Former Protestant minister embraces the truth of the Catholic Church

Recent convert Steve Dow and his wife, Amanda, pose for a photo with Deacon M.J. Kersenbrock, left, and Father Bernard Starman after the Easter Vigil April 16, 2022 at St. Patrick Church in O’Neill, Nebraska. Recent convert Steve Dow and his wife, Amanda, pose for a photo with Deacon M.J. Kersenbrock, left, and Father Bernard Starman after the Easter Vigil April 16, 2022 at St. Patrick Church in O’Neill, Nebraska. | Courtesy of the Dow family

What would drive a Protestant minister to give up his ministry, to wander in spiritual darkness for a time and eventually follow God’s call in a new direction?

For Steve Dow, it was the truths of the Catholic faith that, despite his best efforts, he ultimately couldn’t ignore.

Eventually stepping out in faith and trust in the Lord, he responded to God’s call and was finally welcomed into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil, April 16 at St. Patrick Church in O’Neill, Nebraska.

“Like any non-Catholic, especially a minister, it’s a jump into the unknown,” said Father Ross Burkhalter, senior associate pastor of St. Patrick, who helped lead the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes Dow attended.

But Dow was willing to step away from the path he was on and explore with openness what the Church actually teaches, said Father Burkhalter, who also serves Nebraska parishes St. Joseph in Amelia, Sacred Heart in Boyd County, St. Boniface in Stuart and St. Joseph in Atkinson.

As a minister in the Wesleyan Church, which has historic ties to the Methodist Church, Dow’s journey to the Catholic faith began several years ago when he started viewing programs on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network – a Catholic television network), mostly out of curiosity, he said.

“I started realizing that a lot of the things that I’ve heard about and thought were crazy (about the Catholic faith), there’s actually good reasons for some of the things these Catholics believe and practice, and I kind of felt drawn towards it.

“At the same time I’m thinking, ‘I’m a Protestant minister. If I pursue this direction, I lose my ministry. I lose my source of income. How will I provide for my family?’”

So, he had to shut out those influences, and in doing so, he said, “I was cutting myself off from God and the direction that he was leading me.”

“I found myself questioning everything, questioning my faith, questioning God’s existence. I’d become more of an atheist, so for integrity’s sake, I had to leave the ministry,” he said.

SPIRITUAL DARKNESS

That was 2013, and for the next eight years, although sometimes dabbling in the teachings of various denominations and attending their services, Dow mostly lived in a state of spiritual darkness.

“I started feeling spiritually dead inside,” Dow said.

After leaving the ministry, Dow worked for a time with his father on the family farm near Orchard, Nebraska, and joined NorthStar Services in O’Neill, an agency providing support services to people with developmental disabilities.

But his wife, Amanda, herself a former Catholic, found the transition difficult.

The couple, who met and married during Bible college, had gone straight into ministry after graduation, Dow said.

“So that was kind of all we’d known,” he said. “It was very hard on her, very hard on our marriage. She continued to believe and continued to go to church some, but with me not going and supporting it, it was hard on her.”

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All the while, something kept gnawing at Dow’s heart. “I was just feeling like, there’s got to be more to life than this,” he said.

One day, while watching the movie “The Shack,” a Christian film with themes of redemption and being open to God’s invitation, Dow reached a turning point.

“I remember just breaking down and weeping, realizing there’s a lot more to life,” he said. “It started waking me up to faith again.”

With that, he started praying and reading, “devouring Catholic literature,” Dow said. He began using the Catholic prayer and meditation app “Hallow,” which encouraged him to pray the Rosary.

Dow also began viewing St. Patrick Parish Masses online, and heard about upcoming RCIA classes.

Then, last September he took the plunge.

‘FULLY CONVINCED’

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“By the time I signed up for RCIA, I was fully convinced,” he said. “It was a good confirmation of what I was already coming to believe.”

Deacon M.J. Kersenbrock, who led RCIA classes at St. Patrick, noted Dow’s knowledge of and his openness to Catholic understanding of Scripture, and his receptivity to the Church’s teachings.

“There was a certain resolve in his heart. He knew where he wanted to go, … and when there were questions about Catholic dogma, his heart was open to receiving the truth of the Catholic Church.”

One thing Dow found confirming was the Church’s faithfulness to Scripture.

“I always thought that Protestants were the ones that took the Bible more seriously or more literally, and I was shocked at realizing that’s not really true,” Dow said.

“When it comes to things like the real presence in the Eucharist, when Jesus says ‘this is my body and this is my blood’ … Catholics are the ones that are taking this more literally and more straightforward, and not trying to explain it all away.”

Protestants view it more symbolically, he said, “we’re feeding on him by faith in our hearts, … we’re just remembering what he did.”

“Coming with an open mind and an open heart, it’s amazing how the Scriptures opened up,” Dow said. “It’s like, how did I not see that before in all these years?”

And it was the Eucharist that most strongly drew him to become Catholic.

“I can go to Mass, I can listen, I can watch, but I couldn’t fully participate and receive the Eucharist,” he said.

That all changed at the Easter Vigil.

“It was so meaningful, especially after receiving the Eucharist for the first time, he said. “I just went back to my place and knelt down. I found myself praying thank you, thank you, thank you, over and over again – that’s all I could pray. It was really overwhelming and very emotional.”

TOGETHER IN FAITH

And Dow’s wife, who had been raised Catholic and received the sacraments as a youth but had left the Church along with her family during her teens, returned to the Church.

Having attended RCIA classes with her husband, she decided during Holy Week to rejoin the Church by going to confession, then received Communion during the Vigil.

“That made it very nice too, for us to be able to do that together,” Dow said.

And following the Vigil, their marriage was also sacramentally blessed by Father Bernard Starman, pastor.

“It was almost like sacramental overload,” Dow said.

Dow’s faith journey may also have planted some additional seeds.

Their 22-year-old son, who had begun attending Mass with the couple, has expressed an interest in Catholicism. The Dows also are considering baptism for their two youngest children, 8 and 11, who, in line with common Protestant practice, went through a dedication ceremony as infants but had not yet been baptized.

The couple now prays and reads the Bible together as they had in the past, and can now participate fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“One of the things I found most meaningful is how rich and deep the Mass is,” Dow said. “Everything means something … and everything is backed up by Scripture. Everything has a reason and a purpose.”

This article was first published at The Catholic Voice, the publication of the Archdiocese of Omaha, April 24, 2022. It is reprinted by CNA with permission.