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From scoffing atheist to devout Catholic: the powerful conversion story of acclaimed poet Sally Read


Supplied Photo/Sally Read

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 12/01/16

Aleteia’s Zoe Romanowsky interviewed her recently, and she spoke —among other things—about the priest who was instrumental in her conversion:

Q: What are the qualities that Fr. Gregory possessed that allowed him to be such an instrument of God for you, do you think? A: It couldn’t have been anybody else, really; there were so many factors… it was like the perfect storm. I think the fact that we were the same age, so we were equal, on a level playing field. And he’s really bright — a really brilliant theologian — so whatever I threw at him he could always come back with the answer. That was very important and still is — he’s such a support to me, whatever I ask him, he can answer. But also because he didn’t try to convert me. He said “only Christ can convert you” and he let Christ do all the work in that sense. But he was very steady and never deserted me. He always answered my emails, and was always ready to talk with me. Q: That struck me… that you weren’t a project to him, but a person, someone with whom he had an authentic relationship with, and who he was being present to… A: Absolutely. That’s very important because when I said I wanted to become a Catholic, he was completely bowled over, and I don’t think he ever saw that as the end game, really. I mean, it must have crossed his mind, but it wasn’t about getting me in and winning the battle. In his hermitage, his charism is the care of the human intellect and I was in a sense his first customer (laughs).

Read it all. 

Meantime, this profile also captures some of her remarkable journey:

“If you’re there, you have to help me.” Those are the words that poet Sally Read said to an icon of Jesus in 2010. Read, a British poet and atheist, had stopped into a church in Santa Marinella, Italy. She felt burdened. Her young daughter was having health issues. Her husband Fabio was enduring some stress at work. “There was this incredible experience where this presence almost came down, and my tears just stopped, just dried,” Read tells “I felt almost physically carried up. It was as if someone walked into the room. I knew this person. I knew that I was a Christian.” Up to that point Read, now 46, had been an atheist. “I was brought up an atheist,” Read notes in her just-published memoir, “Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story.” “At ten I could tell you that religion was the opiate of the masses; it was [driven] into me to never kneel before anyone or anything…As a young woman I could quote Christopher Hitchens and enough of the Bible to scoff at.” Read was born in 1971 and raised in Suffolk, England. As a young woman she worked as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital and became a critically acclaimed poet, winning the Eric Gregory Award in 2001. A few years later Read married an Italian man, Fabio, and the couple. along with new daughter Florenzia, moved to Santa Marinella, a town 30 miles from Rome. In her 30s and raising her daughter, Read began working on a book on women’s health and sexuality. Wanting to interview a wide swath of women for the book, Read contacted orthodox Catholic women. When the women declined to be interviewed, largely due to the graphic nature of Read’s subject matter, Read approached a Byzantine-Catholic priest, Fr. Gregory Hrynkiw, for advice. Fr. Gregory and Read became friends, with the priest answering questions the author had about faith. It was around this time that Read found something fresh in one of her favorite books, “I Capture the Castle.” “The book was written for children, and I read it almost every year,” Read says. “I read the book for comfort. There’s one scene where the protagonist Cassandra, whom I’ve always identified with, has this conversation with this vicar. I never noticed what he said to her – it was about art as being the ultimate attempt at communion with God. It really hit me. It just broke through.” She adds, “In retrospect, I think that God works through things very specifically. It’s no coincidence that that book grew with me.”

Read the rest. 

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