Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 24 September |
The Blessed Virgin Mary—Our Lady of Walsingham
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Conversion Story: From Atheist to Catholic

Image-Insight/John-Tozer

R.J. Stove - published on 10/11/14

When I was ten years old we actually found ourselves living next to a convent. Members of a German order, the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, built a religious house next to ours. Improbably enough in view of the above, my parents came to adore them. At considerable physical risk to himself, Dad would every year climb his own pine trees and chop off branches of them, so that they could be used as Christmas trees at the convent.

More and more my parents’ theoretical opposition to Catholicism became modified by such considerations as "Oh, of course, when we say Catholics are the enemies of free thought, we don’t mean you." The sheer goodness-in-action (this is the least cumbersome description I can come up with) of the Schoenstatt Sisters modified not only my parents’ prejudices, but mine. Nevertheless my father certainly, and my mother probably, would have thought it grotesque in those days to believe that the nuns’ goodness had anything to do with their faith. No, somehow the nuns were good despite their faith. They presented to my father the same unlikely spectacle as an improbably obliging communist, or an improbably obliging telephone-vandal.

When the possibility of converting to Catholicism became a real one, it was the immensity of the whole package that daunted me, rather than specific teachings. I therefore spent little time agonizing over the Assumption of Mary, justification by works as well as faith, the reverencing of statues, and other such concepts that traditionally irk the non-Catholic mind.

Rather, such anguish as I felt came from entirely the other direction. However dimly and inadequately, I had learnt enough Catholic history and Catholic dogma to know that either Catholicism was the greatest racket in human history, or it was what it said itself that it was. Such studying burned the phrase "By what authority?" into my mind like acid. If the papacy was just an imposture, or an exercise in power mania, then how was doctrine to be transmitted from generation to generation? If the whole Catholic enchilada was a swindle, then why should its enemies have bestirred themselves to hate it so much? Why do they do so still?

Yet in addition, I must confess that the example of certain openly bad Catholics — out of charity I will say little about them, and nothing about the bad female Catholics — kept me out of the Catholic Church for years, as efficiently as if they had been wielding dog-whips in the nave. It is a terrible thing to have wrestled one’s way into a position where Catholicism seems at least plausible, only to discover that armies of one’s future co-religionists regard Catholicism (more especially, of course, Catholic teaching on sexual morals) with shrill contempt. They seem to enjoy all the benefits of Catholic life, and none of the inconveniences.

Another factor I have not yet mentioned: frequent bouts of mental illness. For years these convinced me that Catholicism would have the same impact on my soul which a lighted match would have on a gunpowder factory. Had I known that the opposite was true (and that my Catholicism has been more important than anything else in blunting the sharpest edge of illness), I would never have hesitated for so long.

Making the acquaintance of genuine lay Catholics was an eye-opener. Yet it meant less to me than two interlinked family tragedies in 1993-1994.

Shortly before Christmas 1993, my mother — who for decades had drunk heavily, smoked compulsively, and eaten hardly at all — suffered a massive stroke. At first she was not expected to live. Gradually, the truth emerged: the stroke, while not powerful enough to have killed her, had robbed her of all speech and nearly all movement.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
Tags:
Atheism
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
SLEEPING
Cecilia Pigg
7 Ways the saints can help you sleep better at night
2
OUR LADY
Philip Kosloski
An alternative Hail Mary to Our Lady of Sorrows
3
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
4
PRAY
Philip Kosloski
Pray this Psalm when you successfully recover from an illness
5
Tolkien
Philip Kosloski
Why J.R.R. Tolkien loved to attend daily Mass
6
ANMOL RODRIGUEZ
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
7
CHILDREN, PRAY, ROSARY
Aid to the Church in Need
What happens when a million children pray the Rosary?
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.