Surprised by Catholicism

This article was posted on: April 8, 2024

The story of how and why Dean Stroud converted to Catholicism.

The Holy Spirit Calls

“When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did,” writes C.S. Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy. The joy of Christianity surprised Lewis; the joy of Catholicism surprised me. When I set off on April 15, 2006, for the St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral in La Crosse, I was not Catholic; when I returned home, I was eager for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

My twin brother David and I were born at a Catholic hospital in Tyler, Texas. However, despite this, I never had the opportunity to meet a Catholic person during my time in Joinerville, a small town populated by Protestants. Although my mother was Christian, my father was indifferent to the faith. Nevertheless, every Sunday my mother would dress David and me in suits and drive us to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

The only exposure I had to Catholicism was through Bishop Sheen’s television program, Life Is Worth Living, which my mom and I watched religiously. My mom loved intelligent presentations of the faith, and Sheen delivered them in full, complete with blackboard, drama and robe. I never saw anything like it at the Presbyterian church. Although I was too young to fully understand his teachings, his intelligence and humor resonated with me.

Happy Until I Wasn’t

During my college years, the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy shattered me. In 1968, a young English pastor named Michael Parsons was the pastor of our Presbyterian church in Texas. Michael had a great appreciation for Gregorian chant, taught Latin and preached the teachings of Christianity with both intelligence and compassion. That summer, he suggested that I consider studying for the ministry, something I had been thinking about. Following his advice, I enrolled in seminary, and after graduating, I served churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.

There was a moment during this time when the first hint of Catholicism bubbled forth. Late one Christmas Eve, my sister Gloria and I were having a glass of wine as we gazed at the Christmas tree lights. Unexpectedly, she confided that she longed to become Catholic. She loved the mystery and beauty of Catholicism, and her words resonated with me.

After serving for 10 years as a Presbyterian minister, I decided to leave the ministry and embrace a secular lifestyle. I was happy until I wasn’t. Slowly, God drew me back—through books. One book, in particular, the “Handbook of Christian Apologetics”, co-authored by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, stood out. Their arguments rescued me from secularism; as with my earlier experiences with Bishop Sheen and Michael Parsons, intelligent presentations of the faith served as powerful witnesses to Christianity. I returned to the Presbyterian church as a layman, although I remained still far from Catholicism.

Meanwhile, I fell in love with Valentina, who was a Catholic from Mexico. On Sundays, I attended the Presbyterian church, and she went to the cathedral. She prayed for me to become Catholic, and I prayed for her to become Presbyterian. Guess whose prayers God answered!

Valentina hadn’t been able to receive the Lord in the Eucharist for some time and knew that she couldn’t without first going to confession. Sunday after Sunday, for nearly a year, she remained in the pew while others stepped past her to take part in the Eucharist. On Holy Saturday in 2006, Valentina sensed the Holy Spirit urging her to return to full communion with the Church. I still remember her eagerness and sense of urgency. She was bursting with anticipation to get to confession so she could receive the Eucharist that week.

Immediately, I said, “I will take you!” At that moment, my journey to the Catholic Church earnestly began.

The Holy Spirit Pushes

Similar to C.S. Lewis’ experience, when I took Valentina to the cathedral, I was Presbyterian, and when I came home, I was not. I had been attracted to the Faith for years, and the conversation I had with my sister over wine never left my mind. But I never felt a reason to pursue Catholicism until that moment.

Once, while as a Presbyterian layman, I attended a Christian education committee meeting and one elder in the room commented that his sister had begun the process of becoming Catholic, and I remember suddenly feeling a longing in my heart and thinking, “I wish I could too.” I can look back and see that I had been on the edge and waiting for a reason to jump. The Holy Spirit, through Valentina, pushed me.  

Seeing the Holy Spirit at work and feeling His call, I was impatient for RCIA to begin. However, once it began, I felt at home with Jesus throughout RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil 2007. The truth, beauty and mystery of Catholicism convinced me that the Catholic Church is every Christian’s home.During a recent meditation in Magnificat, Father D’Arcy, an English Jesuit, beautifully expressed his thoughts on the Catholic Faith. He stated that once embraced, the Catholic Faith seems to cover life and sum up its meaning. I have personally experienced this for the last 17 years and found it to be so. God has “put more joy in my heart than what people experience when their grain and wine abound.” (Ps 4:8)

Story by Dean Stroud
Published in the March/April 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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