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My father and mother, ages 88 and 86, recently entered the Catholic Church. Like most things in life, their entrance could never have been imagined or expected, even ten years ago. Yet, like all things in life, their conversion was providential, and, when it happened, it seemed utterly natural.

How natural it is, that with my father and mother in the Catholic Church, the family comes full circle. Once, in pre-Reformation England, our ancestors were all Catholic. By the time they reached American shores, in the mid-17th century, they were established Protestants, and since that time there was only one Catholic, a great-aunt who died 50 years ago.

In 1964 the Protestant dike sprang a leak. There came into the family a Romish in-law, my husband. I followed suit the next year. Eighteen years ago my only sibling, my brother and his family, entered the Church. Then came a niece-in-law. Last summer a cousin and her husband and daughter added their names to the Catholic rolls. After four-and-a-half centuries, the family in a mere three decades had reversed itself.

It is only fitting that my father, the patriarch of the present generation, should, along with my mother, complete the family circle, repairing the garment of faith that was rent by Henry VIII.

“Now we are all one family,” my father says. But we were one family before, even if not formally all in the Church. There had to be more than family to move my parents into the Church at their age, a revelation to break through inertia, weariness, or habit. Only truth has that compelling attraction. Thus logic played to the end: My father seeks the truth; my mother ratifies it; therefore, they were confirmed in the Church.

Both had been baptized, my mother at age ten in Grace Methodist Church, Indianapolis, and my father at age twelve in Martinsville, Illinois. Dad recalls the week in 1923 when the Powell and Moon Evangelistic Party — a preacher, choir director, and piano player — ran a stirring revival at the town’s Methodist church. In the ringing call to conversion, Dad, his sister, and aunt and uncle trooped to the front of the church to be baptized.

When my father left the farm and went to Indianapolis in the fall of 1929 to attend Butler University, he lived in a fraternity house that was replaced years later by a Catholic church. The pastor there, Fr. William Munshower, is the very priest who shepherded my parents into the Church. Because Fr. Munshower also had brought my brother and family into the Church, Dad knew his solid homilies. When Dad decided it was time to move forward, he called upon Fr. Munshower.

Reading played a part, too — a huge part. Dad has been reading all his life. In his retirement he took on a new mission — to read the great works of the Western tradition, which is also the Catholic tradition, beginning with Homer and the Greek tragedies and advancing through Virgil, Augustine, Dante, St. Thomas, the Catechism, and some of the documents of his hero, Pope John Paul II. Just before he announced his intention to become a Catholic, he read Fides et Ratio. Above all, however, Dad read Scripture, especially his beloved Gospel of John.

Family, a good priest, disciplined reading, a monumental pope — all contributed to conversion. All confirmed my father’s number one theological principle: God has created an ordered universe, and in this universe the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In the end, however, conversion is a matter of the heart. In the heart the Lord whispers mysteriously, privately, to one’s inmost being — so gently it may be years before one realizes He has spoken at all.

It takes a lifetime for the Father’s plan to come to fruition in each of us. As John Paul wrote in his apostolic letter, On the Coming of the Third Millennium, “The whole of the Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature . . . we discover anew each day. This pilgrimage takes place in the heart of each person . . .”

Our journey to the house of the Father means that we are all sons and daughters of his household, the Church. Margaret and Ralph Husted, my parents, now gather with us round the hearth.

 

This column originally appeared in the May 1999 issue of Crisis Magazine.

By

Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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