As I look back over my sixty-three years, I can see clearly the hand of the Lord in my life through good times and bad. I know beyond any doubt that it was he who led me to his Church.
In retrospect I recognize His call and see the marvelous way that He worked all things for good.
Until I was three and a half, my Daddy was my best buddy. Mother used to say that she’d put me in a pretty pink outfit then look out the window, and I’d be under the car with Dad.
I can remember fishing with him at the Ohio River. But one day we went to visit Grandmother in Ohio, and Daddy left mother
and me there and didn’t come back. I sat on the front steps and waited and waited and waited, but my father didn’t come back
for us. After that I saw him only a couple of times a year.
There was still a deep hurt in my heart the summer I was nine. Some of the neighborhood children would go to the Sixth
Street Theatre to watch the Kiddy Show (there was no television then).
It was a small town and we could safely walk the mile downtown, but we all had orders to stick together.
Our family belonged to the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and we attended every week. Our church was about three blocks from the town’s Catholic church, Sacred Heart Church, which sat on a hill only slightly out of the way home. I felt drawn to this unfamiliar church on the hill rather than to my own.
One Saturday I made an excuse and left the other children on the way home and went alone into the church.
When the big, heavy, wooden door closed behind me, it shut out the sun and it was quite dark in the vestibule. I went slowly into
the nave and knelt down in the back pew and cried.
I don’t think I really knew how to pray; I just told God how hurt I was. I don’t recall whether it was at the time of my first visit, but I recall being aware of a Presence, and the Presence had a personality-a kind and compassionate closeness is what I remember.
I knew that the “person” was male-it was a strong impression I had, yet I don’t believe that I heard a voice. But that Presence drew me back over and over. Hindsight tells me that what I felt there was the love I missed from my Dad.
That summer I had rheumatic fever and was sick for a couple of months. When I finally got to make my Saturday afternoon visit again, I was not as strong as I had been. I went in and spent some time alone.
I knew that this Personality was emanating from the area where this mysterious red light was hanging in the dim church. That remains a vivid impression to this day.
Sacred Heart has been renovated, but in my mind’s eye I can still see the dim church and the light at the front. And I can still see the nine-year-old in the white-and-pink pinafore going to the big, wooden front door and pushing on it, but it was stuck and I was
too weak to open it.
The black-and-white squares on the floor are imprinted in my
mind, and my heart beats fast when I think about it just as it did on that afternoon. The tears began to fall, and I panicked.
Finally I pushed the door with all the might I could muster, and it opened. That made me anxious and the result was that I didn’t go back.
Over the years I cried out to the Lord. I remember a particularly hurtful time when I was about twelve, when I knelt alone by the
window in Mother’s and my bedroom and told the Lord that He would have to be my Father.
As a teenager, I went to the youth group at our church and would steal away upstairs and sit in the dim sanctuary trying to find that Presence. He wasn’t there.
Once when Mother and I went to a wedding at the big Methodist church, I wandered away from the reception and went back upstairs and sat in the pew, hoping to find what I had found
at Sacred Heart. It wasn’t there either.
Our Calvinist Evangelical and Reformed denomination merged with others and became the United Church of Christ. For a couple of years I taught an adult Sunday school class; I wanted to take the Bible as my curriculum but I was told I needed to follow
the church curriculum somewhat.
The more I tried, the more I found that I couldn’t teach the Bible and the curriculum together because they just didn’t fit. It led me to a two-decade study of the Reformation, particularly the works of Luther.
What I found was a series of self-willed opinions thrust up in the face of the Catholic Church—manmade doctrines, expressed in
rude and crude rhetoric.
I finally left the denomination I had been brought up in and
joined an Episcopal church. Among other things I was attracted to the liturgy and to kneeling in prayer.
Looking back I think I was attempting to leave Protestantism and
to come closer to the Catholic Church. The Episcopal church seemed to me to be a middle way.
I became the janitor at church and spent many hours alone in that little Episcopal church. Needless to say, I hoped to find what
I had seemingly lost so many years before. The Presence was not there in the way it had been for me as a nine-year-old. I think that I began to tell myself it wasn’t real, that it was just a child’s imagining.
The Episcopal priest and his family became our best friends, and they helped me through some difficult times in my life. The priest was a Scripture scholar par excellence.
My mother always said there was no better preacher anywhere. In him I finally had someone to talk to about the deeper and richer things of God.
My years in the Episcopal church were years of growth spiritually,
but there was still that longing for what I had experienced as a child-the presence of the Lord.
It was a quiet need that I concluded finally would be satisfied only in heaven. But in this world it manifested itself in a continual frustration to study more and more and more.
I really wanted to know the truth. But, to paraphrase Pontius Pilate, what was the truth?
The ongoing question in my mind was, “Where is the church—The
Church?” The only answer I got from Protestantism was, “The church is invisible.”
