'The Church of God welcomes you with great joy'

There are a number of amazing conversion stories in the New Testament, from the apostles who were called by Christ to those who witnessed his miracles, but as Jesus said in John 20, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

So it was with a crowd gathered to hear our first pope, St. Peter, preach on Pentecost, when 3,000 converted on one day, in one place.

Cliff Charlie Danielle
Jere Jason Catherine

Click photos above to read their stories!

“Peter [said] to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.’ He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’” (Acts 2:38-40).

Some of the most amazing conversions are those taking place today, as people fight to swim against the current of our increasingly secular culture.

But despite all the obstacles against them, they made — and continue to make — a conscious decision to say “yes” to God and to the Church he established through Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“It is by faith in the Gospel and by baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life” (No. 1427).

Our Sunday Visitor once again celebrates Easter by sharing the conversion stories submitted by our readers.

We hope you enjoy them.

Since becoming Catholic, rare is the day he misses daily Mass

Clifford Gissell

I did not intend to become a Catholic; my wife did, and between us there were three divorces. I attended RCIA to learn more about Catholicism.

The annulment questionnaires are nearly autobiographical. After completing mine, I stood back and looked at my life, all 69 years of it. In number and magnitude, my failures outweighed my successes. It was cathartic. God had put me in positions where I could do good, where I could make a difference in the lives of family and comrades. I failed. My decision was easy; it was time to join the Church.

It took three years to become Catholic. During that period I was an English as a second language teacher, and one of my students, a Hispanic priest, gave me a first Communion book for children to help me with my Spanish. What I learned from it was this: La misa es la celebración de la eucaristía. The Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist. I wanted that.

After having witnessed the preparation for the Eucharist more than 100 times I began to resent not being able to take Communion.

I thought about going to the Episcopal Church one time just to take communion but then I felt like that would be almost adulterous. I persevered and we became Catholics on Dec. 28, 2013.

Since then, we rarely miss a day without attending Mass. Being able to participate in the Eucharist has had a major impact on me.

I am Catholic.

Clifford “John” Gissell, Vinemont, Ala.

‘Each sin was momentarily visible and then disappeared, as if forever’

My conversion began with an unusual dream. I was in the countryside looking for a farm where they sold tomatoes. Finding such a farm, I noticed a beautiful Catholic church next to the farmhouse. 

I started toward the church, but the farmer came out saying the church was closed and invited me into his house. Stepping inside, I was immediately confronted by a ladder attached to and going straight up the wall. The farmer nodded for me to climb the ladder that took me into an enclosure much like an oversized heating or air conditioning duct. The dark duct was just big enough for me to crawl through. Suddenly, I was outside in the bright sunlight where the farmer said I could now go into the church.

Inside, a young woman in a blue dress was kneeling on one of two kneelers. As I knelt and looked forward, all my sins were silently presented, just above the altar, in a kind of slide show format. Each sin was momentarily visible and then disappeared, as if forever. In my dream I recognized some kind of spiritual conversion was taking place. As I left the church, the young woman smiled but didn’t look up. Outside I saw the farmer walking away from the farm; he turned and motioned me to follow. I awoke exhilarated that God was prompting me to begin my Catholic Faith journey. A year later I was received into the Church.

D.D. Emmons, Mount Joy, Pa.

Father Smith instructs Charlie

Charlie Hamlet entered the Church prior to marrying. Courtesy photo

As the relationship with my future wife became more and more serious, I became more and more concerned about our children being Catholic. Any objections I might have would certainly apply to my children as well. As an active Presbyterian, I was aware of a few similarities and many differences between our faiths. I met with a priest and brought a list of the similarities and differences with the intention of examining them each in turn. Within minutes, he dismissed me with the advice to accept the Roman Catholic Church as the Church established by Jesus and to return when I had.

My girlfriend and her family were shocked and suggested another priest. What they did not know was that any significant objections to the Church that surfaced would mean an end to the romance. Fortunately the attraction was strong, and I met with the second priest, who was the epitome of hospitality, charity and compassion. He introduced me to “Father Smith Instructs Jackson” by John Francis Noll, the founder of Our Sunday Visitor. After about a year of instruction by Father John Edward McMurray of Nashville, Tenn., (and Father Smith, of course), I came into the Church on July 2, 1960, with my future mother-in-law as my godmother. My wife and I now have four children and 10 grandchildren after 53 years of marriage. Our youngest, John Edward, is named after Father McMurray. Needless to say, there were no objections!

Charlie Hamlet, Nashville, Tenn.

A promise to God

Danielle Christopher and her son, Trevor. Courtesy photo

On Jan. 19, 2010, my husband and I were blessed with a baby boy. In February, I noticed he seemed to be having difficulty breathing and took him to the hospital. He was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit with pneumonia and both of the lower lobes of his lungs collapsed.

