Catholic Converts

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As a cradle Catholic I have always stood somewhat in awe of converts.  I was born into the Faith.  For me, I could no more cease to be Catholic than I could cease to be a male.  It is an essential part of me.  Take my Catholicism from me, and what would be left would not be me.  Converts, on the other hand, often raised up either to ignore Catholicism or to regard Catholicism as odd or evil, have taken the big step to embrace the Faith of their own volition.  They have done something that I have never had to do, and that excites my admiration.

Frequently I have  noted that Catholic converts make better Catholics than many cradle Catholics.  Certainly my wife, who converted a few years after our marriage from Methodism to Catholicism, is a far, far better Catholic than I am.  The list of Catholic converts is endless and here are a few more to consider:

Mortimer Adler, founder of the Great Books plan of study.  Before he converted he was on record several times as explaining why he would not be converted to Catholicism.  The Hound of Heaven is tricky!

Anne of Cleves-fourth wife of Henry VIII.

Orestes Brownson-19th century American writer of brilliance, and a notable curmudgeon.

Kit Carson-American 19th century pathfinder, mountain man and Union General.

Ernst Junger-German militarist, writer of genius, drug user and anti-Nazi.  He converted at 102.

Rumer Godden-English novelist, perhaps best known for In This House of Brede.

Joyce Kilmer-American poet and doughboy.

James Longstreet-Commander of a corp in the Army of Northern Virginia-called by Lee his Old Warhorse.

William Rosecrans-One of the ablest of Union generals, commander of the Army of the Cumberland.  He converted at West Point and convinced his brother Sylvester to convert, who became a notable bishop of Cincinnati.  Rosecrans during the War would keep his young aides up late discussing theology and explaining Catholicism to them.  He could often be seen surveying battlefields, rosary in hand.  He came close to being our first Catholic president, but that is a tale for another day.

Malcolm Muggeridge-English writer and rake, in his youth. One of the more unlikely converts in the 20th century who became an adornment to the Church.

Siegfried Sassoon-English war hero in World War I and war poet.   His memoirs are must reading.

Knute Rockne-Yes, I also was shocked to learn that the legendary Notre Dame coach was a convert.

Dutch Schultz- A notable American gangster who had what he considered a mystical experience that led him late in his life to Catholicism.  After he was gunned down by gangland cronies he begged for the Last Rites from a priest, and his request was granted.

Alice B. Toklas-She came to Catholicism at an advanced age.  No doubt Gertrude Stein would have said something pithy if she had still been around.

Herbert Kappler-Chief of the Gestapo in Rome during World War II.  Converted to Catholicism by his archenemy Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty as Kappler was serving a life sentence for war crimes.

Gene Wolf-Science Fiction author.  If you haven’t read any of his works, run out and buy one now.  Life is too short to miss the pleasure of reading Gene Wolf.

An eclectic bunch as are all of us Catholics.  We are a universal Church commissioned by God to make apostles of all the nations.  Our ranks include all manner of humanity, united by the Faith, no matter what else divides us.  Our converts are proof of our on-going efforts to accomplish this great task.

22 Responses to Catholic Converts

  • whimsy says:

    Is Herbert Kappler the bad guy in The Scarlet and the Black movie? An online resource uses a different name of the person the story is based on.

    Anyway, it’s fun to see the Paterfamilias in The Sound of Music play such a sinister character; that alone makes it worth seeing The Scarlet and the Black. Well, anything with Gregory Peck is good, too.

  • Joe Green says:

    Don, it would be interesting to see a list of cradle Catholics who either converted to other religions or, like me, just fell away. Probably wouldn’t have enough bandwidth though. : )

  • Robert says:

    Joe I fell away mysefl too. I thank the Lord that He brought me back (Hound of Heaven for sure). I love my faith and would be crushed if I couldn’t do a somewhat simple thing like receive the eucharist – that I took for granted as young man – more tragic never was really taugh nor understood the meaning of it at all. Something worth living for…

  • Donna says:

