It is intriguing to me why so many people become Catholic. These are adults who were in other Christian communities, other religions or none at all. Common threads run through their stories, but each remains unique – and a deliberate, personal, informed choice to be Catholic.
Brantly Millegan, a young, Evangelical convert himself, continues to write some excellent pieces on his blog Young, Evangelical, and Catholic. I last featured one of his pieces on the early Church and in some 7 Quick Takes Fridays (here and here).
This is his latest on piece – this time on converts, complete with a zillion links:
Yes, people do choose to join the Catholic Church.
Both my wife and I joined the Catholic Church as adults (see My Faith Story). The website Why I’m Catholic has a great (and growing) collection of stories of people who joined the Church. There are so many great stories. Obviously, there’s the stories of people like Paul, Augustine, Ambrose, Emperor Constantine, John Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Alasdair MacIntyre, Edith Stein, and G.E.M. Anscombe, Francis Beckwith (who was president of the Evangelical Theological Society when he converted), Scott Hahn, and Richard Neuhaus.
There’s also the bisexual atheist blogger who just became Catholic this last summer, the former evangelical/emergent church co-author of the book Jesus for President who found his way back to the Church via Catholic Social Teaching, the pro-life leaders Lila Rose, Abby Johnson, Bernard Nathanson, and Bryan Kemper, the Wheaton College Bible professor who crossed the Tiber a year and a half ago (just a few years after a philosophy professor there did the same thing), and the steady stream of disaffected Anglicans joining the Catholic Church. Even former speaker of the house and recent presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (who produced a great documentary on John Paul II) and former prime minister of the U.K. Tony Blair have jumped aboard.
Below are four stories of people who joined the Catholic Church as adults who I think many people probably don’t know about (at least I was surprised to learn about their stories!). One was a convicted homosexual playwright who converted on his death-bed, another was an ex-Marxist who authored the “eco-Bible,” the third was a drafter of the U.N’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the last one was the founder of a whole new academic discipline.
Death-bed conversion of a homosexual playwright: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
A contributor to the aestheticism movement and best known for his play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde is also a well-known example of a famous person convicted under laws in the 19th century that punished homosexual acts. What is not as well-known, however, is that he joined the Catholic Church literally on his death-bed. Though born into an Anglican family, his interest in the Church started as a young man. A meeting with Pope Pius IX left a big impact on him, and he read the writings the Cardinal Newman, another great convert to the faith. At the age of twenty four, he actually was set join the Catholic Church, but decided against it at the last minute.
A quarter of a century later, after serving his prison sentence, he unsuccessfully tried to go on a six-month Jesuit retreat. He later developed cerebral meningitis. With his health deteriorating, a friend called for a priest. The priest conditionally baptized him (Wilde had a vague memory of being baptized as a child) and gave him Last Rites. He died the next day.
The liberal environmentalist nobody knew was Catholic: E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977)
Schumacher was a protégé of John Maynard Keynes as a young man and had an accomplished career as an economist. For much of his adult life, he was an avowed Marxist atheist. But a visit to Burma in the early 1950s and seeing how Buddhism shaped the economic life of the country got him to start rethinking his atheism. Upon returning to England, he decided to look into the Christian tradition and read the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, St Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross, and the lives of other saints. He also read modern Catholic thinkers Rene Guenon, Etienne Gilson, G. K. Chesterton (another convert), and Jacques Maritain (another convert, see below). A friend eventually persuaded him to read the papal social teaching encyclicals. A friend of his relates how he responded:
He replied, ‘No, no, I’m sure that the Popes are very holy men living in their ivory tower in the Vatican but they don’t know a thing about the conduct of practical affairs… But this friend… insisted that he should read the social encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno above all… He did so and was absolutely staggered. He said, ‘here were these celibates living in an ivory tower… why can they talk a great deal of sense when everyone else talks nonsense’… (source)
Pope Paul VI’s encyclical reaffirming the Church’s stance against the use of contraception Humanae Vitae came out as he was getting closer to wanting to join the Church. Though many criticized the teaching, Schumacher was in full support: “If the Pope had written anything else, I would have lost all faith in the papacy.” (source) For his wife and daughter, who had also been considering Catholicism, Humanae Vitae was the final assurance that the Catholic Church was the right place to be. After years of being intellectually convinced of Catholicism, he was eventually received into the Church.
Two years later, he published the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. Touted by TIME magazine as the “eco-Bible”, the best-seller simply explained in non-theological language the ideas of Catholic social teaching. When he died four years later a celebrity among liberal environmentalists, most still didn’t know he was Catholic. His daughter has related that, as word got out, many were “astounded” and “thought it was a real let-down, a betrayal.” (Read more about his conversion here.)
There is more in Brantly’s full piece, including pictures at: The Converts to Catholicism You Didn’t Know About.
UPDATE: Brantly continues with 4 more notable, interesting converts in More Converts You Didn’t Know About.
My special interest is in those who blog, telling their story and continuing journey. I have assembled a good list, along with links to other good sources of online convert stories. There is also a good list of convert stories published in book form. Explore it at Convert Stories.