Dioceses across the nation are preparing for the Easter Vigil and the welcoming of catechumens (those not yet baptized) and candidates (baptized and preparing to receive Confirmation and First Holy Communion). Some dioceses are preparing to receive large groups of new converts. The Diocese of Venice in Florida, for example, will welcome its largest-ever group of 216 catechumens and 351 candidates for a total of 567 new Catholics. The Diocese of Rochester, New York reported 160 new coverts, the Archdiocese of St. Louis 452 and the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey is preparing to receive nearly a thousand.
CWR spoke with some of these new converts in different dioceses around the country, asking them to summarize their conversion experiences, and also spoke with some converts who converted in years past who are now working in significant ways to share the Catholic faith.
Entering the Church this Easter vigil
Aila Popritkin, a sophomore at Miami Dade College in Miami, is preparing to be received into the Church at Easter Vigil. She is from Argentina, having emigrated from Argentina to the U.S. in 2019. She plans to be a nurse.
Both her parents are architects, although her mother stayed home for many years to care for her and her two siblings. Her father is Jewish and her mother was a nominal Catholic who rarely attended Mass. Although they celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays, Alia was not baptized and had previously considered herself Jewish.
Aila’s conversion was sparked by the positive influence of Catholic friends she met in Florida. She attends St. Augustine Church and the Catholic Student Center at the University of Miami, and regularly participates in a FOCUS missionary Bible study. She said, “I’ve had many great conversations with Fr. Leo, our priest, and the other Catholics I’ve met. You really see the light of Christ in them.”
Her mother has been positively influenced by Aila’s conversion, and has returned to Mass with her. Aila has had many friendly debates with her Jewish father, and while he does not agree with her new-found faith “he’s happy that I’m happy.”
She expressed excitement as Easter vigil approaches, and remarked, “I’ve been doing a Holy Hour every day in preparation for my baptism. I want to be extra ready!”
Louis Phuoc Nguyen is a parishioner of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Norcross, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, is preparing to enter the Church at Easter vigil. He emigrated from Vietnam seven years ago, and today works as a real estate agent. He grew up in a nominally Buddhist home and was first exposed to Catholicism through his Catholic fiancée, whom he will marry in June.
“When I first began attending Mass, I felt that there was something right about Catholicism, and began taking RCIA classes,” he said. As he’s become more involved in a Catholic community, he’s been impressed by the charity he’s experienced.
He explained, “The Catholics I’ve known treat one another as brothers and sisters. They want to do the right thing, and don’t want to hurt others.”
Will Mesinger is originally from South Glens Falls, New York and is today a parishioner of St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill. He worked in government for a time, but now works for a public relations firm.
He grew up in a nominally Catholic home, attending church on Christmas and Easter. He has never been baptized or confirmed. Like Louis, he was encouraged to get involved in St. Peter’s through the influence of a Catholic fiancé.
He said, “I’m very excited. Everyone has been so welcoming and helpful. Getting involved with a church can be intimidating for someone new, but that hasn’t been the case with me at all.”
His fiancé’s family is coming to watch him be received into the Church, he added, and his family is happy for him as well. He noted, “My mother told me that many of my ancestors were very Catholic. She said they must be looking down from heaven and smiling.”
Oliver Smith is a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an architect. He is being received into the Church on Easter Vigil with his 8-year-old son Max.
Smith grew up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father, and went periodically to both churches until age 10. He was never baptized. He developed a desire to return to church in his 20s and 30s, and found Catholic teaching appealing. He said, “As I studied the Catholic faith, I found it in alignment with what I believed.”
He is both nervous and excited to be received into the Catholic Church. He encouraged others who hear that “knock on the door” to open it without hesitation. He said, “I waited until I was age 45. If you hear the call, I’d encourage you to do it a lot sooner.”
Converts from years past reflect on becoming Catholic
Throughout history Catholic converts have often engaged in evangelism of their new-found faith with great zeal. CWR spoke with three converts who entered the Church in years past who are now actively engaged in sharing their faith in various ways.
Luke Bland is a seminarian for the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He entered the Catholic Church in his junior year of college in 2018, and seminary two years later. He is on track to be ordained a priest in 2026.
Bland was born in Kansas and grew up in Tulsa. His father was a sales engineer, his mother a teacher. He has two older sisters. He was raised a United Methodist, but by age 14 decided he was an atheist. He recalled, “I rejected my faith, and I thought there was no reason to believe in God.”