    St. Edmund Campion, S.J. , Priest and Martyr
    St. Margaret Clitherow, Martyr
    Blessed Niels Stetsen, Bishop
    Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, C.O.
    Henry Edward Cardinal Manning
    Monsignor Ronald Knox
    Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
    Fr. Basil Maturin – the first Catholic chaplain of Oxford University…died on the Lusitania after giving away his lifejacket
    Venerable Cornelia Connelly
    Mr. Evelyn Waugh
    G.K. Chesterton
    Mabel Tolkien – her sons John Ronald Reuel and Hilary came into the Church at the same time, when they were eight and seven, respectively …
    Queen Christina of Sweden
    King James II of England
    Novelist Muriel Spark (best known for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”)
    Judge Isaac Parker – he came into the Church on his deathbed. Charles Portis has his character Mattie Ross in the novel “True Grit” remark about Parker:

    “On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became a Catholic. That was his wife’s religion. It was his own business and none of mine. If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need of some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make. “

  • pat says:

    G. K. Chesterton was one among many British Anglicans who converted to Catholicism because of eccentric reasons. It’s been going on for a century now and the last one I can think of is Tony Blair. But these are anomolies. Resisting something in one place and wanting something else, they are drawn to Rome. Their reasons are pretty intellectual / ideological. They’re usually broadly philosophical.

  • Suz says:

    Kit Carson! Never knew.
    My maternal grandfather was a deathbed convert, thanks to the prayers and gentle persistence of his diligent spouse. May her prayers and gentle persistence from above continue to haul family members forcibly back to the faith.
    There is a very good film (Siódmy pokój, 1996) about St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross available. Maia Morgenstern portrays Edith Stein. Worth finding, and watching.

  • Don the Kiwi says:

    …..I have always stood somewhat in awe of converts.

    Indeed Don; I have always wondered, had I not been born a Catholic, would I have the courage to change my life – whatever it may be – to become Catholic? I have been on our parish R.C.I.A team since 1992 (when my mum retired from it) and with the exception of three years 1997 – 2000, have been there since, and have witnessed some amazing conversions. If you ever doubted the working of The Holy Spirit, then join your local RCIA team. From 17 year olds still going to school and coming without the knowledge of their Evangelical parents, to 82 year olds – one who died 6 months after entering the Church – I was one of his pall-bearers at his Reqiem Mass. Presently, a young woman (36) who came into the Church last year after a broken marriage and various protestant affiliations, and who openly wept on Holy Thursday night when her feet were washed at Mass, is now discerning a vocation to the religious life. She is extremely bright – during her candidacy, she was given a Catechism of the Catholic Church to browse through. She came back the next week having read it from cover to cover – and remembered most of it!! Now, from time to time I have converts from a number of years ago whom I don’t see at all, see me at Mass and come and chat, then realise I don’t remember them. I don’t feel good about that, but they understand – there must be well over a hundred now.

    Another notable convert is Leonard Cheshire (1917 – 1992)- Baron, Group Captain RAF, VC, OM, DSO & 2 Bars, DFC of the Dam Busters fame. Very interesting story -
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cheshire
    Converted in 1948.

    And how could I fail to mention
    Arthur Hamilton John Beckett 1912 – 2005 – my own dad, :-) who took lessons from a Fr.Michael Brown, now retired at this parish and Monseignor, brother to our bishop. Mum didn’t even know dad was taking lessons. I came down from Auckland where I was living in 1973 to his acceptance into the Church.

  • CT says:

    I’ve been wanting to ask this question here and this seems like as good a post as any. My father was raised Catholic but never considered his faith. He has been asking me for books that explain (a) why Christianity and (b) why Catholicism. I was hoping someone here would have some good suggestions. I feel that he honestly wants to recommit to his faith and is looking for some intellectual guidance.

  • whimsy says:

    Thank you for the clarification. Funny how wikipedia contradicts itself in the Kappler article and the Scarlet and the Black article. Who edits that thing? Oh, yeah. . .

  • pat says:

    Yes, beginning witht the Oxford Movement, Anglicans have occasionally converted to Rome. It’s ussually because of intellectual or ideological reasons. Reasons that have to do with philosphy and politics. Sometimes with society in general. Lewis never made that move. He seemed content with high chruch Anglicanism.

  • Joanie says:

    A surprise conversion I recently found was Mabel Walker Willebrandt. She was a lawyer and whipped up opposition to Al Smith because of his faith. She was responsible under Herbert Hoover for enforcing prohibition. In her later years she came into the Church. I wasn’t able to find (other than God’s graced) what brought her into the Church. I wonder if she and Al have met in eternity.

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