The Bumpy Path to Rome

Scenes from the life of a struggling convert

What does it mean to “turn Catholic,” as they say here in my tiny Midwest parish? What happens when someone in her late forties tries to “be Catholic,” having been reared a Unitarian and spent most of her adulthood as an Episcopalian? These are questions that I, as a convert, struggle with daily. They are also questions that, approached thoughtfully, might tell us something about the larger Catholic experience.

Sadly, though, convert stories in the popular Catholic press tell only half the story. I’ve read dozens of these stories in my award-winning diocesan magazine, my Catholic newspaper, and on Web sites such as Coming Home. Typically, the convert story begins with a Soul in Torment (often precipitated by melodramatic personal events) who meets a Catholic or happens to attend Mass. The torment subsides, sometimes gradually-as in the story of the fundamentalist youth minister who comes to believe that the church is the true repository of divine authority-and sometimes all at once, as in the story of the agnostic wanderer who happens on a charismatic meeting in a Catholic Church and suddenly talks in tongues.

Convert stories build on events which, in retrospect, seem to prove that God himself has led the convert to the church. “I didn’t know it then, but...” is a common construction of the convert story. The happy tale closes with the Soul Tormented No More at the altar of First Communion, whence he...

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About the Author

Jean Hughes Raber teaches journalism at Michigan State University.