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That Time I Robbed Paul to Pay Peter

How I Became Catholic Jeffrey Bruno

Jeffrey Bruno

Jeremy Lott - published on 07/31/14

Sometimes the Holy Spirit surprises you.

I walked through the white door of Redeemer Pacific College the first time, going on 15 years ago now, with the slightest tinge of guilt.

At the time, I was a student at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, majoring in biblical studies. A Protestant going to a Protestant school. The course offerings for the coming semester at Trinity were awful. All efforts to get the department to address the problem came to nothing.

And so, finally, I walked the long driveway of Trinity onto the property of Catholic adjunct school Redeemer. The building had recently been a home and still looked like one from the exterior. I entered and went hunting for somebody to talk with about courses for the next semester.

I found teacher Scott McKellar, who later confessed he worried I’d be an absolute terror in class. He nevertheless gamely passed me off to admissions. Either that day or shortly after, I met Redeemer director and founder Tom Hamel.

Redeemer was something unique at the time, and perhaps since. It was a Catholic college attached to an Evangelical Free university. Redeemer was started by Catholic alumni of Trinity with the help and blessing of the Vancouver archdiocese.

Students of Redeemer were students of Trinity. Per the agreement between the two institutions, Trinity allowed any students, Catholic or otherwise, to take their religious classes at Redeemer. Thus my presence there that day to see if I could scratch up a course or two.

I knew enough about Catholicism at the time to make the joke that I was robbing Paul to pay Peter. And I knew enough about history and theology to know the Catholic take on Scripture was defensible — though, I would have added then, wrongheaded.

Yet there’s knowing and then there’s knowing. Growing up a Baptist pastor’s kid in Tacoma, Washington, I just didn’t know many Catholics. I’d read some Catholic literature but didn’t have a Catechism, had never been to Mass though I’d seen one on TV.

Redeemer changed that. Surrounded by actual Catholic students and professors who took the faith seriously, all of my objections melted away.

To McKellar’s great relief, argument turned out to be a very small part of that process.

Mostly, it was experience that did it: Observing my new Martian Catholic friends at play and at prayer, going with them to Mass, and sleeping on a half dozen Catholic couches when 9/11 made commuting from the other side of the border a nightmare all had an effect.

All of that, with a little thunderbolt from above added in, set my life on a different course. A few years after I graduated from Trinity, I became a Catholic.

I mention Redeemer now because school alumni threw an unofficial reunion at the residence of now-retired Tom Hamel the other weekend. Several people inquired: Would I be attending?

This should have been a tough call. After watching the movie Gross Pointe Blank, I adopted a strict policy against ever going to school reunions to avoid drama and hit men.

But this was different. This was family.

Jeremy Lott is an editor of Rare.

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