He had an interest in philosophy and as he grew older he was exposed to the teaching of Aristotle and came to believe that there is objective truth. A pivotal meeting occurred in his life when he went swing dancing and met a traditional Catholic young woman. They dated, and, he recalled, “God used her to open my heart to be receptive to the belief that God is real.”
He attended Latin Mass with the young woman, and “I was taken aback by its solemn nature. I had never seen religion like this at all. It was a clear tradition, had an ancient quality and was reverent.”
He particularly liked singing the Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy”) which, in time, “my heart moved me to mean what I was singing. I came to realize that I was in need of something, that I wasn’t enough for myself.”
He studied philosophy in college, became involved in the Catholic Newman Center, and worked through difficulties he had with Church teachings, such as Church teaching on human sexuality. He said, “By the time I was coming to the end of my time in college, I found I was falling in love with the Faith.”
He entered the Church, and met with the vocations director for the Diocese of Tulsa “who was impressed with the way I was growing in the Faith.” He is now completing his third year in seminary, and has found the experience “has defined my life in a way I could never have imagined.”
He looks forward to serving Tulsa as a priest, and hopes to have the opportunity to teach and work with young people.
“I wasn’t really prepared for the gravity of the call to the priesthood,” he remarked, “and the depth of formation it requires. It’s been a beautiful journey, and I’ve emotionally and spiritually matured.”
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report. He and his wife Heather entered the Church in 1997.
He is originally from western Montana. His father is a gunsmith who has been repairing, restoring, and making hunting rifles for more than a half century—and continues, as age 80.
His parents had a “born again” experience shortly before Carl’s birth in 1969. When he was five, his father joined with three men to form a Bible chapel, where his parents still attend. Growing up, he attended services with his family three or more times a week. He recalled, “Our services were simple: a few hymns, a sermon and then a celebration of the Lord’s Supper (with bread and grape juice).”
He points out that this weekly celebration “was unusual for a more Fundamentalist group such as ours; it also planted some seeds in me about the importance of ‘remembering’ Christ’s death on the Cross and being receptive to a sacramental understanding of the Eucharist.”
He noted that he was fortunate to grow up around many godly Christians, but admitted “I was quite anti-Catholic in my beliefs, having been steeped in many of the usual fundamentalist tropes about Catholics worshiping Mary, adding books to the Bible, and so forth.”
After attending art school and then an Evangelical Bible college, he moved to Portland in 1991, and read extensively about theology, culture, history and philosophy. He studied the works of the early Church fathers, as well as writings by Aquinas, Newman, Chesterton, and John Paul II. He noted, “The key for my wife and I was recognizing the truth about the Eucharist.” (He discusses this in this 1998 article detailing their conversion.) He also credits the witness and wisdom of Fr. Timothy Mockaitis, who brought he and his wife into Church at Easter Vigil, March 29, 1997.
He said his conversion has brought him greater peace and joy, “in the real sense of knowing that we, by God’s grace, found the Church founded by Christ. In the words of the novelist Walker Percy, ‘What else is there?’ That said, conversion is a daily walk; there are always ups and downs, joys and frustrations.”
He and his family are a parishioners at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Oregon, which he described as “an oasis in a state and region not known for faith or sanity.”
He wrote his first book in 2003 for Ignatius Press, “Will Catholics Be ‘Left Behind’”, and also served as editor two years for Envoy Magazine. He became editor of Ignatius Insight, then in 2011, Catholic World Report. He recalled, “It was a bit daunting at first, but I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Although his conversion occurred in a time of many public scandals in the Catholic Church, it has never given him pause to reconsider his conversion. He explained, “One of the gifts of my particular upbringing is that I was given a very grounded view of human nature: fallen and deeply wounded, but empowered by God’s grace to sacrifice and love.”
“Reading the history of the Church,” he explained, “helped me appreciate that things have always, in a real way, been very bad—and also very good.”
He continued, “It’s essential to be focused on Christ, to be grateful for the sacraments, to contemplate the lives of the saints. Fixating on current events on the Church, as I sometimes tell friends, can be bad for your faith if you cannot put things in necessary perspective. That’s especially true in an age dominated by social media and hyper-emoting.”
He views his conversion to Catholicism as a fulfillment of his Protestant faith, saying that “my journey has been working through obstacles while embracing the wonderful paradox of clarity and mystery that is present in the Mystical Body of Christ. I can concur with Chesterton that there is deep and profound joy to be found in orthodoxy, which is, in the end, belief in and worship of the Triune God.”
