SWIMMING THE TIBER: To Quote Flannery O’Connor, “Here Comes Everybody!”

WHAT DO THESE PEOPLE HAVE IN COMMON?

  • Actors John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jim Nabors, Faye Dunaway, Vincent Price, Susan Hayward and Patricia Neal
  • Academics and intellectuals Hadley Arkes (Amherst), Mortimer Adler (Great Books), Robert Bork (Yale), G.K. Chesterton
  • Royalty King Charles II ( Great Britain )
  • Artist Peter Paul Rubens
  • Heroes of the Old West Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and Doc Holliday
  • Musician Dave Brubeck
  • Politicians John Ellis (Jeb) Bush and Newt Gingrich
  • Famed coach Knute Rockne (Notre Dame)
  • Playwrights Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde
  • Novelists Ernest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, Sigrid Undset and Dean Koontz

If you guessed “They’re all converts to Catholicism,” you’re absolutely right! All of these famous people—and many thousands of others—have made the journey into the hushed reverence of the Catholic Church.

These converts have been drawn to Rome from mainline Protestantism, from Hinduism, from Judaism and agnosticism and full-bodied atheism. But why? What is the “spark” that caught them by surprise—that led them to explore more deeply and, ultimately, to embrace the Catholic Church as their spiritual home?

I suppose there are as many reasons as there are people—that the Holy Spirit can summon the heart using the meager tools at hand. I am often amazed, though, at the serendipitous events which propel the individual to open the door to Grace.

X-Men Comics To the Rescue – I recently read the story of Libby Edwards, a self-described “neo-pagan witch” who had practiced “the craft” for fifteen years, cultivating occult talents (healing and cursing) and organizing Pagan events. Libby explained that she loved horror novels and horror movies—and she gradually realized that the solution to the evil in the storyline was never a Protestant pastor or a Wiccan priestess. Instead, the answer to every crisis was always to be found in the Catholic Church. In addition, Libby loved comic books, and she was especially attracted to “Nightcrawler,” a character in the X-Men comic series. A blue, fuzzy mutant with a forked tail and a sword, Nightcrawler was a devout Catholic, in love with God. In some strange way, it was the fictional Nightcrawler’s example that empowered Libby to pursue a study of the faith, to enroll in RCIA and, ultimately, to become Catholic. (Read more of Libby Edwards’ dramatic story at her blog, http://threeweeleaves.blogspot.com/.)

The Passion of the Christ – Can’t forget that beautiful movie! One person who couldn’t forget it is Richard Evans, who had been away from the Church for 35 years and who had “come out” as a gay man in the early 1990s. Jim Caviezel’s dramatic performance as the suffering Jesus Christ planted a seed—which was nurtured as Richard became aware of the conversion stories of prominent evangelicals like Tom Howard and others he saw on EWTN, especially on Marcus Grodi’s show. Richard read Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s personal journey in their book Rome Sweet Home—and the weight of these deeply personal, well reasoned conversions ultimately drew him back to the Catholic Church, and back to a life of celibacy. (Read Richard’s testimony on his conversion blog, http://richardsrambings.blogspot.com/2006/11/my-return-to-faith-of-my-youth.html.)

The Sign of the Cross – I remember a conversation I had with author/speaker and Catholic apologist Bert Ghezzi. Many people, he explained, made the Sign of the Cross reflexively, at Mass or before dinner, without really thinking about the words and the symbolism in the sign. He recognized the Sign of the Cross as a part of our heritage as Christians, a living symbol of discipleship, and a celebration of Christ’s victory over the devil, and a visible sign of our commitment to abandon self-indulgence and sin. Through the Sign of the Cross, that simplest of Catholic prayers and symbols, Bert found the impetus to grow in his faith and to embrace the rich traditions and well defined tenets of Catholicism. (Obtain Bert’s books and learn more about his speaking at his website, www.bertghezzi.com.)

The Early Church Fathers – “To be deep in history,” said Cardinal John Henry Newman, “is to cease to be Protestant.” Such was the case for prominent Pentecostal preacher Alex Jones, who pastored a church in Detroit. In the late 1980s, Pastor Jones set off to lead his congregation in a study of the early Church Fathers. The more he read Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and the writings of the early saints, the more Alex came to the startling conclusion that the Holy Mass is the same “worship service” as was celebrated in the early church, and that the present-day Catholic Church is the same church as the church of the apostles. At the Easter Vigil in 1991, Alex and most of his congregation were received into the Catholic Church. He now serves as a deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he uses his preaching skills in the Office of Evangelization. Deacon Alex and his wife Donna both speak publicly; more information about their work is available on their website, http://deaconalexcjones.com/.

A Two-Step Conversion: Physical Trauma and Intellectual Pursuit – Jeff Miller is a popular writer who blogs as the Curt Jester (http://splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/). He was not always deep into his faith, though, as he will attest. Following his early exposure to a weak Catholicism and a troubled family life (his parents divorced when he was in his teens), Jeff embraced atheism and what he calls “modern liberalism.” Jeff tells a story, though, about a day which changed his life. Jeff used to ride a bike to work, and one day he saw, too late, a car barreling toward him. As the car struck him and threw him over the hood and onto the highway, Jeff was surprised—first, that he was still alive; and second, by a quick slipping away of his atheism, as he realized that had he been killed, he did not think that he would have been cast into oblivion. With his newfound faith, however tenuous, Jeff began to study and read, focusing on the Catechism. At the same time, he was nurtured by a local Catholic radio station which broadcast EWTN programming, and Jeff’s intellectual conversion was spurred by the Q&A format of Catholic Answers Live.

As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”

  • Anthony Esolen

    And there are more, all with fascinating stories: Jacques and Raissa Maritain; Bernard Nathanson; Larry Kudlow; Sam Brownback; Malcolm Muggeridge; Alasdair MacIntyre; Robert Novak; Ronald Knox; G. K. Chesterton; Roy Campbell; Alec Guinness; Rose Hawthorne; Edith Stein; Dietrich von Hildebrand; Avery Dulles; J. Budziszewski; Jean-Marie Lustiger; John Dryden; Max Picard; Willa Cather; Wallace Stevens….

  • HV Observer

    There is a slight error in your headline. “Here comes everybody” is a quote attributed to James Joyce, not Flannery O’Connor.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      I think we’re both right, HV Observer; although you, in quoting the earlier writer, are MORE right. Thanks!

  • http://www.thinveil.net Brandon Vogt

    Love this! As a fellow convert, it’s great to be part of the “everybody.”

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  • Elizabeth

    One of John Wayne’s grandsons is a Catholic priest. Devout and one heck of a nice guy.

  • Michael Biehl

    A lot of people think that the great poet Wallace Stevens converted to Catholicism shortly before his death, but others dispute that claim. I’m quite certain that Hemingway never converted, although he did look into the issue.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Wallace Stevens, if he did not convert, was indeed a Catholic before he converted; at least, his poetry is replete with Catholic virtue.
      Hemingway, I heard, was forced to convert in order to marry his second wife. When he died, he was denied a Catholic burial because he had been married three times. In any case, his rowdy life was not much of a tribute to the Faith.