Presbyterian Convert

Fr. Carter Griffin

Father Carter Griffin is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. Raised Presbyterian, he converted to Catholicism while attending Princeton University. 

My big mistake was attending a Catholic Mass. It began innocently enough, visiting a Catholic friend who attended a southern university, a young woman that I wanted to impress by my large-minded desire to go to church with her. But my life has never been the same since that April Sunday of 1992. The next day, returning to New Jersey where I attended college, I had eight hours to ponder the experience of that Mass. It had made an indelible impression, and upon returning to the dormitory I asked a Catholic friend of mine to take me to his parish priest. I had some questions that needed answering.

I grew up in a Presbyterian family, fairly consistent churchgoers, and I had always harbored an interest in religion. My father's business took us abroad when I was very young, and most of my childhood was spent living in countries in Latin America. Most of my friends who were "serious" about religion were in fact Catholic, so I grew up touched by a favorable view of the Church. When we lived in Brazil, I attended an English-speaking Catholic school, and I vividly recall being one of the few children who were not able to receive Holy Communion during our weekly Mass. It was that hunger to receive Our Lord that would one day blossom into the grace of conversion and the faith to believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.

By the time I reached college, however, I suppose that I was a typical product of our age: ambitious for worldly gain and pleasure, friendly, noncommittal, non-dogmatic, tolerant to a fault, ignorant of supernatural realities, numb to the movement of the Holy Spirit. All things considered, I may not have been a great sinner, but neither was I remotely interested in becoming a saint. I was, in other words, your average "nice guy." Then came that unforgettable experience of Mass.

After that initial impetus, there was nothing very theatrical in my path to conversion. My life continued as normal, but peppered by moments of insight. Many of these experiences were triggered by my reading. Having spoken to my friend's parish priest, I began to read a great deal, and I found that many of my presumptions about Catholicism, about its beliefs, practices, and history, were inaccurate and often plainly wrong and unfair. Much to my surprise, I found that Catholics did not, in fact, worship Mary; that children whose only fault is being unborn nonetheless have a right to live; that Catholic history is not a swath of benighted ignorance punctuated by moments of light, but rather a fantastically rich and diverse and proud affirmation of goodness and beauty, shadowed only by the human frailty that we all share.

As my "myth busting" reading continued, I found that these and my other prejudices, never before questioned, began to waver, then sway, then collapse. Each time, my presumed conviction in what I held became less strident, until one day I realized that I was approaching a topic in reverse: where my views differed from that of the Church, I expected the Church to be right, and me to be wrong. That's when I thought to myself with wonder, "I can't believe it. I think it's all true!" The irony of those words didn't hit me at the time, because of course it was precisely then that I could believe it! I entered the program of formation (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at the parish church, and several months later, at the Easter Vigil of 1993, I was received into the full communion of the Catholic Church and Confirmed.

During this period of preparation, I will never forget one of my talks with the priest who eventually brought me into the Church. As I was preparing to leave, he casually remarked that, after my conversion, God may ask still "more" of me. That is – and I fully understood what he meant – God may ask me to be a priest. I mumbled an answer, and left feeling a bit resentful that he had placed such a burden on me, before I was even a Catholic! It was not the sort of thing that nice, non-committal people like myself would ever dream of doing to another human being! How little I knew, how little I understood the depth of his charity for me. And how grateful I am today for that priest's courage; though he has now gone to the Lord, every day I pray for him in thanksgiving. In fact, ten years after his unwelcome suggestion, he vested me as a deacon in St. Peter's Basilica.

Upon finishing college, I entered Officer Candidate School and began a four-year stint in the Navy, where I served on a cruiser and a destroyer in the Atlantic Fleet. Fortunately, at college I had met some wonderful Catholics in Opus Dei who encouraged me to foster a life of prayer, ongoing reception of the sacraments, spiritual reading, and devotions. That formation in the interior life kept me grounded throughout those exciting four years of military service.

As I neared the end of my time in the Navy, I again reflected on that priest's suggestion to consider a vocation to the priesthood, but was still not quite ready to take the plunge. Once again I had a serious girlfriend and, while deep down I knew that the Lord was calling me to be His priest, I tried one last "end run" around Him. I took the LSAT and applied to law school, and when the acceptance letter came from my "long shot" school, I was ecstatic. When the euphoria wore off, however, I stared at the letter and realized that I would never attend. Without any more hesitation, I turned it down, sent in my application to the seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington, and embarked upon the most satisfying and exhilarating journey of my life.

More than any other feeling, my heart is filled with gratitude. Gratitude to God for my life, for the grace of conversion, for my faith. Gratitude to my family for their love, for my education, for their unfailing support and encouragement. Gratitude to the many priests and laypeople who have been such fine witnesses of the Catholic faith and who have supported me every step of the way. Most of all, however, I am grateful for the great gift and blessing of a call to the priesthood. What an amazing life – a life of intimate union with Christ, of acting as a powerful channel of God's grace, of having a privileged role in the lives of His people. God gave me a choice, a real choice, and I was free to turn the vocation down. He does not want reluctant disciples. Not for a moment, however, have I regretted my answer. I have never been happier in my life, I have never looked back, and there is nothing I would rather do. I pray every day that Our Lord will bestow the privilege of a call to the priesthood on many generous, steadfast men to be fathers of souls. Never before, I believe, has there a better time, a more noble cause, or a more abundant harvest of souls hungering for truth, for pure and unstained love, for genuine happiness and peace of heart.

