California Catholic Daily writer Mary Rose is interviewing young Catholic converts as part of our Inquiring Minds series. If you are a young convert to the Catholic Church and would like to share your story, please contact us.
Interview on September 1, 2021 with Lee Ann, who entered the Church in 2000 at age 27.
What was your faith background?
Lee Ann: I was raised in an evangelical Protestant church. In Protestant terms I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart when I was like nine, so I definitely had an understanding of what that was. It wasn’t a very mature faith probably because I was pretty young, but my mom was very active at our church, she was Sunday school director, and I helped her in Sunday school. I went to church camps. I went to youth group. I was involved for sure.
My parents have been married for almost 60 years now, but my mom is a Christian, a strong evangelical Christian and my dad is just kind of agnostic. I was raised in church, but I would say my father was just sort of a Christmas and Easter, kind of a Christian. So even though I grew up going to Sunday school and I was really involved when I was younger, that ended in my later part of my high school life. By the end of sophomore year, beginning of junior year in high school, I pretty much thought that organized religion was stupid and rebelled and only went to church because my mom made me go.
I was dating this guy whose mom was spiritual, but not religious. She actually was a baptized Catholic. My perception of Catholicism was not good because back in the eighties, they was a little bit of an anti-Catholic sentiment, I think it’s fair to say, amongst evangelical Protestants. Then the mother of this guy that I was dating had had a bad experience with Catholicism and so I heard all about that from her. But she was spiritual, so I thought she was cool. So at that point in my life, I thought that all organized religion was dumb, but I especially thought that Catholicism was crazy, that it was a cult. I knew nothing about it though. I didn’t know anything about what Catholics really believed. I’d never been to Mass or anything like that. But going into college, I was sort of spiritual and dabbled in not great things. I was really interested in Native American religions and Eastern religions.
What led me back to Christ was that same woman had asked me to sing on an album. She was trying to put together her own original music that was spiritual. This one song that she wanted me to sing backup vocals for was this song to all these different gods. The theme was there’s a great creator and it’s all the same, so praising Krishna and praising Buddha and praising Allah and all these different names of all these different gods, which I thought was cool when I heard it. I thought it was really cool. Then I tried to sing it.
And as I was singing it, something deep inside me was like, “No.” I literally couldn’t sing it. And it was really confusing to me and I didn’t really know why, but I just knew that for some reason that I needed to get back to Christ. That happened right before my freshman year of college, so I started praying privately again and getting back to turning to Jesus because I knew God was calling me to Himself, as Christ, as He really is.
I started praying for God to reveal Himself to me how He really wanted me to know Him. Then I met my husband. We were just friends all our whole freshman year, but he was and still is Catholic. He was not really invested in his Catholic faith. In fact, he was going to Protestant churches and all his friends and roommates were these pretty diehard, Protestant, evangelical Christians. He would go to Mass every once in a while, but the thing that I thought was cool about him, even as just a friend, is I would see him saying grace in the dining commons before he would eat and I thought that was really sweet. With some of our other friends, we would casually pray together, for each other and for things. But I didn’t know that he was Catholic because he wasn’t really going to Catholic church and he didn’t identify himself as such. We started dating at the end of my freshman year in college and that’s when he told me I’m actually Catholic. I was floored. I had no idea. He invited me to go to Mass with him. That was my first experience in Mass. It was in Isla Vista at UC Santa Barbara. I was open to it because I was still sort of dabbling and like, “What do I believe?” and I knew they loved Jesus.
So I went to this Mass and I was really astonished by how reverent and worshipful it was. It wasn’t focused on a pastor or what the pastor was saying. In fact, I think the homily was super boring, the music wasn’t very good, it was very foreign to me, but I felt the reverence. I told my mom, “I went to a Catholic church and it was crazy, but they actually really were focused on worshiping Jesus.” I remember being surprised that it was so focused on Christ. The second thing I remember about it was I had always been told that Catholics have their own little Bible that was not the word of God, that was something different. But when I was reading the readings in the missalette, I saw, no, this is straight out of the Bible. I could tell it was the Old Testament and maybe New Testament and then there was always a gospel. I knew the Bible well enough to know that. I was like, “No, Mom, they don’t make things up. This is actually scripture that I could tell they pieced together as like a theme.” So that was my first exposure to the Catholic faith.
When did you become interested in learning more about Catholicism?
Lee Ann: At that Mass, I was very attracted to the reverence and the focus completely on Christ. Then, after I started dating my husband, I met his parents and his parents were going through a reversion. I mean, they never left the Church, but they were in the middle of really stepping into their Catholic faith when I started dating my husband.
