The Steady Stream Home
For the first forty years of my life, I never considered the possibility of becoming a Catholic. No Catholic ever talked to me about the faith and it never crossed my mind that there was any reason whatsoever to even consider the Catholic Church. In those forty years, I had freely processed from the Lutheran church of my youth, over to the Congregational church of my adult "born again" reawakening, and on into the Presbyterian church of my pastoral ministry. We even considered moving on into other Protestant churches as we struggled with the "problems of Protestantism", but the Catholic Church was never an option.
One piece of disinformation that reinforced my disinterest was that I had never heard of a Protestant minister becoming Catholic. I was very aware of Catholics becoming Protestant—a third of my congregations were ex-Catholic—and I had heard of priests and nuns being "rescued from the whore of Babylon." I was also aware of Protestant laity becoming Catholic through marriage, but I assumed they could do this only because they either had not understood their Protestant faith or merely lacked convictions. But the idea that a well informed sincerely convinced evangelical Protestant minister could become Roman Catholic was far beyond the pale. Absurd! And I have found that this similar lack of information was shared by most of my convert friends.
Then through the grapevine I heard a rumor that my old seminary classmate Scott Hahn, who upon graduation had also become a Presbyterian minister, had "poped." Because this didn't fit into any of my mental categories, besides running cross-grain to my personal knowledge of Scott's staunch Calvinist convictions, I gave the rumor no heed. I waved it off and moved on.
Later I discovered that not only had he and his wife Kimberly become Catholic, but that there were others, such as Father Ray and Ruth Ryland, who were instrumental in my wife's and my conversion, Steve Wood, who had also attended my seminary, and, of course, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Then during our journey we began discovering others, both those who had converted or were presently on the journey. The fact that there was this steady stream of men and women clergy on the road to Rome—many of whom were like I was, unaware of others on the journey—eventually led to the formation of the Coming Home Network International. We are here to stand beside, to give encouragement, prayer, resources, fellowship, and assistance to any and all, clergy as well as laity, who sense the Holy Spirit calling them home to the Church Jesus established in his apostles.
As of this newsletter, our data indicates (see page 6) that we are in touch with 1383 Primaries (clergy, seminarians, academics, missionaries, etc) from nearly 100 different non-Catholic traditions who have either already converted (760) or are on the journey (623).
Now: Is this stream of highly informed non-Catholic intellectuals into the Church, however, only a modern phenomenon? Is it merely the result of modern crisis within Protestantism teamed with the increased accessibility of truth about the Catholic Church through technical media?
Many of us only became aware of conversions to the Catholic Church through contemporary conversion stories, like Rome Sweet Home or Crossing the Tiber, or contemporary collections, like Surprised by Truth, Spiritual Journeys, or Journeys Home. The truth is, however, that throughout the twentieth century there was a continuous stream of these books (we have several shelves full of them in the CHNetwork's lending library). Moreover, books like Patrick Allitt's Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome and Joseph Pearce's Literary Converts indicate that there have always been clergy and lay converts to the Catholic Church.
A recent addition to our library, however, really opened our eyes! In 1907, a D.J. Scannell-O'Neill published a book entitled Converts to Rome: Distinguished Converts to Rome in America. This 180-page book contains nothing more than an amazing annotated alphabetical list of 3000 American converts since the discovery of America! The author writes, "The list of converts contained in this book, while as full as the compiler has been able to make it, is by no means exhaustive. Of the revisers who have looked it over, not one but was able to add from personal knowledge the names of several converts of prominence. No doubt many hundreds of others are still wanting. Perhaps they will be supplied some day. Until then we are sure the present list will prove quite serviceable." What is amazing to us is that these converts were not limited to the "usual suspects" (Anglican, Episcopal, or Lutheran) but were from over fifteen different Protestant groups, and included a bishop, 372 clergymen, 3 Rabbis, 115 doctors, 126 lawyers, 45 US Senators and Congressmen, 12 governors, and 180 military officers! Many of these names are well known in history—though most historians and histories ignore their Catholic convictions.
If you are a convert to the Church, feel reassured that you are a part of a long stream of men and women who by grace God has called home to His one, holy, apostolic, and Catholic Church. If you are reading this and are not a convert, than know that there have always been men and women who by God's grace have come to love and cherish that which you have always had.
Sincerely in Christ,
From The Coming Home Network Newsletter October 2007
Used with permission.