My pathway home to the Catholic Church required an all-terrain vehicle to negotiate the steep, rocky, tortuous roads including dead ends, cul-de-sacs, and detours. Unlike many of the Journey Home stories, I was not trained in theology or doctrine. I attended no seminary, Bible college, or religious institute. But a great deal of informal education in those areas plus years of lay ministry led me to the Catholic Church. And it all started early.
In 2005, I found myself inside a Catholic church for Midnight Mass. My future wife, born and raised in the Catholic Church, was by my side, silently showing me something that I never thought I’d see or feel. At the age of 31, an unexpected realization set in – thus beginning my personal journey to the Catholic Church, my home.
I stood on the edge of America, sand under my feet and the warm water from the Atlantic Ocean washing over my toes. On the horizon I could see them: early morning thunderheads. All lined up and towering into the sky–some closer, some farther away–but all beautiful and majestic; standing like sentinels ready to fight an unseen enemy and seemingly ready to protect. As I watched, some of these thunderheads developed into giants, with the telltale anvil head shape. While others, shaded from the sun by the larger clouds, simply died off, giving no rain to the earth. This made me think of the parable Jesus told about the seeds scattered along the roadside. Some of these storms had taken root, but in shallow ground. After starting out quite hopeful and impressive, they died out in the shadows of those who were fulfilling their cyclic duties of sea to rain, rain to sea–their roots were not deep enough. I could certainly relate.
I grew up in a small town near Toronto, Canada, the son of a Presbyterian minister. My parents are wonderful people – and in my opinion, they’re living saints. While studying theology at a Baptist seminary in the 1960’s, my dad heard so much anti-Catholic rhetoric that he decided to take a Knights of Columbus correspondence course to hear the other side of the story. Partly as a result of that course, he ended up leaving the Baptists to enroll in a Presbyterian seminary. This was one of his first steps toward an appreciation of Catholicism.
My return to the Catholic Church after twenty years away as an Evangelical Protestant was my heart’s response to Jesus, as He drew me back into full communion with His Church and complete union with Him in the Holy Eucharist.
I was baptized Shannon Mary Kelly, oldest of six children of an Irish-Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan. I made my First Confession and First Communion when I was eight years old. I remember how very close to Jesus I felt as I received Holy Communion for the first time.
On May 1, 2011, with great joy, I confessed my faith, was confirmed as a Roman Catholic, and received my first Holy Communion at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Mesa, Arizona. The church was packed with over a thousand reverent people for the 10 a.m. Mass, which made it so joyful and welcoming. For a 68-year-old Mennonite, career pastor and missionary, this was a dramatic move!
Before I was thirty years old, I never considered the Catholic faith as anything more than a curiosity. Why would anyone be persuaded to worship the Virgin Mary, the saints, and statues in the place of Jesus? How could Catholics be deluded enough to think they could sin all week, confess to a priest on Saturday, so they could receive communion on Sunday, and still think they would make it to heaven? We were taught many more sinister suspicions about Catholics and warned to stay away from them because ours was the “full Gospel.” We believed even most of the other Protestant churches did not interpret the Scriptures correctly and we were never quite sure of their salvation.