I didn’t argue, but it wasn’t an answer I could reconcile with
Scripture. Was Jesus’ prayer for oneness unheeded and unanswered?
What of the biblical witness that the oneness of the faithful
would be the thing that drew others to the Church?
Decades passed, and I was having some kind of spells that doctors
did not have an answer for. It was taking less and less to exhaust me, and I felt as though there would come a day when I would give out.
In October 1991, at work I caught my foot on a piece of carpet and catapulted across the hall. I fell headlong into a wall, pulling ligaments and muscles in my neck, injuring my right shoulder and popping out my back in three places.
A couple of months later, one doctor finally listened to me when I said that there was no feeling in my left leg. It was a worker’s compensation case, and it was a big struggle to get anyone
to take me seriously.
I ended up with lots of pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms. For a
time I was housebound.
At just that time my cable television company added the Eternal Word Television Network to its lineup, and I began to listen to
Mother Angelica as she talked about “offering up” our pain to the Lord. It was an immense help that seemed so providential. I
watched all day, every day while I was recuperating.
After I went back to work, I videotaped six hours a day of the programming and watched it in the evening. The more I heard of the teachings of the Catholic Church the more I knew I was hearing the truth I had sought for so many years.
Scripture was falling into place.
One day, Mother and a guest were talking about the Eucharist. As they explicated the teaching of the Church regarding the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, my ears perked up.
I became engrossed in what they were saying—it seemed to be directed at only me. Part of the way through the discussion it hit me with the impact of a velvet sledgehammer, and my mouth dropped open.
What came out was a stunned and awed, “Oh, my God!” It was prayer and exclamation rolled into one.
My mind ran back to Sacred Heart Church the summer I was nine, and suddenly I knew that the experience had been real—it had been Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that I had “known.” On that day I heard with my ears the truth that Jesus was present there—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—a truth that I had known without knowing, for all those forty-four years.
I began to put together in my mind the reasons why I had never found Him in any Protestant church, though I looked for Him always and everywhere.
Mother Angelica sent me back to the Scripture that I had studied in depth for over twenty years. Finally John 6 made sense in a
way it had never made sense before.
It was ironic to me that the “Bible believers” I had studied with took this chapter figuratively, and the Catholic Church (which I’d been taught did not believe the Bible) took it literally.
I found it refreshing.
By this time, I had become so disgusted with what I found that I had refused for several years to celebrate “Reformation Sunday”
and found the myriad of denominations a scandal that hurt me deeply and made me feel a sympathy for Our Lord. Yet it had not
occurred to me to convert to Catholicism.
I had never known anyone who had converted, and somewhere in the very depths of me I seemed to know that the Catholic Church
was not just another denomination.
I couldn’t church-hop into the Catholic Church. The discovery of the truth about the Eucharist was the push that launched me
into study. Just what else did the Catholic Church believe and teach?
By summer 1992, I was deep into the study of Catholicism.
I wasn’t alone in my study; my eighty-engineer-old mother and our Episcopal priest and his wife were studying with me.
We spent every Sunday evening tearing apart every Catholic teaching and holding it up to a scriptural analysis. It passed every test.
In September that year I began RCIA classes. By that time, RCIA was only a formality because we had examined and reexamined
every doctrine, and we were all in agreement: The Catholic Church had truth on its side to a degree that we had never known.
At Easter Vigil 1993, I came into the Church—I came home! I had the feeling that I had finally made an honest woman of myself.
My mother would have converted, but she was ill and frail; she was Catholic at heart and prayed the rosary faithfully twice a day until the end of her life in December 1993.
I had the privilege of traveling to Florida and attending the ordination of my former Episcopal priest when he became a priest in the Catholic Church in September 1994.
Last Easter marked nine years since I came into full communion with the Church Jesus Christ founded. I have never had a doubt that the Lord orchestrated my conversion; I believe it began when my father left and I sought out our heavenly Father.
I believe that it was the Lord who led me to go into Sacred Heart Church to pray—and I know it was Jesus, present in the Blessed
Sacrament, who met me there when I was nine years old and brokenhearted. I believe that the loving presence He let me know so profoundly was the answer to a child’s prayer for comfort and that He turned it into a search that would end in my knowing that I
had found what my soul truly longed for all those years.
Although I knew and loved the Lord for many years, I have come to know and love Him in deeper and richer ways in His Church—in the sacraments; in His word; in a deeper spirituality; but particularly in receiving Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
No one can ever tell me that Jesus is not literally present in the Blessed Sacrament. He let me know it undeniably for years before I knew the doctrine. I thank Him for that more and more as the years go on.
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel a great appreciation for His leading me home to the Church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
I have been truly blessed!
Kathryn E. Stuart writes from Coshocton, Ohio. Reprinted from Crusade magazine and This Rock magazine with permission
of Catholic Answers.