Patty is the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor. As an adult she also attended a church of the Calvinist tradition. To say that her family is staunchly anti-Catholic would be an understatement! Her interest in Catholicism was no matter of rebellion, but of following the Holy Spirit. It was not an easy journey.
In Patty’s own words: “As the daughter of a Baptist minister, I grew up in a home where theology, the Bible, and an intense emphasis on ‘faith alone’ salvation was deeply woven into the fabric our family’s life. I entered adulthood firmly convinced that, as a born-again, Bible-believing Baptist Christian, I had the whole truth. Period. Catholics, I had been taught and had come to believe, most definitely did not have the truth. And nothing could have convinced me otherwise. It was us against them.”
Patty was received into the visible Church instituted directly by our Lord at the Easter Vigil in 2001. These are excerpts from her story:
I remember my mother explaining that Catholics believed they had to work their way to heaven, that they prayed to statues, and that they said the same prayers over and over like pagans. She was particularly critical of the Pope and the idea that a man on earth would claim to be the head of the Church. She said that Catholics did not think for themselves; they let the Pope think for them. They were not even allowed to read the Bible for themselves! She told me that some children throw up when they take first communion because it makes them sick to think about eating Jesus’ flesh. I could see the point. It was strange and sickening to think about eating someone’s flesh. She explained that the Pope didn’t let women decide how many children they were going to have because he wanted lots of Catholics to be born. She said that Catholic women had to have one baby after another until they were either worn out or dead. What kind of people were these Catholics anyway? How could they believe such things?
I was nervous as I approached the doors of the Church, but once inside it seemed like a normal place. There were none of the medieval pictures or statues I expected. The walls were familiar beige and the decorating was of a Southwestern flavor. The baptistery was obviously for immersion, which made me feel more at home. I sat down and tried to be calm and relaxed.
As Mass began, I realized what a fish out of water I was. Everyone knew what to do – except me. There was so much bowing and gesturing! I tried to fight the tension building up in my neck and shoulders. After some pleasant singing, we sat down and a woman reverently stepped to the podium and read a passage of Scripture. Hearing Scriptures made me feel more at ease. Just as I began to relax, the congregation stood and began singing. Then the deacon turned and bowed to the priest, who made the sign of the cross over him. He walked to the pulpit and read a passage from the gospels.
So far, I was very impressed with how scriptural everything was. Even the sermon was quite good. I didn’t understand the need for the formality and pageantry, but I could see why my friend’s faith seemed so biblical. Everything this community did revolved around scripture and prayer.
Then came the Eucharist
I had no idea how my life was about to change. Without warning, the Presence of God fell on that place. I had never felt Him as powerfully as I did at that moment. I lost touch with most of what was happening around me. I barely kept up with the liturgy. I stood there bathed in the light of His breathtaking Presence. It went on and on as each of the parishioners filed forward to receive communion.
As the Mass ended, I was speechless with joy at the Presence of God. I hugged my friend and said goodbye. I walked into the parking lot not able to feel my feet on the pavement. I prayed frantically for answers. “What was that, Lord? I have to understand this. What do I do now?” I know you want me to look into the Catholic faith, but where do I begin? I am not a theologian or a scholar. Where does an everyday person like me begin?”
His answer came back immediately and unmistakably: “Start with what draws you; start with the Eucharist.” I drove home knowing I would do just that, somehow, some way. I was excited … and afraid.
From dwelling in their writings, I was beginning to understand the vantage point of the early Christians. It was becoming obvious that the Lord had left us a living and authoritative Tradition that eventually found expression in written form, but that it was the Tradition, written or oral, that was the Christian faith. There was no real expectation in the early Church that we would ever govern our lives and worship strictly by the writings of the Apostles and their contemporaries. The early Christians had received the faith in total as the apostolic tradition and were guarding it for all time. St. Irenaeus had no compulsion to write down what he had heard from St. Polycarp; he hid the word of God in his heart.
At this point I finally developed complete confidence in the teaching authority of the Church. I trusted those precious saints of God down through the ages who had guarded the truth and plumbed its depths to explain the mysteries of God for future generations. Oh glorious reality, that there is in this world an ultimate authority to which Jesus not only delivered the truth, but which has guarded that truth according to His promise!
At long last Holy Saturday arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny day here in Phoenix, and I could barely contain the joy of knowing that there were only hours between us and home. With the exception of a minor wardrobe problem at the last minute, the hours passed by without a hitch. My family arrived and seated themselves in the church while Esther and I stood outside with the newly lit fire. The celebrant lit the candle and we followed him into the darkened Church, bringing the light of Christ.
Vigil Mass was so beautiful. Esther and I both heard our saints invoked in the Litany of the Saints. I thanked St. Patrick for his intercession, and his testimony that opened my eyes and eventually brought me home. After the catechumens were baptized, it was time for our profession of faith. Esther and I and several others stood to declare to all those there that we believed that the Catholic Church was the true Church which Christ established to be the preserver of truth.
Moments later, we each filed to the front to pronounce our patron saint’s name and be confirmed in that name. What a joy it was to hear the priest confirm me as a Catholic in the name Patrick. I bear it proudly and with gratitude. We stood again and approached the altar.
Finally, after months of intense hunger, Esther and I received the Lord Jesus Christ on our tongues and into our beings, the way He had meant for us to receive him.
Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!
Patty blogs at Abba’s Little Girl. The excerpts above are less than a tenth of her complete conversion story. Read it on her blog at this page. (Some may prefer this copy of her story with improved formatting.)
Marcus Grodi interviewed Patty on his popular EWTN The Journey Home show in 2002:
Marcus followed-up with her in 2007 and discussed scripture with her in 2010: