Twenty years ago, the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) launched The Journey Home, a program of compelling stories of conversion to Catholicism. Catholic World Report recently spoke with Marcus Grodi, host of this long-running television/radio show and founder of the Coming Home Network, which supports those on the journey to the Catholic Church.
CWR: How are things at the Coming Home Network?
Marcus Grodi: Good, very good. I’m very excited about all the aspects of it. One of the biggest changes, which occurred a couple years ago, is that my son JonMarc became the chief operating officer. So he and the rest of the staff are doing all the work; I just drink coffee—if even that. He’s also recruiting some new blood into the organization, who have made the Internet and media outreach and our forum a superb example of the New Evangelization. So it’s really exciting to see what’s happening here.
CWR: You recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Journey Home…
Marcus Grodi: Yes. If you went back twenty-one years, I was not feeling in any way led to be involved with television. I was just a former Protestant minister who by grace had come into the Catholic Church and was working at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, but on the side I had started the Coming Home Network (CHNetwork). Marilyn and I had felt very much alone on the journey into the Catholic Church. We knew few Protestants to talk to who could understand why we were thinking of the Catholic Church. And we didn’t know very many Catholics—and those we did know didn’t know their faith very well. So, except for the few converts we knew from a distance, we felt very much alone on the journey. So we began the Coming Home Network in 1993 to provide support for clergy on the journey towards the Catholic Church.
In July 1996, I had just resigned from Franciscan University to focus full-time on the CHNetwork, when I was invited by Johnette Benkovic to appear on The Abundant Life to talk about the work of the Coming Home Network and conversion, particularly of Protestant ministers, to the Catholic Church. Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, and Dr. Kenneth Howell joined me on her program to discuss our conversions. That appearance led to Dr. Ken Howell and I appearing on Mother Angelica Live in December of 1996 to discuss our conversions to the Church as well as the work of the CHNetwork.
During that program, Mother made some comment like, “We need to have you back.” I thought she meant back on her program. I found out later that she wanted me to consider becoming the host of a program in which I interviewed converts to the Catholic Church. Over the years, she had received many letters from Catholic parents and grandparents bemoaning the fact that their children had left the Church; Mother Angelica felt that if every week they could hear the story of a convert or revert to the Church, it would give them hope that their kids and grandkids could also come back to the Church.
I got a call from Doug Keck [then Executive Vice President, now President and Chief Operating Officer at EWTN] at the end of 1996, and, after many months of planning, we began The Journey Home program in September 1997.
CWR: About how many shows have been produced in the past 20 years?
Marcus Grodi: We think about 900. We often repeat programs for one reason or another, and there have been a number of episodes that contain two conversion stories.
CWR: The Journey Home program and the Coming Home Network are separate entities. What is the relationship between the two, and how do they support each other?
Marcus Grodi: It’s important to emphasize that The Journey Home is an EWTN program. For the first 12 years, nearly every Monday afternoon I’d take two flights to travel from Columbus, Ohio, to Birmingham, Alabama; I’d host the live program on Monday night and then fly back home on Tuesday. Then, in 2009, we began discussing with EWTN the idea of taping The Journey Home at the Coming Home Network studio, so I wouldn’t need to fly to Birmingham every week. Now the CHNetwork staff completely produces The Journey Home for EWTN; it’s still EWTN’s program, but we produce it.
From the beginning, however, The Journey Home and the Coming Home Network have been a hand-in-glove relationship, because the vast majority of The Journey Home guests were already members of the CHNetwork. So, on the one hand, you’d say that the existence of The Journey Home is directly connected with the work of the CHNetwork. On the other hand, our growth in membership at the CHNetwork certainly benefits from The Journey Home. The CHNetwork also is very involved in putting all the Journey Home programs on the Internet, on YouTube, and indexing every Journey Home program. At the CHNetwork website, one can search for a very particular topic—such as all the Journey Home programs with Methodist ministers who came in because of the Eucharist.
And so we remain eternally grateful for our working relationship with EWTN.
CWR: Do you have any idea how many people have contacted the Coming Home Network because of The Journey Home?
Marcus Grodi: It’s hard to know; we haven’t always had a “How-did-you-hear-about-us?” question available to people coming to us. But I would say without hesitation that a vast number of our new members come because they’ve watched The Journey Home; there’s no doubt.
One example that I’ve often shared: several years ago the guests for my show were two sisters from Canada—natural sisters, not religious sisters. They were cradle Catholics, in their 70s. One had remained Catholic all her life; the other had become a virulent atheist and then after many years returned to the Church. It was in the early days, back when we took live phone calls and emails during the second half-hour of the program. The first caller was a woman in tears, and the first thing she said was, “I’m not saying I’m ready to become Catholic, all I’m saying is, I’m an atheist and I was sitting in a hotel room, and the reason I was here was to commit suicide.” But she had thought, “Well, I’ll turn on the TV,” and when she did, immediately The Journey Home came on, and the first word she heard was “atheist.” And so she listened to the conversion story, and it stopped her from committing suicide. So she called us, very grateful for EWTN and for that episode. That incident will always stick out in my mind as a vivid example of the power of The Journey Home, the power of EWTN, the power of television and radio, the power of media to affect someone’s life.
And so our whole work is about these stories—whether in our monthly newsletter, or The Journey Home, or the Internet, or whatever we’re doing—of the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life, specifically so that story can be there to change somebody else’s life. That’s what the Coming Home Network is all about.
CWR: Do you have a mission statement for The Journey Home and the Coming Home Network ?
Marcus Grodi: We have one for the CHNetwork: “The Coming Home Network was established by converts to Catholicism to help clergy and laity of other Christian traditions discover the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church and make the journey home.”
Our initial calling, if you will, was specifically to clergy on the journey because they had unique needs, primarily the issues of vocation.
I know of a few former Protestant ministers who were on the journey privately, and when they let the cat out of the bag—to a friend or a member of the congregation—they lost their job within two weeks. So clergy on the journey are hesitant to talk about it with anyone. And frankly, at a local level—the local parish, local diocese—they often feel like they’re getting little help.
We don’t go out after people; our charism is not to proactively go out and try to convert Protestant ministers to the Church. We’re not sending letters or email blasts to all ministers, knocking at their door—that’s not the way we believe God has called us to work. Rather we are here when they discover the Church, when they’re drawn to the journey, and they hear about the CHNetwork, and then they contact us.
The Coming Home Network was established not to push, pull, or prod anybody into the Church, but to stand beside them, to help them discern what God is calling them to do right now in their life. Often the question is, “I really believe God is calling me to ‘come home’ to the Catholic Church, but when should I do it? How should I do it? Especially when my wife and none of my kids want to become Catholic? How do we make this journey?”
So that’s why the CHNetwork began. To stand beside men and women faced with these difficult questions. Then we quickly realized this is true for laity on the journey too, which is why our work has expanded to assist anyone who has questions about the Catholic Church.
CWR: So you began in order to help Protestant ministers because they had unique barriers?
Marcus Grodi: Theological, relational, cultural—all these issues might stand in the way of someone coming all the way home, but the unique issue for clergy is the issue of vocation. If you convert, you’ve got to completely re-tool your life to support your family. I’ve known guys whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were ministers—if they were all of a sudden to give up their ministry and become Catholic, their whole family would interpret it as a rejection of their entire heritage, a spit in the face of everybody in their lineage, so they struggle with what to do.
The second biggest issue for clergy on the journey is marriage. Of course, the most important question all of us has to ask in our journey to Jesus Christ is, “Lord, what are You calling me to do with my life?” But one thing we’ve learned along the way is that for a married clergyman, the more important question to ask is “Lord, what are You calling us to do?” A clergyman who’s discovers the Catholic Church has to think in these terms, as soon as possible, because he has a vow, in his sacramental marriage, that he has to honor. More important than anything else, more important than his call to ministry, is how he must honor his marriage.
So a lot of our work is helping clergy—and laity—who have been drawn to the Catholic Church, but whose spouse wants nothing to do with this journey. We help them discern what God is calling them to do at this point in their life.
CWR: What do you usually advise in that situation?
Marcus Grodi: That is uniquely different almost every single time. Some Catholics would say, “It doesn’t matter what your spouse thinks; if you know the Church is true, you’ve got to convert!” Well, the Church doesn’t really teach it that strongly. At the other extreme, other Catholics tell men and women on the journey, “Since Vatican II, you don’t have to convert; it doesn’t matter anymore.” That’s not true either. So, between those extremes you have the teaching of the Church.
We believe that once a person has discovered the beauty of the Church, it is a sign of grace that God is calling that person home, because they’ve discovered the truth, and truth is truth. But now the question often is an issue of timing, and sometimes this means a temporary pause in their journey to give the Holy Spirit time to draw their spouse along the journey.