That priest who asked me to consider a call to the priesthood understood. He knew that every man's happiness, ultimately, is found in following God's plan for his life. That is the great, open secret unknown to the modern world, in which so many people frenetically pursue "happiness" in all the wrong places. He wanted for me what every true Christian friend should want for us: the serenity and uncontainable joy of a generous disciple of Jesus Christ. For me, the road of discipleship meant becoming a priest, but it first meant embracing the beauty, the truth, and the joy of Catholicism. The Catholic Church has been a sure guide, a light in dark times, and a bedrock of support to me for over half my life. I cannot even imagine life without the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, without the steady hand of her doctrine, without the assurance that she uniquely unites us to Christ. And that, in a nutshell, is why I am Catholic.

Father Carter Griffin is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. Raised Presbyterian, he converted to Catholicism while attending Princeton University. After graduating in 1994, he served for four years as a surface line officer in the United States Navy prior to entering the seminary. He attended Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland for two years of philosophy followed by the North American College in Rome for five years of theology. Father Griffin was ordained to the priesthood in 2004 and served as the priest-secretary to the Archbishop of Washington before beginning doctoral studies in Rome in 2008. His doctoral dissertation, "Supernatural Fatherhood Through Priestly Celibacy: Fulfillment in Masculinity," was published in 2010. He is presently the parochial vicar of St. Peter's parish on Capitol Hill, and has recently been reassigned as the Vocations Director of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Vice-Rector of the Archdiocese's new Blessed John Paul II Seminary.

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12 comments

  • Comment Link Brandon Vogt Wednesday, 01 June 2011 15:56 posted by Brandon Vogt

    Great story, Fr. Griffin. Thanks for following God's call all the way, not just to comfortable lengths. Your obvious commitment to the priesthood strengthens my own vocation as a husband and father.

  • Comment Link larry farrell Wednesday, 01 June 2011 19:39 posted by larry farrell

    Thank you Father Griffin for your "Yes" to God and His people.
    Your story is a beautiful expression of what can happen when the Holy Spirit invades a willing soul such as yours.
    Your first sentence caused me to gasp out a laugh.

    My big mistake was attending a Catholic Mass.

    As a daily Communicant for these past 21 years I can understand how a person who hears the prayers and recognized the Real Presence would be attracted and converted in no time at all.

    If there is one thing that the Church has that is it's supreme gift it is the Eucharist.
    (I guess you know that...: )

    So again I say thank you for allowing your love for God and His dear Church. We pray for you and for ten thousand just like you to consider the calling to the priesthood.

    PS It is also wonderful that your family of origin has supported and encouraged you on your journey.

    Ad multos annos, Father Carter

  • Comment Link PB Wednesday, 01 June 2011 21:01 posted by PB

    Thank you Father for sharing that great & inspiring story !

    And, I love your first line ....." My big mistake was attending a Catholic Mass.". The Mass with the Gospel & Eucharist is at the core of our beliefs & practices.

    You mention 'myth-busting' about the Church and I know exactly what you mean. In particular about Catholic history, I found that I was just plain unaware (ok ...ignorant) of what actually happened thru two millennium and why ! It is only thru much reading and media such as EWTN that I have re-educated myself

    I wish you continued strength and faithfulness in your vocation !

  • Comment Link David Hegedusich Thursday, 02 June 2011 03:00 posted by David Hegedusich

    God bless you, Fr. Griffin! Thank you for your "yes".

  • Comment Link Richard G Evans Thursday, 02 June 2011 07:17 posted by Richard G Evans

    ANOTHER great story from a great website!!! READ IT. DO IT. BE IT. We are challenged to be so much more than "nice." I wish I had learned this lesson around 35 years ago. Thanks Father and thanks Steven for sharing this.

  • Comment Link Doug Thursday, 02 June 2011 15:02 posted by Doug

    What a providential tale, that (I hadn't realized) has profited my own spiritual life! From the photo, I recognized Fr. Griffin (whose name I hadn't known previously) as the confessor and homilist whose priesthood has blessed and sustained me during my occasional weekday participation at the parish near my office on Capitol Hill. I had no idea that, like me, he is a Catholic convert who entered the Church in 1993!

    Thank you, Fr. Griffin. May God sustain and richly bless you for your service, which has done more good than you are likely aware.

  • Comment Link Gerald Parker Monday, 06 June 2011 23:12 posted by Gerald Parker

    This is a moving and convincing account of a Protestant conversion to the Catholic faith.

    It is sad that in so many dioceses the prevailing modernism discourages conversions and is repellent to those who inquire. I returned to the Catholic Church from Lutheranism, but only very reluctantly. The Church here in my isolated region is quite rotten locally, but, I know, that it still is part of Christ's True Church, despite all the betrayal of the faith by the clergy. I know that from reading, however, not from any witness of the clergy of the local Catholic parishes here.

  • Comment Link Steve Stenger Tuesday, 07 June 2011 03:04 posted by Steve Stenger

    Your first sentence reminded me of C.S. Lewis's comment after reading G.K. Chesterton's book "The Everlasting Man," and being so persuaded by the arguments that it encouraged his conversion. Lewis said, "A young man, wishing to remain firm in his convictions, can never be to careful about what he reads."
    God bless you, Fr. Griffin.

  • Comment Link Ed Friday, 10 June 2011 00:58 posted by Ed

    "It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it.....
    The Catholic Church and Conversion
    GK Chesterton

  • Comment Link CRC Friday, 10 June 2011 05:44 posted by CRC

    God is so good! Thank you for your "YES!"

  • Comment Link Jean Baptiste Thursday, 16 June 2011 02:00 posted by Jean Baptiste

    May the love and grace of our Lord be with you always Fr Griffin. Thanks for sharing your experience..

  • Comment Link Juice Thursday, 31 May 2012 11:23 posted by Juice

    To the admin of whyimcatholic.com, you might want to include my story here haha.
    I am also a presbyterian convert.
    I am from the Philippines.
    -Jesse-

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