Scott Strader is a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula. He grew up as a Baptist in rural Indiana, but stopped practicing his faith as a teen. He recalled, “The environment in which I was raised generally fostered wonder, but took a distinctly anti-intellectual stance on certain questions about God, man and nature.”
In high school, he was introduced to “a purely mechanistic account of nature” which left him “unable to assent to the doctrines of the faith as they had been presented, yet leery of the counterclaims of modern science.”
While attending the University of Missouri he learned about TAC from a fellow student, and entered TAC as a freshman at age 23. Although TAC did not initially influence him to set aside his “deeply imbued skepticism,” it was “immensely formative, providing an extended exposure to the perennial philosophy that would bear fruit much later.”
He graduated from TAC in 1997, and accepted a commission in the U.S. Navy, serving in the war in Iraq, San Diego and Japan.
He earned a master’s degree in philosophy at San Diego University. He said, “I found it necessary to defend the doctrines of the perennial philosophy against unfair attacks leveled by certain faculty members. One significant effect of this was that I returned with growing frequency to the texts of Aristotle and St. Thomas.”
He retired from the navy in 2015, married, and pursued a doctorate in philosophy at the Angelicum. It was only then, “after more prayer and intercession, I received the grace to convert.”
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I have my own conversion story that, at some point – if inspired by the HS to do so – I will leave online as a youtube video. I have been a faithful Catholic all my life (at least since 15 yo); but, it has been within only the last 2 years that, like Seabiscuit, I found a whole nuther gear! God bless all those that engage with this beautiful site and the wonderful people that dedicate their time to bring it to the faithful! God’s blessings for a bountiful Easter to all!
I wanted to share my conversion story. I ran into a Catholic while I was traveling on the road. It only took 17 minutes for this Catholic to convince me to be Catholic. This Catholic was a very persuasive Catholic.
I was born a cradle Catholic. I went to Mass every Sunday and loved the Church. At age 26 I decided to become a priest. I was heading out to work when I received the letter from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee rejecting me into the seminary. I loved my 79 Kawasaki 650 SR and had always babied it; NOT TODAY! I stomped her down into gear and let the ponies roar! Gravel flew! By the time I hit the pavement, the throttle was wide open! I smashed through the gears, the clutch had to absorb the difference as the rpms soared way into the red zone. Within seconds we were well beyond 100mph.
I was screaming in my helmet. WHAT ON EARTH ARE THEY THINKING! The Church is dying for priests and they reject me!; The perfect Catholic! I will just become a Protestant minister! Then I can marry anyway! I was angry! On and on I went with my screams of pain. What usually took 35 minutes to get to work, had now only taken about 17 minutes. I screeched to almost a halt and turned off onto the final straightway to work. Within seconds I was back up to 100 mph plus. All of a sudden, for no reason at all, the bike was kicked out from under me. It was a sunny summer day with no water or gravel on the road, just straight smooth blacktop. I had over 100,000 miles of experience on street bikes. As she went down I simply pulled my leg out from under the falling side, and sat on the motorcycle as it slid down the road, on its side. Sparks were flying and metal was grinding. Through all of this, I was still screaming in my helmet of the great injustice the Church had inflicted on me, and how I was now a Protestant. Suddenly, for no reason at all, the tires caught the pavement and the bike went vertical. You do the physics. 80 mph and you are suddenly pole-vaulted into the air. I was flying through the air like superman.
It still amazes me at just how many prayers of repentance one can say in the seventeen or twenty four seconds that you are flying through the air toward your impending death. It seemed like I prayed a hundred Our Fathers and a hundred Hail Mary’s. God and I had a long talk over the beauty of remaining Catholic over leaving for Protestantism, during these seventeen or twenty four seconds of my doomed flight. Turn’s out I was wrong and God was right. Catholicism is where God wants me, and all people, to be. I desperately begged God to catch me on the other end of the tragic situation I was in. Please Heavenly Father, forgive me of my sin. I will serve, You, the Lord my God, with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my strength and with all my soul, with, and through, Your Church, the Catholic Church, if you will only spare my life.
When I hit the pavement, my full face helmet transferred the blow to my shoulders rather than neck. I flipped and hit hard on my back. I was wearing my backpack, which in my backpack was my 1970 edition, St. Joseph’s, Catholic New American Bible. There I was, sliding down the road, on my back, in the Hands of God, praising and thanking God for granting me mercy.