The doctors told my husband and me that they were not able to say if he was going to make it or not. We were desperate and went to the hospital chapel to pray. I made a promise to God that if he let our son survive I would return to church. I did not give a religion to the hospital during admission, but the next day we were visited by two nuns. We do not know who they were or why they were there; however, I told them I was Catholic and wanted to have a priest come to see Trevor. The next day happened to be Ash Wednesday and, sure enough, this is when the priest came. He gave us ashes and also baptized Trevor. The next day Trevor was taken off the ventilator and was breathing on his own with just oxygen. The doctors had no explanation for this. I re-entered the Church in October 2013. 

Danielle Christopher, Otisville, Mich.

In search of a rudder

I grew up a Methodist before converting to the Episcopal Church at age 20. The stately liturgy and choral music always brought me closer to the Lord.

Jere Joiner

However, I always had problems with Henry VIII and the fact that he’d thrown the pope out of England. Something wasn’t right.

Then I heard the archbishop of Canterbury say in a homily that the Church in the world needed a rudder. I wondered why he didn’t consider himself that rudder. I also wondered about his followers in what amounted to a rudderless boat.

About that same time, Pope John Paul II came to World Youth Day in Denver. I hung on his every word and saw in him someone who knew exactly who he was — he was that rudder the archbishop had been looking for! I told my wife there was a string I had to follow, and I did not know where it would lead.

Where it led was the Roman Catholic Church, and it was there where I also discovered I had not been baptized! Thanks to the pastor and local bishop, I was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit on April 2, 1994. For the first time in my life, I was nourished with the body and blood of the Lord.

My wife followed some years later, and Pope Benedict XVI even created a better way for Episcopalians to enter the Faith, bringing their beloved music with them.

Surely, the Holy Spirit is at work here!

Jere Joiner, Colorado Springs, Colo.

God revealed

During the summer, fall and winter of 1989, I was working on a particularly sensitive problem for the large chemical and plastics company where I was employed as a research chemist. Because I had worldwide contacts with scientists, marketing, sales and production people, I had a very broad access to all the pieces of the puzzle involving new products. Each group had their own unique input according to their area of expertise. But none had the whole picture.

After several months of study it suddenly dawned on me the solution to the whole picture. This revelation came to me at 2 in the morning. I jumped out of bed and wrote six pages of notes regarding the solution. The next day at work I started writing out the complete report. I was so happy.

However, when I submitted the report to the company it was rejected out of hand. I was stunned and amazed.

While considering this shocking turn of events, I heard these words in my heart: “Now I am going to show you all you’ve been looking at all your life, but never understood.” In this revelation from above, Our Lord has helped me see, i.e., understand, the spiritual messages hidden in his creation, i.e., nature (Wis 13:5; Rom 1:20).

For more than 24 years now, I have been writing, teaching and studying God’s message hidden in Scripture, nature, tradition and his one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church.

Jesus is Lord.

Daniel Najvar, Quitman, Texas

Led by Church Fathers

I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, faithfully attending meetings three times each week and engaging in door-to-door proselytism. Ironically, it was the Witnesses’ literature that began the process that led me from the Watchtower Society and into the Catholic Church.

Jason Barker

The Watchtower Society published a booklet containing heavily edited quotations from Church Fathers to argue that early Christians didn’t believe Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God. Knowing this differed radically from traditional presentations of church history, I wanted to better understand the totality and context of these quotations. I therefore snuck into a library where no other Jehovah’s Witness would see me researching forbidden Christian literature, and my world turned upside down: I discovered the Watchtower Society lied — in their writings, the early Christians had affirmed their belief in the Trinity.

Seeing the unreliability of the Watchtower Society caused my faith to slowly and painfully unravel. In leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I lost not only the grounding of my religious worldview, but also my Witness family and friends who were required to reject me.

At the same time, however, the Church Fathers had introduced me to a far greater gift: the real God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and the Church through which I could grow in communion with the Trinity. Through immersing myself in Catholic teaching — and later exulting in the experience of attending Mass — I was gradually led into the Catholic Church, where I now worship the God I was once taught doesn’t exist.

Jason Barker, Durant, Okla.

Truth revealed in Blessed Sacrament

Catherine McCraw

As an adult, I attended an Episcopal church in a small Oklahoma town. There weren’t many of us, and when the church folded I made a seamless transition to the Lutheran church. One year on Good Friday, I visited St. Eugene in Weatherford, Okla., and was awestruck by the veneration of the cross. A few years later, a thought tumbled into my mind as if it fell from the clear blue sky: Why don’t I go to the Catholic Church? I signed up for the RCIA class. I looked forward to class each week but was not yet ready to leave the Lutherans. The next year I took the class again and felt about 90 percent ready to become Catholic.

Then came Holy Thursday and the adoration after Mass. I followed the procession out of the sanctuary to another building. People sank to their knees, sat on the floor or on folding chairs. A worshipful mood prevailed with everyone focused on the Blessed Sacrament. Then, with a quiet intensity, the room became holy ground. The barriers between earth and heaven dissolved and human time was suspended. God’s overflowing love subsumed every inch of space. I felt like I could stay there forever.

When I left that room I had no doubts anymore about being received into the Catholic Church.

Catherine McCraw, Weatherford, Okla.