I was born in Schenectady, New York in 1957 to a very traditional Catholic family. I was the youngest of four children. There were two boys and two girls. All of us kids went to Catholic schools and every Sunday attended Mass as a family. We had a portrait of Jesus, a statue of Mary, and a couple of crucifixes intertwined with palms from Palm Sunday in our home. We were a typical Catholic American family. Our city was very Catholic. Almost all my friends were Catholic, and every section of the city had a parish and Catholic school.
During my elementary years at St. Columba Catholic School, I received a daily dose of “Religion” class, which for the most part did not leave a great impression on me. Although I continually received A’s, the class seemed to consist of memorizing whatever the teacher expected. I remember once in 7th grade we had a young Sister who was a student teacher. She was more engaging and allowed us to ask questions. One question I asked was “Why is there hell if God is love?” Unfortunately, the young Sister had no satisfactory answer for me. My young heart still believed in God, but I had lots of questions and was hungry to know more.
When I was at the age of fourteen, my older sister, Mary, married and moved out of state with her husband. She was having trouble getting pregnant and met a charismatic Catholic woman who shared the simple message of the Gospel with her — God loves us, Jesus died for our sins, and He rose from the dead so we could have eternal life. Mary gave her life to Jesus and soon became pregnant. She saw that God truly was a personal God who answered prayers. My sister’s zeal for Jesus could not be contained. Her enthusiasm for her new found love for Jesus was poured out on all the family whether we wanted it or not. Mary was my only sister, and I always looked up to her. So, when she sent me a small Gospel tract, I felt compelled to read it. It was Good News to my heart, and I said the simple sinner’s prayer at the end of the tract. I then waited for something to happen. I believe now that something did happen in the spiritual realm, but to this fourteen-year-old girl I was still the same. Since my sister lived far away, I really had no one to guide me in what to do next. I wanted the plan God had for my life like the tract said, but I had no direction. Why was I never told about God’s love for me before? How come I didn’t learn any of this in my Catholic school was another question?
My teenage years continued on, yet I did have somewhat of a sensitivity to the Lord. I still attended Mass, read the books and the Bible my sister sent me, and tried to stay away from the vices most of my friends were involved in such as drinking, drugs, and promiscuity. Looking back, I believe that the simple prayer I prayed at 14 had given the Lord permission to protect me without violating my free will. There were many instances in my teenage years when I was definitely protected. I tended to be naïve so hitchhiking or going off with the wrong boy could have been tragic. Our Lord totally protected me each time I found myself in an unsafe situation.
When I graduated from high school, I started dating a Catholic guy who faithfully attended Mass each week. I admired that quality in him, and we often talked about God. Together we even read the Christian book The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay. We became very serious and often talked about marriage. I now know that just because someone goes to Mass it doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian or a good Catholic. Although he went off to college in another state, our relationship continued to grow. We had plans to marry when he finished his college degree.
After five years, my heart started having a strong pull. The best way I can describe it is an intense restlessness and discontent. I sensed that even if I married this guy, whom I truly loved, I would not feel whole. There still would be something missing. Again, the Lord was protecting me. It wasn’t long after this stirring in my heart began that Our Lord started to reveal things about this guy to me through other people. I found out he had a cocaine and gambling addiction. These issues seemed insurmountable and shocking. I felt betrayed and lost. I knew I had to make a decision about what direction to take. While sitting in my bedroom pondering what was going on in my life, I was moved to surrender completely everything about me to the Lord. I knew from all that my sister had shared with me that living for the Lord was the only right answer. I was ready to lose my boyfriend, my girlfriends, and my whole way of living, which is what pretty much happened. My desire to live for Jesus totally turned my boyfriend and most of my friends away. They could not understand my newfound love for Jesus. I was okay with their negative response because I knew I was not turning back. If I was to live for Jesus, I discerned I had to start doing something for Him and with Him. All I knew was the Catholic Church, so that’s where I started. I found a weekly charismatic prayer meeting and a charismatic Mass to go to. I knew about the gifts of the Holy Spirit from my sister so the charismatic Mass was exciting and beautiful.
