Unexpected Conversion

This article was posted on: August 3, 2023

Kendra and Patrick trust in God’s providence

Evangelical and Protestant at the time, Kendra and Patrick Conley met on the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities campus. Patrick had already acquired his bachelor’s degree in physics, but he knew the sciences were not his calling. His passion called him to Campus Ministry. He joined InterVarsity, which forms Christian witnessing communities on campus. There he met Kendra, and they married. Kendra received her degrees in education and started teaching in the public sector.

Following the Lord

Kendra and Patrick contemplated whether to pursue the mission field or focus on more theological training for Patrick. Ultimately, they decided on the latter. Their destination was the University of Oxford, an Evangelical Protestant Seminary in England. The education he received there allowed him to become an Episcopal pastor back in the United States. After England, their plans evolved, and they decided to move closer to Thorp, where Kendra grew up.

Kendra said about England, “It was a gift, absolutely wonderful.” Life was good, but Patrick had a longing and “I had a lot of questions.”

Two other American men studying in the Evangelical Protestant seminary met with Patrick weekly. They discussed several subjects Patrick had questions about: church history, tradition, liturgy and sacraments. It wasn’t long before one of them asked curiously, “What about the Catholic Church? They claim to be the church Jesus founded, and they have all these things.” The three started reading Catholic sources, authors and theologians. Patrick said, “We were discussing, arguing, debating, laughing and crying.” After two years of gathering together, sharing thoughts and discerning, the youngest of the group said, “I’m doing it, I’m becoming Catholic.” Today he is a Dominican Priest.

In the summer following those two years, a second member of Patrick’s group decided to convert to Catholicism, and in doing so, chose to remain in the United States with his wife and son.

A Day at Oxford

As the “Catholic thing” became more real, Patrick began to realize that as a married man, if they said yes to becoming Catholic, priesthood was then off the table. At the same time, it became increasingly clear that they could not conceive a child of their own. Their frustration came to a head and Patrick was angry. He lashed out at the Lord in their tiny flat in Oxford for several minutes until, emotionally drained, he became quiet. It was then, very distinctly, the Lord said, “Pat, if I am not leading you into the Catholic church, then why would you ever do it?” Patrick agreed. The Lord followed up with another question, “If I am leading you into the Catholic Church, don’t you trust I will take care of you?”

They didn’t know what the Lord’s question meant at the time. Patrick, looking back, said, “It manifested itself, individually and in our marriage, in so many ways. The Lord has come through for us, foremost in our relationship with Him.”

Now, intellectually convinced about the Catholic Church, Patrick’s heart wasn’t as sure. He finished his third year of studies at Oxford, earned his degree and graduated. Patrick decided to delay his ordination as a minister and instead applied for a doctoral program in theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

During one evening of studying that first semester at Luther Seminary, Patrick was reading a book written by a Catholic Dominican priest when something happened. Patrick said, “I can’t describe or explain it, but suddenly, I was there. It all made sense and it made sense in my heart. I think I’m ready,” he told his wife Kendra, who replied, “What?” He repeated, “I think I’m ready.” Kendra replied, “I think I’m ready, too.”

Kendra’s heart was won over to the Catholic Church and she said, “God was speaking to me through the beauty and richness of the liturgy, churches, artwork and the lives of saints. It was during our time in England that I really started to become increasingly aware of these things. I found the fullness of their expression in the Catholic Church.”

Patrick and Kendra began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program in the fall of 2009, at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Saint Paul, Minn. They were received into the Church during the evening of April 3, 2010, when they made their profession of Faith, were confirmed and received their first Eucharist.

Growing and Understanding

“Mary has been patient and kind,” said Kendra, who couldn’t quite grasp or understand “the Mary thing,” when entering the Catholic Church. Over time, Patrick has seen the growth of Faith in Kendra, which drew them both closer to the Lord—through Mary. “The light of Mary shines through Kendra in her humility and the fierceness of Faith she has in defending Christ and His Church. In the midst of Mary’s light, hard parts become evident too. Even in those times, Mary’s closeness to us has drawn us to the Lord. How can we be anything other than grateful?”

That same summer, Kendra and Patrick participated in their first Called and Gifted workshop through the Catherine of Siena Institute. The program helps discern the charisms and gifts given by the Holy Spirit to, in turn, be shared with others. Kendra’s teaching, with her newfound Catholic Faith, took on a whole new look and feel. She said, “I found a new passion for teaching in Catholic schools.” That fall, Kendra started as a science and math teacher.

In 2012, friends encouraged Patrick to present and teach the Called and Gifted workshop for the Catherine of Siena Institute in parishes nationally. In 2016, he was asked to host a weekly radio show for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which aired locally on Relevant Radio in the Twin Cities. “Not having had much previous radio experience, I doubted my abilities, but I found it suited me well and I really enjoyed doing it. I still do that show, which is called ‘Practicing Catholic.’”

Moving Home

Kendra’s longing and love for the peaceful, quietness of the small town came to fruition when in 2018 they moved to Thorp and built a house on her parents’ land. “It is a gift to be close to family. Though, I didn’t know why God was allowing us to move back to Thorp, as it made little sense from a worldly perspective, but I was grateful and we were trusting that He would lead us into what is next. And in the four years we have been in Thorp, He continues to provide and call in ways we did not foresee.”

Kendra taught at Thorp Catholic School for three years before becoming the principal this past year. Meanwhile in 2021, Patrick began the formation process for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of La Crosse.

“We hope God brings our experiences to bear in Thorp and hopefully beyond,” said Patrick. “We were able to meet the many people whose prayers helped shape God’s plan in bringing us here, and we are so grateful for these prayers, their work and time. We are feeling privileged to be a part of this community, to be welcomed in and to join them.” Patrick currently is the Parish Director of Religious Education and teaches religion for grades 3-8 at the Catholic School. He recently expanded his role with Relevant Radio to become the new host of “The Inner Life.”

Thorp Catholic School will celebrate 75 years of education in 2024. “Building a generation of saints is what the Lord wants us to do here,” said Patrick. “We still have dreams for this school and don’t make too many plans, but hold everything loosely,” said Kendra. Whatever comes, Patrick and Kendra are dedicated to continuing their trust in God’s providence.

Story by Cathy Greenseth
Published in the July/August 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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