Jun 30, 2022 filed under Courage, Faith, Gratitude, Hope, Love, Mercy, Trust.

Crossing the Tiber without sinking

Dan Burke’s website SpiritualDirection.com commissioned me to write my conversion story — and now I’m sharing it below with you!

Love always,

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Summoned by a Crucifix

A three-inch crucifix pendant loomed large around a woman’s neck in the yellow cinderblock basement that housed my weekly Al-Anon meeting. As stories were shared around the circle, my eyes kept going back to the crucifix and the woman. A stark contradiction – the sadness of Jesus on the Cross and the bright eyes and smile of the woman, whose name, I learned, was Lori. She’s not wearing this to win friends, I thought. She really believes this stuff.

At age 34, I had nothing against Jesus, but had not budged much since my white-gloved, patent-leathered Confirmation at Westminster Presbyterian in Madison, Wisconsin. I knew I didn’t believe it then (but was too timid to say so) and I didn’t get it now, even though I attended a Lutheran church. “Why should I believe in what Jesus says more than some bum in the street?” I would ask my mother. 

But there was something about that crucifix. And something about Lori. I approached her after the meeting for a future lunch. “Sure,” she said. “How about the Shrine next Wednesday?” I gulped. “The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception?” 

The only part of my Presbyterian upbringing I had retained was hatred of the Catholic Church. I saw it as a big power and money grab that sought to intimidate people into submission. Kind of like Marxism, but with better art. 

St. Thérèse strikes again

On the appointed day, I walked up the stone staircase in blowing snow and stopped at the Shrine’s massive entryway. I took a deep breath and went in.

Lori gave me a tour of the many ornate chapels, lingering at the tall bronze statue of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. “Thérèse is something else,” Lori said. “If you ask her for roses, she’ll get you some.” Idolatry and superstition! I knew it! Hoping not to be struck by lightning then and there, I was relieved when we moved on.

Lori suggested I read Thérèse’s Story of a Soul. I ordered it to make her happy and to prove I didn’t need this Catholic nonsense. The next Wednesday when I got home from work, there on the coffee table was the book and a dozen roses from my husband. I called Lori. “I got roses!” She said, “Yes, I asked Thérèse to send you some.”

The next weekend my husband and I were staying at a cabin in West Virginia. I cracked the book on Friday night and did nothing but read it until Sunday morning. Those two nights I had vivid dreams of spiritual things. 

Finishing the book, I closed it and thought this is all true. (I learned later that Edith Stein had thought the same thing after reading Teresa of Avila’s autobiography. Those Theresa’s don’t mess around.)

I knew my life had to change. Of course, I would not become Catholic – that would be ridiculous. But I was being called to something significant, whatever it was.

A few weeks later I was driving up I-270 toward Damascus, Maryland, pondering how many people like Thérèse it would take to save the whole world. Then I got it – it would only take one. The confusion and doubt about “the Christ thing” was lifted all at once. It was as if Thérèse had taken my hand out of hers and put it in another hand: “It’s not me, honey, it’s Jesus.”

Life after Damascus

Okay, so I was a real Christian now. Now what? I continued to meet with Lori every week or so for long afternoons of prayer and conversation at the Shrine. I would get to where I couldn’t stand listening to her Catholic promo anymore and would take a break for a few weeks. But I’d always come back for more.

After a year of Lori’s inspired badgering, I wrote a letter to my Lutheran pastor asking his blessing to get a Catholic spiritual director to help me discern what was going on. Pastor Schneider asked why I was looking at the Catholic Church. I said something like, “I want to be able to sit in the presence of Jesus and let his truth and his love sink into me deeper and deeper – to become that love and that peace and to share his peace with other people.” Pastor said, “What you’re looking for you won’t find here.” 

Grateful for his honesty and his blessing, I scheduled an appointment with a friar at the Dominican House of Studies, a seminary housed in a century-old gothic building across the street from the Shrine. 

Only supernatural help enabled me to cross from the Shrine to the Dominican House that sunny day at the beginning of Lent. As I started across busy Michigan Avenue to begin my Catholic adventure in earnest, I felt as if a strong wind were trying to blow me back – as if a shower of arrows were pouring toward me to discourage and scare me. Fortunately, I had read The Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila, St. Faustina’s diary, and other spiritual books, and knew what was happening. It was what I have come to call a GVT: a garden variety temptation – and I brushed it aside. Nice try.

So my adversary tried another trick: I started to fear that when I walked through the doors, the first holy priest who laid eyes on me would cover his eyes and shout, “Sin has entered! Run for your lives!”