When my sister heard that I had turned my life over to Jesus, she was so happy since she had prayed for me for many years. She then told me I could be baptized in the Holy Spirit and experience His gifts myself. I desired everything that the Lord had for me. I truly wanted it all. Within four months, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in my bedroom with the speaking in tongues. My bedroom seemed to be the place the Lord would touch me in a special way. The next few months with the Lord was like a honeymoon. It was just He and I. When not working at my job with adults with special needs, my life consisted of prayer, Bible reading, the Mass, the prayer meeting, Christian music, and watching The 700 Club. All of it sustained me and helped me grow deeper and deeper in love with Jesus.
Although I was faithfully attending the charismatic Mass and the prayer meeting, most of the people there were old enough to be my parents. I was only 23 at this point so anyone over the age of forty seemed unrelatable to me. Except for our shared love for Christ, we really didn’t have much in common. I really had no Christian friends my age. I started to feel lonely and desired fellowship with Christians my own age. One day, again, in my bedroom I prayed that the Lord would send me just one Christian friend. I remember telling Him that He had at least twelve friends, the twelve Apostles, and I just wanted one.
About two months after my prayer for a “friend,” a young guy came up to me after Mass. He introduced himself as George and asked if I knew about “The Reality Group.” I had no idea what he was talking about so George explained to me that it was a group of young, spirit-filled adults who met once a week for prayer and teaching at the home of an older Catholic couple. After Mass that evening, George and I went out for coffee at a local diner. He shared his powerful deathbed conversion story with me and invited me to The Reality Group. George became my first Christian friend and later, my husband. Our Lord had answered my prayer above and beyond what I had asked for at The Reality Group, I met several men and women close in age to me. It was so encouraging to know there were other young adults who wanted to live for Jesus. The older Catholic spirit-filled couple that facilitated the group imparted much wisdom each week and helped to keep us on the straight and narrow path. In this small group, we all had many opportunities to grow in our gifts and experience life in the Holy Spirit. It was a time of much growth, fellowship, and intimacy with our Lord. George and I became good friends spending much time together. Although he wasn’t Catholic, he was a new Christian on fire for the Lord. He had found his way to the charismatic Mass from a Catholic friend of his mother’s. George was quickly welcomed and accepted by all those at the Mass. They knew he was not a Catholic, but that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. For some reason, no one ever suggested George might want to become Catholic so he never did. Our friendship grew more serious as we both grew in our relationship with each other and the Lord. We were always looking to be part of whatever the Lord was doing in our town. If there was something going on at some other church or venue we wanted to be there. We would go to the charismatic Mass on Saturday evening, a Community church service on Sunday morning, an Assembly of God church service on Sunday evening, and a couple of prayer meetings throughout the week. We went to Christian rock concerts such as Phil Keaggy and Second Chapter of Acts. We even went to a show to see Mike Warnke, a Christian comic. I also was involved in a choir at our Catholic church that sang with John Michael Talbot when he came to sing at our church. It was a very busy, happy, fulfilling time with the Lord and George. It wasn’t very long before we knew as well as most of our friends that we would get married.
In 1982 about one year after we met, we were married in the Catholic Church. We had gone through Engaged Encounter, a premarital Catholic retreat, though George was still not Catholic. Our wedding was a full charismatic Mass officiated by our priest and a Protestant pastor we knew. While George was not a Catholic, I was pretty much Catholic in name only. I had no really understanding of what was going on at the Mass, the importance of the sacraments, or of Church history. For instance, I don’t ever remember being taught or told that the Holy Eucharist was the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. All I knew was that I loved Jesus and wanted to live my life for Him for all eternity. It wasn’t long until we were looking for other churches to join where we thought we could grow more.
By 1986 the Lord blessed us with two children, a boy and a girl, and we were looking for a church that we could join that would be beneficial for the whole family. We were invited by a co-worker of George’s to visit his church. It was a non-denominational spirit-filled church started by a group of young Christians like us who just wanted to live for the Lord. Many of the members were ex-Catholics and friends from our high school years. The young pastor was a dynamic teacher and preacher, the worship was contemporary, yet deep, and the fellowship was amazing. We knew we were in the right church. It was a great place to be doing life together as young families. We still have lifelong friends from our many years at that church.
In 1996 my husband lost his job. George looked for work for several months but nothing materialized in our town. A former co-worker had told him about a job in Atlanta, Georgia. He sent in his resume, the company flew him down for an interview, and then offered him the job. We prayed about the opportunity and had peace in our hearts. Although we hated leaving our church, we felt we had no other choice but to take the job in Atlanta, Georgia. We felt it must be God’s will since there were no other job opportunities opening up in our local area. So, we put our house on the market, packed up all our stuff, said our sad goodbyes to our church family, and headed to the Bible Belt.
We were under the impression that we would fit in and be welcomed in just about any Christian church down there. It was the Bible Belt, right? We’re all part of the Body of Christ, right? When we finally arrived in Georgia, we felt it was imperative to find a church right away especially for our children. They were thirteen and ten and needed to get plugged in to make new friends. We started with a recommended community church. The people were welcoming as most southerners are, but they really had no need to make more friends. Many churches in the South are generational with lots of family members and childhood friends. Their relationships and friendships were strongly fixed in their lives, and we often felt like strangers. We quickly found out that just about every southerner says they are a Christian, but it can sometimes be more of a cultural thing. It can be that way up north as well with Catholics and other denominations. All we wanted was to be part of a group of people that had a relationship with Jesus, were approachable, and wanted to be sisters and brothers in Christ with us.
We decided to leave the community church after several months and went to a small non-denominational church. The youth pastor was really great for our kids but again, George and I had a hard time trying to get to know the other members. On the surface, the southern hospitality was warm but doing life outside the church walls was not a priority for any of the members. We stayed at this little church mainly for our children who were enjoying the youth group, but another change in our lives was about to come. My husband was laid off from the job we had traveled all this way for in less than two years. We started thinking we had missed God’s will to move to Atlanta, Georgia. We hadn’t found the right church family yet, our children had some negative experiences in the public schools, there was definitely a cultural shock, and we were homesick a lot of the time. We thought and prayed about whether we should head back home. This was 1998 and looking for work back home was not going to be easy. The Internet was fairly new so job hunting for us was mainly with newspapers sent to us from back home and networking with business colleagues. Our Lord in His wisdom did not open any job opportunities back home. Each door that seemed promising would eventually be shut.
After four months of looking for work, a job opportunity opened up in Gainesville, Georgia, which is about one hour north of Atlanta. It was a great job offer that was too good to turn down. So, we packed up all our things and headed to Gainesville. This part of Georgia is very beautiful with mountains, lakes, and quaint small towns. Compared to the busy congested parts of Metro Atlanta this move was just what we needed. We settled into a nice routine in our new surroundings and started looking for a church family. We visited several churches including a mega church and a small Baptist church. It wasn’t until we visited a Vineyard church in town that we found the right place. Things in our lives were peaceful for the most part. Our children were happy in the small Christian school they were enrolled in, my husband had a good job, and we were making friends at the Vineyard church.
Yet even though life was running smooth finally, I had a nagging feeling there must be more. I often felt like I was just “playing church.” Several of our new friends at the Vineyard church were feeling a lot of the same way as I was. After several months of prayer, we all thought we should start a “house church.” A small group of us left the Vineyard church and met in a log home as a house church. Our desire was to do church as close as we could to the early Christians.
The house church lasted five years until the Lord clearly told us we all needed to go back into the mainstream church. The Catholic Church was not an option for me because our many years in non-Catholic churches had given me the Protestant view of Catholicism. Since I never really learned my Catholic Faith, I believed the usual lies such as worshiping Mary, the Pope was always infallible or worse yet, maybe even the anti-Christ, and Jesus is re-crucified at every Mass.
