Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten

Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten February 17, 2014

Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish LineDeathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This slender volume is a quick and easy read which may surprise you with the sheer variety and individuality of the converts. Buffalo Bill rubs shoulders with Wallace Stevens, who scoots over for John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Communist journalist hell-raisers, witty society elite, hardened gangsters, and kings on the run all have one thing in common: in the end they turned to the Catholic Church when they were at the end of their life.

I liked the way that author Karen Edmisten used various stories to point out commonalities between situations. Sometimes all the potential convert needed was one prompting question from a trusted friend. Often conversions are so last minute and private that they are doubted by the world because the internal path was kept so private. (This was something I could relate to as in my own conversion I didn’t even tell my husband I was debating questions with God. He was stunned.)

I especially liked the point made in the forward that often life-long Catholics feel as if the deathbed convert cheated by slipping in the door at the last minute. From observing my father who turned to God mere weeks before his death, I can say that what is left is the regret for a wasted life which could have been so much fuller of love and purpose. Looking forward there is a joy and peace that we should not begrudge any soul. God loves them to the end and we should at least try to have His vision in mind.

Edmisten also points out how important friends are in general, sometimes making a big difference simply by being true friends until the end. Time and again, we see the path to conversion can be something that is incomprehensible to anyone but the person who is struggling with the question. This point struck me in particular and she says it quite well here.

The Lord does not always come to us in recognizable or traditionally “religious” ways. Sometimes the first glimpse many of us see of Jesus Christ is unadorned, all-encompassing love.

It’s a little too easy for us Catholics to want to retreat from the world, to hang out with only Catholic friends, with people who understand us and share our values. Make no mistake–there is great merit in finding and nurturing that kind of support. It is not only helpful, but crucial to cultivate a Catholic culture in our lives, and, more expansively, in our world. At the same time, we are called to be in the world but not of it, and sometimes that means the greatest work of mercy we can perform is to befriend the girl sitting next to us in drama class, or to remain loyal to a wife who has turned our world upside down.


Deathbed Conversions is both entertaining and thought provoking to read. Definitely recommended.

Note, this was a review copy, as if that’d have made any difference to my opinion if I didn’t like it (which publishers and authors know to their sorrow.) Nope. This is my opinion. I stand by it.

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