The woman at a 20th-century well meets Jesus

But it didn’t happen that way. Deacon Brian Mulcahy met me with a disarming gentleness, escorted me into a parlor, and asked if I’d like something to drink – orange juice? Yes, orange juice would be great. As he closed the oak door behind him, I looked out the window at Michigan Avenue. The whizzing traffic seemed from another planet. I, on the other side of the window now, was inside…inside what? I wasn’t sure, but I began to believe that whatever this was, it was safe, and I would be okay. 

As he walked back in and handed me the juice, I had the distinct knowledge that it was Jesus handing me the drink. I felt the love and acceptance of God flow into me in the gentle way he handed me the glass and looked at me with a kind of eternal acceptance and love. 

Like the woman at the well who met a man who understood her better than she understood herself, I was aware of being looked upon by one who saw me with God’s eyes as a beloved daughter. That afternoon was the beginning of my being able to believe it myself.

Deacon Brian told me that a Dominican priest, Father Norman Fenton, OP, was willing to meet with me. Father ended up instructing me in the faith all spring, summer, and into early fall – putting up with my defensive questions, wrong assumptions, and puzzled silences. 

After he said I was ready to be received, I asked if it could be on October 1, St. Thérèse’s day. But the Archdiocesan paperwork didn’t get cleared in time. Ditto for October 15, St. Teresa of Avila’s day.

I asked Father, “Are there any good saints in November?” He said, “Well, there’s St. Albert on November 15.” Who wants her big day to be St. Albert’s day, I thought. 

But it turned out that St. Albert the Great, Doctor Universalis and teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, had big plans for me. Tune in later this summer for the next chapter of my Catholic adventure….

43 Responses to “How I Crossed the Tiber Without Sinking”

  1. Ann

    Thank you for sharing! I’m looking forward to the next chapter!

    Happy 4th of July!!

    • Marion

      Happy 4th. Be safe.
      I can’t wait until the next part.
      Although I was raised in a not so catholic family my life was terrible and I just wore fake grin. You, Fr Mike S. Fr M Goring are helping me .God bless you my, friend.

  2. Jeanne Martinez

    Very interesting can’t wait to read the next chapter

  3. Kathy

    Thank you for sharing. I am looking forward to your next chapter.

  4. Mary E Stroud

    Thank you for sharing your journey into a deeper union with our Lord and savior Jesus. I look forward to hearing more.May the grace of the Immaculate Heart of Mary be with you a a you share. I like the roses you received from your husband and the connection with Saint Therese. God bless you.

  5. Gloria

    Lovely conversion story, welcome to the Catholic Faith, the Body of Christ.

  6. Merly

    Could not wait, Rose for the next chapter. The Crucifix, symbol of Jesus’ Love for us answered your deep longing. His holy face and His sacred wounds told a story—the invitation was so personal.
    Thank you for sharing and for all your heartfelt reflections. I am smiling more nowadays. May there be more of “Lori”. She got a great catch in you! All glory to God and the communion of Saints. More triumphs! Be blessed!

  7. Debra Lynn Mastronardi

    Thank you for sharing your conversion story, Rose. Many have had a great impact on your spiritual journey. I look forward to the rest of your story!

  8. Chuck Crean

    Thank you, Rose for sharing your journey. I look forward to reading the next chapter. God Bless.

  9. Debbie Graham

    Hi Rose,
    Beautiful testimony ❤️
    I get the GVT and like that explaination. The closer we get the more GVT and to just keep moving forward.
    I look forward to next week for more of your spiritual journey.
    I love how you explain your experiences.

    In Christ

  10. Mary Klein-Herstein

    I too can’t wait for the rest of the story. God bless.

  11. Beverly

    Thank you Rose for sharing and looking forward to the rest of the story too!

  12. Jan

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t wait to hear more. You inspire me and give me hope. I am reading Becoming an Intentional Disciple. This was a suggestion from our new pastor Fr John Paul Walker, a Dominican priest. I am happy in my Catholic faith, but have a difficult time defending it. Would love to be able to share it more.

  13. Mary

    I have been a fan of the Little Flower for decades too. Like you I see her sign all over as well as receive roses even if in a note card. When concerned about something I recite “Little Flower in this hour send forth thy power”& all would be answered!She is small but mighty and powerful! God bless u in your walk with Jesus and ❤️Your messages!

  14. Rosie

    Thank you, Rose, God is so great to set you on this path in your life. So grateful you said Yes and accepted this journey. You are blessed in your love and passion for the truth. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story, very inspiring🙏😇, please continue…

  15. Dottie Huggins

    Thank God for helping you to find your way to the Catholic faith. Great story, can’t wait to read the rest of the story.
    God bless

  16. Fran

    I am truly touched by your conversion…I have always noticed as a cradle Catholic, that true joy seemed to radiate out of those who chose Catholicism in later life. I am happy to say that I too, now instead of being complacent in my faith, experience true joy…when I lost my precious husband to cancer, I decided while grieving that” Jesus is the new man in my life!” I am in the process of becoming aware that without Jesus I am nothing and look forward to eternal bliss in Heaven when my time on earth is over.

