How Mary Brought Me Back to the Catholic Church

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The phone rang. I was 23 years old and hadn’t heard from my friend Sara in five years. We grew up together.

“What have you been up to?” Sara asked.

“Well, I’ve had a life-changing experience and I’ve become a born-again Christian!” I exclaimed, waiting for the usual awkward silence. I had been raised Catholic.

“Wow, that’s great!”

“It is?” I asked, wondering why she might be so happy about my conversion.

She then told me about how she had become a Charismatic Catholic (she had grown up Episcopalian).

We went to a Christian concert together a few nights later and had a wonderful time of fellowship and catching up on each other’s lives. As Sara was getting ready to leave, she pulled her keys out of her pocket and I saw that they were wrapped in a Rosary. That moment would haunt me for years to come.

In my heart, I believed that Sara was a Christian. We spoke the same language and believed in the same God, but I had been taught that people who “pray to the dead” are committing a grave sin. In my understanding, praying the Rosary was the same as necromancy, fortune telling, or reading Tarot Cards. As do many Evangelicals, I equated it with practicing the occult.

Even though Sara was a true friend and holy wife and mother, I kept my distance from her over the next nine years. Her Catholic faith was just too strange for me and it did not fit in with my Evangelical worldview. 

Then, at the age of 31, I found myself struggling to succeed as the wife of a busy physician and the stepmother to two young boys who lost their mother to lung cancer only 16 months prior to our marriage.

In those early years of my marriage, I was immersed in what I now understand was a victim mentality and I desperately needed a way out. I hadn’t considered that my past childhood trauma (being from a broken home with alcoholic parents) may be playing a role in my depression and anxiety. I just assumed I was reacting normally to a stressful situation and was hoping my faith would help me through it. 

My Evangelical faith gave three answers for emotional pain: the Bible, fellowship, and prayer. I engaged in all three with great fervor but I did not have peace. In my anguish and desire to be the wife and mother I believed God wanted me to be, I began searching for answers outside my Evangelical faith.

One day I picked up The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis at a local Christian bookstore. There were some concepts about accepting and offering up suffering that I never heard before and they really intrigued me. Thomas à Kempis wrote about how not only the Bible but how Holy Communion was food for his soul. I came across the following in his book: 

“Therefore, You have given me in my weakness Your sacred Flesh to refresh my soul and body, and You have set Your word as the guiding light for my feet. Without them I could not live aright, for the word of God is the light of my soul and Your Sacrament is the Bread of Life.”

The idea of Holy Communion as refreshment for my soul gave me hope, and it eventually led me to calling my Catholic friend Sara. She told me about Scott Hahn and when I read his story I couldn’t believe it. I then began reading about other Catholic conversion stories (like those of Steve Ray, Jeff Cavins, and others).

I was dumbfounded, terrified, and overjoyed all at the same time. I was overwhelmed with questions that seemed to have no immediate answers. How could 1,500 years of Christian history and all these learned men and women be wrong? Was my Evangelical belief system actually the truth? What would become of my life, friends, and marriage? Would I even be able to return to the Catholic Church? 

Yet the beauty I was beginning to see gave me great hope and joy that maybe one day, like Thomas à Kempis, I would be able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and have Him refresh my weary soul.

I was terrified but I had made a commitment long ago as an Evangelical Christian to follow the truth—whatever the cost.

And the costs were tremendous.

I lost friends, there was tension in my marriage, and I felt a loneliness that I had not experienced in decades. My biggest struggles to fully accepting the Catholic faith were Mary and my husband. The Marian doctrines were difficult for me to accept and my husband was not ready to let go of all of his long-held prejudices about the Catholic Church.

But the more he saw me change by accepting and offering up my sufferings the more his heart softened. And before long, Mary softened my heart as well. Slowly, I began to accept all the doctrines about her and eventually came to see her as a loving presence in my life. Finally, in 2004 we had our marriage con-validated in a beautiful little Catholic chapel down the street from our home.

From that day so many years ago when Sara pulled out her Rosary, Mary had been with me. Now 17 years into my journey as a Catholic, I view Mary as nothing less than my loving, heavenly Mother who is reparenting me and healing the wounds of my traumatic childhood that I’ve subconsciously hidden for over 50 years. Catholic spirituality has been the greatest gift of my life and incorporating it with my recovery has offered healing and redemption that I never dreamed possible as an Evangelical Christian. 

Through my Catholic faith and recovery as an adult child of alcoholics, I’m beginning to understand more deeply our Blessed Mother’s promise to Juan Diego:

“I am your merciful Mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.”

I know now I can run to Mary and that she desires to hold, care for, and heal the wounds that my own earthly mother was unable to heal for me.

Born and raised Catholic, Chloe is an adult child of alcoholics who recently rediscovered the beauty of 12-step recovery through attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Catholic in Recovery meetings. For many years, Chloe was an Evangelical Christian before the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the witness of a dear friend eventually drew her back to the Catholic faith.