So they had had this really personal encounter with Christ through their Cursillo group down in San Diego and really started to have, for lack of a better term, a personal relationship with God. When I met them, they weren’t trying to convert me necessarily, but they were really growing spiritually, so they couldn’t help but talk about it. I started asking questions about Catholicism and they were learning about their own Catholic faith at the same time, too, so they had all this material by Scott Hahn and different authors who talked about being Catholic and Christian and evangelizing to people about what the Catholic faith really is and what we believe. I listened to a tape, a cassette tape, of Scott Hahn, his conversion story, and I was really interested in that and then I started reading things here and there. I kept going to Mass with my husband. At that point I was interested in it, I thought it was cool, but I never had the desire to actually become Catholic. So even when my husband and I got engaged and were going through counseling by pastors and a priest and the deacon, my intention was never to become Catholic. I was going to be okay that he wanted to raise our kids Catholic, but I really thought that we would do both.
What pushed you over the edge?
Lee Ann: We got married, we started going to different churches, but we found this Catholic church that we got involved with. My husband volunteered me to sing with their praise and worship group because I knew that music from being an evangelical. So I started singing with this group and going to Mass every Sunday and starting to get exposed to the liturgy. And these people, these musicians were kind of like my in-laws. They had had this personal encounter with Jesus, but they were decidedly Catholic, so I was able to talk with them about their faith and they were able to share with me what they really knew about the Catholic faith.
I decided I just wanted to learn more about it and so I started RCIA, not with the intention, “Oh, I’m going to become Catholic.” It was more like an investigation. So I went through RCIA and by the time I was done with that year or two years, I was like, “This is it. This is where God has been calling me. I’ve been praying about it for a good 5, 6, 7 years, for the Lord to reveal Himself to me in this way and this is what God is telling me to do. It’s the Catholic Church.” So I became Catholic in 2000.
But I still was learning a lot. My husband and I didn’t have this super, super deep faith. We embraced Catholicism, but we weren’t going to Mass every Sunday, necessarily. We didn’t really understand our faith that well. The next step would be after my first two children were born, in about 2006. My youngest was 18 months or something and we started going to church here in Ventura and we met this couple who had just been hired by our parish to be the adult ministries directors or maybe the youth ministers. They were super grounded in the faith. They came from Franciscan University of Steubenville.
We became friends with them and again music comes into play because he was leading a youth Mass that used a lot of praise and worship kind of music, which I was really familiar with. So I started singing with him and they just really exposed us more deeply to the Catholic faith. They told us about Theology of the Body and we went to a conference on Theology of the Body and started really digging into those kinds of things. That’s where I really started to grow as a Catholic.
The next tipping point was my father-in-law was then diagnosed with cancer and just walking with him through that. He really leaned into his faith. That was the first time I learned to pray the rosary or to embrace Mary. Before that there was sort of like, “Oh, I’m Catholic, this is cool and I’m okay with her.” But I didn’t really have this devotion to her at all until my father-in-law was dying and we were just praying so much as a family, and I really started leaning into asking Mary for prayers and for comfort.
Were there any hurdles or difficulties you had with the Catholic faith?
Lee Ann: Number one was Mary. I didn’t really understand her role. She was like a side thing for me that I was okay with, but I definitely didn’t need to embrace. And the saints, too. I was like, “Yeah, they’re cool people.” I never bothered to look into the lives of the saints or to really understand what that was about until when my father-in-law was dying and I started praying the rosary just because my husband’s family was praying it together.
I didn’t really understand what it was. I was just rote praying it and then I really believe that God and Mary intervened through that in a supernatural way because after that I really embraced Mary as my mother and a gift from God. So that’s been a huge part of my faith now, but initially that was a hurdle. I wasn’t all in from the Catholic perspective. That was always like a little bug in my ear, “Why do you need to lean on Mary? And why do you need to lean on saints? Jesus is enough.” Even though I’d become Catholic, I always had that in the back of my mind because it was being said to me by my family, but after starting to pray the rosary, it was clear: no, Mary, our mother is a gift.
Do you have advice for how Catholics can better evangelize?
Lee Ann: As Catholics, we need to know our faith, not just like heady faith, but in order to evangelize, we have to have an authentic relationship with God. We can invite people to all kinds of programs and offer lots of different events and things like that, but ultimately, for me, it took the relationships with people to be curious enough about the Catholic faith. The first band that I was singing with, we prayed together a lot. I heard their stories about their faith and that made me curious enough to investigate the faith more and that’s what started me on the RCIA process. That other turning point I had with my in-laws, it was that relationship with them and their reversion story that was very authentic that made me want to grow more and to know more. I saw it in them and I was like, “Man, I want that.”
As Catholics we’ve got to be out there more as far as sharing our faith. Not necessarily standing on the street corners proclaiming the gospel or anything, but it’s a beautiful thing to be Catholic. So in our daily lives when we interact with people, don’t be afraid to mention something about your Catholicness. Like, “Oh, Mass today I went and prayed and God just spoke into me this.” Don’t be afraid to say those things. If it’s authentically in you, don’t hold back.