    • Jill Godbey

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of conversion. I am praying for my husbands conversion and will forward your story to him. Can’t wait for the rest of your story, God Bless You!!

  17. Susie Melkus

    Wow! That is wonderful! Looking forward to the next chapter!

  18. Jan

    Can’t wait for the next installment! Thank you Rose! 🌹

  19. Tom Roberts

    Well it was this way. I was watching my godmother-to-be taking the faith plunge, little realizing her bungee cord was tied around my ankle. The result . . I was baptized!

  20. Anne Gordon

    Oh Rose, Thank you for sharing your moving and inspirational story. I am so blessed to have you in my life. I can’t wait for next Sunday.
    Happy 4th Rose 🌹

  21. Toni Smith-Johnson

    I can’t wait for the next chapter! Thank you for sharing!

  22. Fae

    Thank you, Rose. A beautiful story beautifully told! Lori and her crucifix remind me, as Jesus sent out the 72, so are we sent out with our smiles, our crucifixes, and – perhaps most importantly — our time to meet with a searching soul.

  23. Diane Isabelle

    Powerful story, Rose! You made the right decision. Someday I’ll tell you my husband’s conversion story.

  24. Carol Wall

    Thank you , Rose, for sharing your conversion to the Catholic faith.
    I am also a convert. I love hearing how other people made their journey to the Church.
    It is so beautiful how God leads us to the truth. I can’t wait to here the rest of the
    Love and prayers ❤️🙏

  25. Kathy DiCiurcio

    Thank you Rose for sharing your story. The Lord sure does work in mysterious ways! Eagerly looking forward to the next chapter.

  26. Judy

    Oh, Rose! I too am eager to hear the rest of your story. You tell it so beautifully, I too am a convert and can relate to some of your story. St Therese also influenced me greatly as I read her Story of a Soul. Miraculously , I was received into the Church on her feast day, October 1, 2011. So much of what happened to me is pure grace and mystery. Jesus called me and led the way. I walked through the doors as He opened them. I witnessed His smiling gaze. He is using you mightily and I am so grateful.

  27. Lucy

    Rose, thank you for sharing this wonderful experience. I am completely touched by reading what you went through. I look forward for your next blessed, powerful, in fact, all your experiences and I am very grateful for all your readings.
    Thank you,Enjoy your 4th of July.

  28. Suzanne Landis

    Rose, did you ever consider sharing your story on EWTN’s The Journey Home? Your story of resistance and attraction is compelling and the way you live your faith with joy and openness to God’s will is inspiring.

  29. Leah

    Rose. you told your conversion story in such a beautiful way. Thank you..
    cant wait for the second segment.
    happy fourth ofJuly.
    prayers for our country.
    Blessings. and peace,

  30. AddieLou

    Thank you, Rose. What a wonderful story! Can’t wait to read the next chapter.

  31. Hilda

    Loved your testimony thus far. Can’t waitvto hear more! By the way, I love all the St Therese, Teresa of Calcutta, and Avila too! ❤️

  32. Kathy

    Thank you Rose for sharing your story. I am forward to learning the rest of your story. I have been wanting to read Story of a Soul – now am inspired to do so. 😊 🌹

  33. Pat Friedhoff

    I love YOUR story, Rose! Can’t wait for the next installment.

  34. Diane Upham

    Dear Rose,
    You certainly know how to convey to modern men and women the trials and tribulations we face in loving with all our hearts the Divine One and how difficult it is to forgive ourselves for past offenses, even if they are not that significant to others. Your words, I know, are spiritually derived from your Faith and bring great comfort to me. May you always be healthy and strong, helping the masses recognize their emptiness and leading them to a blessed happy heart. Much love, Diane

  35. Mary

    I too am eager to read the rest of the story. Thanks for sharing, Rose.

  36. Darlene Mackey

    Rose, Like the others, I am eager to read the next chapter of your conversion story.
    God works in such marvelous ways. Praise be to God.

  37. Sharon Gagnon Witzell

    Me too! Can’t wait to read more. Thank you for sharing this!

  38. Anthea

    Wow, thanks for sharing, Rose. We have a name in common, you with the real Lori and my fictitious one who whispered in my ear until I told her full story!!

  39. Mary Hoeniges

    The beauty of the Saints helping you to be closer to Jesus. Am enjoying reading your conversion story.

  40. Dc. Dan Hennessey

    Rose, what an incredible story! I’ve been involved in RCIA for 26 years, 24 as a deacon, and I love this type of conversion story. Yours, however, is remarkable. Thank you for sharing.