In the thirty three years since that time, me and God have never had to have the Protestant vs. Catholic conversation, ever again. Since then, I have always thanked God for His Mercy. I thank God for His tremendous gift, in that He took the time to come down here to earth and Personally kick me in the butt, Twice! In the decades since, for God’s Blessing of my Catholic parishioner life, I am forever grateful!
God had intervened and protected me from drinking the Protestant’s lemonade. The Protestants of Moses day, Korah and His band, believed that God’s Authority was equal in all God’s people of Israel. Protestant Korah felt equal in God authorized power and authority to Moses, and chose to schism a group of Israelites back out of the desert and back to the comfort of their flesh pots, which Korah felt were waiting for them as they would enter back into slavery in Egypt.
Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi [and Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, son of Pallu, son of Reuben] took two hundred and fifty Israelites who were leaders in the community, members of the council and men of note. They stood before Moses and Aaron, to whom they said, “Enough from you! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the LORD is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the LORD’s congregation?”…
‘Morning stars’ are God authorized, secular and Church, leaders, also referred to as ‘Angels’ (2 Samuel 23:3). God Authorized secular ruler king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is the infamous ‘fallen angel’ (Isaiah 14:12). At the exile and fall of Israel, God relinquished His Kingship over Israel and placed kingship over Israel in the hands of secular power, beginning with king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
The Book of Jude is all about Fallen Angels, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, whom Morning star Moses anathematized into hell to protect God’s Church, as a prequel to Archangel Michael’s epic, future Battle of the Angels, which ends with the fall of ‘morning star’ world secular power ruling over Israel, and Jesus enthroned as ‘Morning Star’, King and Ruler of the world (Revelation 22:16).
2 Samuel 23:3
The God of Israel spoke; of me the Rock of Israel said, He that rules over men in justice, that rules in the fear of God, Is like the morning light at sunrise on a cloudless morning,…
Isaiah 14:12 The King of Babylon.
How have you fallen from the heavens, O morning star, son of the dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who mowed down the nations!
“It is I, Jesus, who have sent my angel to give you this testimony about the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Morning Star shining bright.
In the Book of Jude, Jude is dealing with schismatics in Jesus’ early Catholic Church. Jude uses Old Testament schismatics, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who attempted to schism God’s Israelite Church in Moses day, as to how to deal with Catholic Church schismatics in the present day.
‘Morning star’ Moses Anathematized Korah and his band of schismatics. Immediately the earth opened up and all the schismatic ‘morning stars’, Korah and his band, went straight to hell. God’s ‘morning star’, ‘angel’, Priest, Moses hurling fallen angel, ‘morning star’, ministers’, Korah and his band of Protestant schismatics into hell, is very similar to Archangel Michael and his angels, Apocalyptic battle of the angels. It is morning-star, angels, Korah. Dathan and Abiram, “who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling”. Meaning they were not content with just being ministers, but wanted the Power of the Priesthood as well.
Moses also said to Korah, ‘Hear, now, you Levites! Are you not satisfied that the God of Israel has singled you out from the community of Israel, to have you draw near him to maintain the LORD’s tabernacle, and to attend upon the community and to serve them? He has allowed you and your Levite kinsmen with you to approach him, and yet you seek the priesthood too. It is therefore against the LORD that you and all your faction are conspiring. As for Aaron, what has he done that you should grumble against him?’…
No sooner had he finished saying all this than the ground beneath them split open, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their families [and all of Korah’s men] and all their possessions. They went down alive to the nether world with all belonging to them; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the community. But all the Israelites near them fled at their shrieks, saying, “The earth might swallow us too!”
Jude 1:6 The False Teachers.
I wish to remind you, although you know all things, that [the] Lord who once saved a people from the land of Egypt later destroyed those who did not believe. The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
These people, however, not only revile what they have no knowledge of but are corrupted through the very things they know by instinct, like brute animals. So much the worse for them! They have taken the road Cain took. They have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error for pay, and like Korah they perish in rebellion. These men are blotches on your Christian banquets. They are wild ocean waves, splashing their shameless deeds abroad like foam, or shooting stars for whom the thick gloom of darkness has been reserved forever.
This cover was to be a reminder to the Israelites that no layman, no one who was not a descendant of Aaron, should approach the altar to offer incense before the LORD, lest he meet the fate of Korah and his band.