Then one day I was going through the TV program guide and saw the EWTN channel had something called The Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I didn’t even know what a chaplet was. My thought was it might be a small chapel. Since I have always loved stained glass, I put The Chaplet of Divine Mercy on hoping to see some pretty stained-glass windows. Instead I saw a group of people asking for the Lord to have mercy on the whole world. Even though my head told me it was just “vain repetitions,” it touched my heart. I asked myself when did I ever ask God to have mercy on the whole world. I knew without a doubt my answer was never. I found myself watching The Chaplet of Divine Mercy more and more as well as singing the prayer throughout my day. I could find nothing wrong with this short prayer for God’s mercy. It seemed very pure and holy. And the prayer wasn’t unscriptural, which was always the rule I used to judge spiritual things by. This was the beginning of my journey back home.
A few weeks later, I came across The Journey Home program. I asked myself if The Chaplet of Divine Mercy was scriptural and harmless, what if I watched The Journey Home program? I was really curious why anyone would ever leave a Protestant church to become a Catholic. I had only known Christians who left the Catholic Church for other religions and denominations. Who would go back to a ritualistic, ultra-organized, hierarchical church after experiencing freedom in the Holy Spirit? So, I tuned into the show a few times. The testimonies of these people started to stir some things in my heart. It was like they knew things that I didn’t know. And they did. Although I was interested in hearing these unusual journeys into the Catholic Church, I could not get beyond my many obstacles such as Mary, confessing sins to a priest, purgatory, the Pope, etc.
But perhaps my biggest obstacle was myself. I had no theology or biblical education so I was concerned I might be deceiving myself by being drawn to Catholic things. Since my husband was unaware that I was exploring Catholic ideas, I felt I didn’t have his guidance to protect me. I second-guessed myself a lot.
The Journey Home always gave their address at the very end of the program so I decided I would send them a letter with a little bit of my background and what questions I had about the church. My experience in the past with any other ministry that I’ve written to has always been that I would receive a form letter with a list of resources to purchase about a month or so after I sent my letter to them. To my surprise, in less than a week I had a personal letter and a free book in my mailbox. How could this be? I had written to the biggest organized religion in the world and yet, they cared enough about my little insignificant letter to personally respond to me and give me a free book. Now I knew I had to at least read this book The Biblical Defense of Catholicism by Dave Armstrong. I never shared much with my husband about what the Lord was doing with me in regards to the Catholic Church so I thought I would just read the book and then get rid of it. From the very first page, my eyes and my heart began to open. I had never thought about where my Bible came from and who put the books of the Bible together. The error of sola Scriptura, using the Bible as my only source of authority, was like a beam of light that helped to answer so many of my questions. I started highlighting so many new truths being revealed to me that the book started to resemble my Bible.
The excitement of my newfound understandings of the Catholic Church could not be contained any longer. I had to start sharing with my husband what I was learning and experiencing. He was somewhat open but didn’t have all the knowledge I was gaining from reading this book. After reading the chapter about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I just had to go to Mass. The only Catholic church I knew in our area was St. Paul the Apostle, and the only reason I remembered it was because that was the name of the church where George and I were married. I went by myself hoping they had a Saturday evening Mass, but not really knowing if they did. Sure, enough they did, and I started walking towards the church doors all the while saying, “Lord, what are you doing with me?” Now the Lord knew I loved stained glass, especially blue, so don’t you know — every stained-glass window in the church was a shade of blue. I’m not a crier but I cried. Having belonged to many churches with full-size loud worship teams, the single acoustic guitar music during the Mass was heavenly. The reverence of the priest and people was so refreshing. And how did I not remember there was so much Holy Scripture at Mass? I left the Mass that night knowing without a doubt I had found what I was looking for. This was the “more” I kept looking for.
My husband and I decided to take the RCIA classes to gain a greater understanding of the Catholic Faith, which was very helpful for us. My return to the Church has only caused my love for Her to grow deeper and deeper. It’s as if the Lord has given me a treasure box filled with precious jewels such as the communion of saints, Mary, my Mother, and especially, Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Although my husband was not ready to come into the church after RCIA, he was received into the church the next year. But he has his own story to tell. Since my returning home, my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter have all come into the church as well. I am and always will be eternally grateful the Lord brought me full circle in my life.