Edith Schaeffer, me, and April 29

Four years ago tomorrow, April 29, 2007, I was publicly received into the Catholic Church at 11:00 am at St. Joseph’s Parish in Belmead, Texas. The day before, I participated in the sacrament of confession for the first time in over 30 years. Oddly, 25 years ago, on April 29, 1986, I met Edith Schaeffer, the widow of Francis A. Schaffer. I tell the story of our encounter in my book, Return to Rome: Confession of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):

During my second year in New York City I had the opportunity to meet Edith Schaeffer, the widow of the Presbyterian theologian, Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984), whose published works were influential in my decision to pursue graduate work in philosophy. Mrs. Schaeffer was in New York for a book-signing event at the massive Christian Book Distributors retail outlet in Midtown Manhattan. When I arrived there in the mid-afternoon, the crowds had dissipated and Mrs. Schaeffer was sitting alone at a table. I introduced myself to her and told her about her late husband’s influence on me. She seemed sincerely interested in my story. She then kindly asked if I wanted her to sign one of her books. I said “yes,” and handed her a copy of Common Sense Christian Living. She then opened up the book to the first blank page and proceeded to draw a sketch of the Swiss Alps, with birds flying between the mountains and a small flower at the base. (For years, her and her husband lived in Switzerland where they founded the ministry, L’Abri). She then wrote in large letters [photograph of the inscription is below]:

April 29, 1986

To Francis with love, Edith Schaeffer. I’ve written many notes to another Francis—-I do pray your life may be as significant in History.

It was only when I reread Mrs. Schaeffer’s inscription while writing this book that I realized that the day of her written prayer for me is the same day that in 2007 I was publicly received back into the Catholic Church, April 29. This is one of those “coincidences” that really spooks me, but in a good way.

  • http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/ charlie

    Great story! Thanks for sharing.

  • jjen009

    I am moved at the mention of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. I became a Christian at the end of 1969, more or less out of nowhere, and the writings and tapes of Francis Schaeffer were instrumental in helping me to understand Christianity. For several years my wife and I contributed to their ministry at L’Abri.

    It was, ironically, one of Schaeffer’s tapes that was, indirectly, responsible for my becoming a Catholic. He talked about Newman. I understood him to say – I freely grant it may have been my misunderstanding – that Newman’s own conversion to the Church was an act of intellectual cowardice. He seemed to say that Newman couldn’t find a way of standing against the growing liberalism of his day, and that he, in Schaeffer’s words, “crept into the darkness of the Church and shut the door.”

    From that point – maybe the mid-1970s – I knew that Catholicism had nothing to say for itself.

    By 1993 I had learnt quite a lot more about church history. In addition, I was seeing the intellectual lacks in my own part of Christianity – Calvinism and the Reformed churches – and felt drawn to know more about Catholicism. Someone suggested I read Newman. I read the Apologia and the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. I was stunned. Far from seeing in the Catholic Church a way of hiding from the heat, Newman had struggled for six years not to become a Catholic. His conversion had been for deeply compelling reasons. I knew that I had been wrong about what I thought I had learned from Schaeffer. I was undone.

    In 1995 I was received with inexpressible joy into the Catholic Church. Schaeffer’s writings had been a bit part of my grounding as a Christian. The writings of Newman, and of others, had completed the story.

    jj

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