We could make a long list of obstacles. “If I leave this congregation, what kind of minister will follow me? It could be a disaster: in my denomination, they would likely be pro-choice. How can I abandon my people?” Or “I’ll lose my retirement plan,” or “This guy and I were working on a book that would change the world, and if I leave, that would ruin our partnership”… Well, my staff and I generally say, “Yes, these may or may not be valid reasons; they could be distractions from an authentic call to come into the Catholic Church.” So it’s a matter of discerning, Are these reasons to stay, or is it part of the spiritual battle trying to prevent a person from going all the way home?
Now I don’t belittle those other reasons, but we usually put them in a different category than marriage, because marriage is a sacramental vow.
CWR: What happens when people contact the Network?
Marcus Grodi: Often people who contact us are only casually on the journey, for maybe a long time. But at some point, they’re no longer merely inquiring about the Church; by grace, they have learned enough about the Church that they can never look at the Church the same way they did. They are truly “on the journey”, and for some, this means they’re in trouble—they can’t go back or remain where they are, but they don’t feel they can move forward. They get into what we call “no-man’s-land,” where they’re convicted about the truth of the Catholic Church, but they’re not sure what to do.
My own stance is that the reason the CHNetwork exists is to pick up the pieces after EWTN, Catholic Answers, and other Catholic apostolates do their job. If a Protestant minister watches EWTN or listens to Catholic Answers or Catholic Radio or hears a convert’s conversion story, and then all of a sudden feels, “Now what am I gonna do?”, well, that’s why we’re here—to stand beside them, by phone, mail, email, on-line Forum, or often face-to-face, to provide whatever resources, prayer, or encouragement that might help them hear what God is calling them to do now.
Once they contact us, we find out where they are in their journey, what they need, and hook them up with someone who can be their mentor. We hope to get them connected to the forum online where they can have constant interaction—particularly with converts, but also with lifelong Catholics who want to be there to help those on the journey.
We offer lots of free resources and books—we can give away e-books as well as physical books, thanks to our donors. But more importantly, we have staff as well as volunteers that remain in direct communication with those on the journey to help them deal with these kind of questions. And we’re here for them as long as they want to remain in discussion about the Church.
CWR: And those Protestant ministers who do come all the way home, what kind of work are they finding?
Marcus Grodi: The vast majority of former clergy remain laymen when they become Catholic, and a vast majority of them are content with that. In a parable about a wedding feast, our Lord warned, when you go to a wedding feast, don’t take the front-row seat. You take the back-row seat … until you’re called forward. And so we encourage all clergy converts to recognize that when they come into the Catholic Church, they need to begin by appreciating and accepting the beauty of being a layman, which involves discovering how to utilize one’s training, experience, and gifts as a Catholic layman. It essential to recognize that just because you were a Protestant minister doesn’t mean you have a call to the priesthood; this becomes an issue of vocational discernment under the spiritual direction of a priest and a local bishop. Less than 20% of clergy converts become priests—celibate or married.
Some clergy converts become permanent deacons, while a large number of others have become involved in lay apostolates, like myself and Scott Hahn, Steve Wood, Jeff Cavins, Al Kresta, and the list goes on and on. Clergy converts have great gifts, and we try to help them patiently discern how the Lord might be opening doors for them to continue using those gifts once they come into the Church.
CWR: Do you have a ballpark estimate of how many people you have reached at this point?
Marcus Grodi: Well, to a certain extent, there’s no way we can guesstimate that because of the way the Internet, as well as satellites, have drastically changed communication around the world; no one really knows. I can say, though, that, in our database, we have about 10,000 non-Catholics who have contacted the CHNetwork for help. (That’s not counting the thousands of lifelong Catholics who support our work.) And of that 10,000, around 7,000 have come in or back to the Church. Some we’ve been working with for five minutes, some for fifteen-plus years.
CWR: What are your hopes or plans for the future?
Marcus Grodi: I’m really excited about where my son and the staff are taking the Coming Home Network: they’re committed to evangelization, but especially committed to providing the pastoral care, if you will, of men and women on the journey. We want to respond to what’s happening in the Church and our culture—and I do think we’re going through a particularly critical time in our culture.
In terms of The Journey Home and EWTN, I’m excited about where they’re going. I’m sure there will come a time when EWTN can’t put up with me any longer, and they’ll either decide that The Journey Home has run its course, or they need a new host. But I’m willing to continue serving the Lord in whatever way He opens the door.