.- This Easter the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska welcomed 83 converts into the Catholic Church.
Some of these men and women hail from backgrounds that were hostile to the teachings of Catholicism.
As they tell it, Nicholas Myhre, Jason Yonk and Vanessa never pursued Catholicism. Rather, they were stunned at how their quests for spiritual truth led them to the very church about which theyâd been warned.
Myhreâs mother, an agnostic Lakota Sioux, rejected organized religion and taught him that the Catholic Church forcibly indoctrinated the Natives in early America.
Yonk was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which teaches that the true message of Christ was lost by the Catholic Church but restored in a vision to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s and recorded in the Book of Mormon.
Vanessa, who asked that her last name not be used, due to tensions caused by her conversion, grew up in a family of devout Jehovahâs Witnesses, where she was taught that the harlot described in the Book of Revelations represents the Catholic Church.
Questioning the faith
Myhre became acquainted with Catholicism when his father, a recent convert himself, was undergoing cancer treatments and asked Myhre to bring him to church. The first Mass felt awkward, he said.
âI didnât have hostile feelings toward the church; I just didnât like being there,â Myhre recalled.
The second visit, though, he was overcome by an epiphany as he watched his father participating in the Mass.
âI just felt that I was in the right place at that moment for a reason, and I needed to know more about what my dad was doing,â he said.
His job working construction around Alaska allowed him some time to read books on apologetics and early Church history.
âI was always looking for God: thinking and searching and reading and praying,â he said.
Myhre pushed himself to scrutinize and fully grasp any teachings that challenged him, including purgatory and the veneration of Mary. Other beliefs, though, seemed obvious.
âThe presence of Christ in the Eucharist is really what drew me to the faith,â he said. âTo make that leap, for me what really cemented it was tradition â¦ That really helped me understand the Catholic Church and where it gets its authority.â
Myhre entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the means by which one enters the Catholic Church. He began attending Mass with his children and his wife, an inactive Baptist, and enrolled his 5-year-old daughter in Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School. At Easter, he joined his wife and youngest daughter in entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Quest for salvation
Fellow catechumen Jason Yonk launched his search for spiritual truth after reading an alarming book, â23 Minutes in Hell,â which is the authorâs account of his near-death experience that went south.
âIt honestly scared me,â Yonk said. âIâve always believed in hell.â
At his momâs suggestion, he started his quest for salvation by studying the Book of Mormon but wasnât satisfied with its answers.
âI still felt very confused and lost,â he said.
During long Coast Guard deployments, he studied the Bible and traced Christianity back to its roots in the Catholic Church.
He startled himself when he announced to his wife, a cradle Catholic from a devout family, that he wanted to become Catholic.
âShe was as dumbfounded as I was,â he said. âBefore this I had a problem with saying I was one religion or another, but it was sudden. It just felt right.â
He and his wife, who was never confirmed, took RCIA together at St. Mary Church in Kodiak. With no other RCIA candidates for most of the year, he enjoyed grilling his teacher, Father Eric Wiseman, with questions during classes.
Yonk is now considering the diaconate after retirement.
A catechumen at St. Patrick Church in Anchorage, Vanessa experienced scathing criticism of the Catholic Church as part of her religious instruction growing up a Jehovahâs Witness. Yet she always felt intrigued by Catholicism, even dreaming as a young girl of becoming a nun.
âIâve been a Catholic at heart for years,â she said. Observing adult Jehovahâs Witnesses going door-to-door, âI remember Catholics being the people who would say âNo, thank you; weâre Catholic.â They were all set.â
Vanessa eventually left the Jehovahâs Witnesses in her 20s and devoted a decade to soul-searching. She read many books, attended friendsâ churches and prayed. She also lost and rebuilt a delicate relationship with her parents, who by Jehovahâs Witness creed were supposed to cut themselves off from her for leaving their church.
âI went through a period of knowing that what I was taught (about the Catholic Church) was wrong, yet not being able to free myself from the way I felt,â she said. For instance, âreading the Bible and knowing, just knowing clearly that God is three persons in one â I donât know how you could dispute that â but still hoping that I would find something to prove otherwise because thatâs what Iâd always been told to believe.â
Her conversion journey and zeal for Catholicism renewed the faith of her Catholic husband. Her daughter, age 3, was baptized last year, and Vanessa eagerly followed suit this Easter.
âIt feels like coming home,â she said. âIt feels like correcting a mistake.â
'Faith is a gift'
Myhre is similarly excited.
âCradle Catholics tell me that what Iâve learned and what Iâm experiencing is a gift,â he said. âThey took everything for granted because they never had to question it or figure it out for themselves.â
He added, âLike we learned in RCIA, âFaith is a gift of the Holy Spirit,â only some must strive harder to accept it.â
Printed with permission from CatholicAnchor.org, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage.