During college and my young adulthood years, although I still considered myself a Lutheran, I didn’t attend church regularly; my faith took a low priority in my life. Enter my wife-to-be Theresa, a cradle but, at the time, a non-practicing Roman Catholic. We were married in the Lutheran church. For the next few years we attended a small mission Lutheran church in the area, but my wife had already begun her return to her Roman Catholic roots. Shortly before our first child was born I reluctantly agreed to have our marriage blessed in the Catholic Church so she could return to the sacraments. However, when our son William was born he was baptized in the Lutheran church.
It was a similar story with my son William. He attended church and Sunday school with me until he was seven years old. But my wife and I also decided it would be best to send him to the local Catholic elementary school because we wanted the best education for him. Then when he was in the 2nd grade he informed my wife and I that he wanted to receive First Holy Communion and join the Catholic Church.
So, I was 0-for-2! Both my wife and son had chosen the Catholic faith. But I knew I would never be Catholic, I was Lutheran through and through…famous last words!
This is where EWTN entered my life. My wife would watch EWTN from time to time and initially I would usually leave the room when she switched it on. But then I started to listen to the shows and actually started to enjoy them, though I would never admit this to my wife! EWTN cleared up many misconceptions and misunderstandings I had about the Catholic faith, and it got to the point where Mother Angelica, Dr. Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi and other EWTN personalities were becoming my favorite TV stars.
However, I was still attending my local Lutheran church during this period of time (late 1990’s) and was very involved with the congregation. I was Superintendent of the Sunday school, ran vacation bible school for many summers, and was active on the Church Council. But a few times a year I would attend Mass with my wife and son and some miraculous things started to happen. Sporadically during the Mass I would become overwhelmed with joy! And it was never at the same point in the Mass. One time it was during a hymn, another time a prayer, another time at the consecration, another during a homily. Initially I dismissed the experiences but soon I had to admit that: a) I had never had an experience like this in a Lutheran service and b) the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me something!
This caused me to delve even deeper into the Catholic faith through EWTN and other materials. One resource was a Catholic bookstore that was close to my work office. I’d spend my lunch hour a few days a week researching the faith. I’ll never forget one day reading Tim Drake’s ‘ There We Stood, Here We Stand’ book of Lutheran-converts with tears in my eyes. I couldn’t put in down. I purchased the book and finished it that evening. Every story drew me closer and closer to the Catholic faith.
During my research, I discovered the Real Presence, Mary and the Saints, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet and all my Catholic objections were melting away. However, I didn’t tell anyone about my journey, not even my wife.
In the spring of 2002 I was to the point where I knew “spiritually” (through my revelations in the Mass) and “intellectually” (through my research of the Church) that I was “Catholic”. However, even though my wife and son were both Catholic, most of my family was Lutheran and of course my mother was a Lutheran minister. The “social” consequences of telling my family and church friends that I was converting to the Catholic faith “scared me to death”.
Then one evening my son informed me and my wife that he wanted to start a Rosary prayer group at his Catholic middle school. When we asked him why, he simply stated, “He knew that God wanted him to do this.” My wife and I were both pleased but shocked! Our son was a great kid, but generally a very low-key boy who avoided the limelight. He understood that a boy starting a Rosary group for 7th and 8th graders would not be regarded as a very “cool” thing to do among his peers, but yet he felt he had to “answer the call”.
But soon the pride I felt for my son’s courageous choice dissolved into shame for my predicament. My 12- year- old son was willing to face ridicule for proclaiming his faith, yet I was afraid to profess the faith that I knew in my heart was the truth! I needed a plan to hurdle my “social” impediment to the Catholic faith. My term on the Church Council at my Lutheran church expired at the end of 2002, but as the spring of 2003 approached I was still reluctant to take my “leap of faith”.
Then one day, out of the blue, I received a letter from Sr. Jude Cianfrogna, the Pastoral Associate at my wife and son’s parish. The letter was an invitation to RCIA! Once again, in a not too subtle way, the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me something. The letter sat on my desk for a month but finally I told my wife of my journey. She couldn’t believe it!! The Lutheran was coming home! I also told my mother and even though we agreed to disagree on some points of theology, she was happy for my new found religious fervor.
So after a year, I finally followed my son’s example and “answered the call”. I enrolled in the RCIA program at Sacred Heart, Glyndon parish and entered the Church at the 2004 Easter Vigil. It was glorious evening I will never forget! And neither will I forget my son’s faith example that moved the Holy Spirit in me.
By the way, my son started his Rosary group with few other kids and he led the group for two years until he graduated to high school. The group grew to over 40 children under his leadership and now ten years later the group he named “Beads of Strength” still exists and prays the Rosary every week.
PART II – THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
After an incredible spiritual journey into the Church, I thought things would settle down for a while but the Holy Spirit wasn’t done with me yet. A few months later in 2004, I was at a Dr. Scott Hahn talk and I happened to pick up a flyer about an upcoming Italy pilgrimage with Dr. Hahn. At first I didn’t think much about actually going on the pilgrimage, but the more my wife and I discussed it we finally decided it would be a great way to ‘celebrate’ my entry into the Church. So in June 2005, my wife, son and I went on a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi with Dr. Hahn. Having never been on a pilgrimage before I thought it would be like a normal vacation with a few church visits added throughout…it was so much more. The entire pilgrimage was glorious! All the churches were glorious, all the sights were glorious, Dr. Hahn and all the speakers were glorious, everything exceeded expectation, but the things that really ‘blew me away’ were that the ultimate spiritual high points of the pilgrimage: the Mass, prayer and fellowship! It was a life-changing experience and set in motion an amazing series of events.
A few months later, a work friend of mine lost his battle with cancer and I attended the funeral at St. Joseph Monastery Parish in Baltimore. I had ever heard of or been to the church before, but when I walked into the sanctuary I was overwhelmed by its beauty. The thought hit me, ”More Catholics need to see and worship in the beautiful and historical churches we have in the Baltimore area.” Of course many thoughts have popped in and out of my head over the years but this one would linger.
One evening in the fall of 2005, I was reflecting on our Italy pilgrimage and decided to research other pilgrimage offerings of the company that had arranged Dr. Hahn’s pilgrimage. The company was Wendt Touring in Steubenville, Ohio, and I knew nothing about them other than they had arranged the wonderful pilgrimage my family had enjoyed a few months earlier. Well, low and behold, I found them on the internet and discovered that they not only offered European pilgrimages, but also offered many pilgrimages to US shrines and churches including shrines and churches throughout Baltimore and Maryland! I bookmarked the site, looking forward to a future pilgrimage. Little did I know just how many pilgrimages would be in my future.
As the end of 2005 approached, we got hit with a bombshell when the computer company where I worked for over 20 years had massive layoffs, which included me. In the subsequent job search, a crazy idea occurred to me: I knew that Wendt Touring organized group pilgrimages primarily with parishes in western Pennsylvania and Ohio…would they want to expand to the Baltimore/Washington area? Well after many phone calls and lots of prayer I started the Wendt Touring office in Maryland. And since November 2006 I have organized nearly 100 pilgrimages, escorting most of them to Catholic shrines and churches in the US and abroad. I’m most proud of the fact that our pilgrimages have made over 100 visits to churches and shrines in Maryland, DC & Philadelphia, donating over $10,000 to these historical places of worship! And I can honestly say that - more Catholics HAVE seen and worshiped in the historical and beautiful churches in Baltimore – and throughout the world!