do more generally in the Catholic Church in regard to ministry to men. We had a meeting in Milwaukie, Wisconsin, with 60 or 70 men from around the country. It became very clear that we were being called to organize ministry to men in every diocese throughout North America. So we went about launching the Catholic Men’s Leadership Alliance.

It has gone incredibly well. The Holy Spirit has brought forth men, and we are building leaders throughout North America. We are very blessed to have an incredible board and leaders with us. Men have also arisen to support the ministry economically. We had an opportunity to partner with the Augustine Institute to develop a platform that we launched in October of 2020 called Heroic Men. For information about it, one can go to the website HeroicMen.com. This platform was created to take the best materials for ministry to men and bring them all together in one place. By the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, we’ve been able to partner with several men’s ministries throughout North America and bring their materials to this platform. It is now the go-to platform for ministry to men and has proven to be very successful.

The Catholic Men’s Leadership Alliance has a team of leaders now. In October of 2019, I left my career of 44 years to devote my time, talent, and treasures full time to the Catholic Men’s Leadership Alliance to help organize ministry to men in every diocese in North America. I so enjoy getting up and doing God’s work every day. If someone had told me 23 years ago that I would be Catholic and be involved with ministry to men, I would have said, “You are nuts!” But God has a plan for each of us, and most of the time it’s not what we had thought it would be. I feel very blessed that he kept me alive those first forty years and put me on the path to do His work.


Robert Tunmire

Robert Tunmire serves as a Leadership Advisor in Franchising and Entrepreneurship Industry in addition to being very active in Ministry to Men in the Catholic Church.  In 2006, Robert founded the Central Texas Fellowship of Catholic Men to support Ministry to Men in the Austin Diocese and continues to serve as the President of the Advisory Board. In 2018, Robert joined with a group of leaders in Ministry to Men across North America to found the Catholic Men’s Leadership Alliance with the vision of equipping every diocese in North America with a vibrant ministry to men.  He currently serves as the President and Executive Director, and in 2020 Robert helped CMLA launch Heriocmen.com as a streaming platform for Catholic men. Robert is also the co-author of No Man Left Behind, Catholic edition, a guidebook for ministry to men in the Catholic Church today. He is married to his wife, Kitty, and has four children and five grandchildren.


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