It’s an uncanny feeling—writing someone else’s conversion story. Usually these types of stories are told first hand in a specific-to-the-teller sort of way because coming to Faith after a lifetime (whether that’s as a child, teen, or adult) is always a unique journey. I can only hope that through the help of the Blessed Mother, I am a worthy conduit to share this story with you all.
Bruce’s vocation was a husband to my mother, Linda, and father to me. My parents married in 1990 and I came along three years later. Though they shared the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage, my father was of no faith, and my mother was not practicing at the time. (Yes, the Novus Ordo allows this ALL. THE. TIME.) I digress.
During their three decades of marriage, my father and mother grew as individuals, together, as any married couple does. Surely one’s spouse is the most important and influential person in an adult’s life and this was no different. While they had vastly different interests and at times different priorities, they always stood as a united front in any matter of true importance. My mother did her best in raising me Catholic, but without support from my dad it was difficult. My father was always a moral and steadfast man which was important, especially the times my mother and I failed in showing Christ to him in our daily life. He would see us act unkind, uncharitable, and impatient, and then open a Bible, or go to Confession. He would see us gossip and be rude, but still attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day. He rarely commented on these events, but watched them carefully. At times, it seemed like he was judging us (and rightly so—as we ARE called to judge actions).
Shortly after my wedding, my father fell ill and had emergent open-heart surgery. Soon after that, we told him we were expecting Brennan and he wept. I had never seen my father cry before. Then Brennan came and was sick and I had to rely on God like I never did before. We quickly got pregnant with Winston and amidst the rude comments from family and friends, my father was thrilled. He attended Mass with us and abstained from meat on Fridays begrudgingly but still did not say much about our budding Faith.
The Beginning of Eternity
Fast forward to September, 2019—my father came to visit our newly purchased home in Kansas City. Liam and I had always assumed a 20+ year active duty Army career but that came to a screeching halt when we found a Traditional community that embodied the fullness and Truth of the Faith. He asked why we had chosen to settle here and I told him we bought this house because of the church we attended. He was confused, but not surprised. He began, for the first time in my life, to respectfully question my beliefs. It was neat to have such a charitable conversation with him. He had noticed so many positive changes in myself, my marriage, and my children’s behavior—it was almost impossible not to ask at that point!
Only four short weeks later, he was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. You didn’t need a medical degree to google the prognosis and see that it was simply not good. While others focused solely on his physical health, my mother and I immediately made a pact to pray unceasingly for two things—for minimal suffering, and his conversion. A friend suggested I pray a Novena to St. Philomena and so I begun that a week or so later. The Novena ended on Hallows Eve, the night Liam and I decided to fly out the next day when things had taken a turn for the worse. The whole trip, I was filled with anxiety because I had wanted to ask my dad frankly about conversion. Approaching that topic was difficult for my mother and I because he knew our faults and imperfections. If I was his only light to Catholicism, I doubt it would be very desirable, haha. I knew my mother had similar hesitations. I ended up only dancing around the subject all weekend. I just could never find the right words out of fear of being uncharitable towards a dying man, whom I loved very, very much.
I am proud to say that right before we flew home, Liam was able to sneak a 10-minute visit with him—man-to-man. The conversation, according to Liam’s recount to me, matches my father’s recount to my mother in which Liam asked my father if converting was something he’d ever consider. To Liam’s surprise, my dad said it had actually been on his mind for a while! While he did not know when his time on earth would end, he said it was important to him that our family be united in Faith. He soon chose a time with my mother to have a priest come over.
On November 17th, 2019, my father was Baptized in the Catholic Church. He also received the Sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, Communion, and Anointing of the Sick. Both my mom and the priest said his joy was indescribable. Even though he had been home on Hospice Care, from that day forward, he woke up each morning saying that he felt better. I can’t help but believe that’s because while his body was growing weaker, his soul, freshly born again, was becoming stronger than ever. I recently read through my final text conversations with my father in which we spoke on November 16th about his conversion. I told him that I was so proud and happy for him. He responded that it had been on his mind for a long time, and additionally, it was a beautiful legacy he could leave his grandsons.
I flew to New Jersey on November 21st to spend a final weekend with my father. That weekend we laughed, watched both football for him and goofy Hallmark movies for me, and for the first time ever in my life, we prayed together. We talked about a burial in Kansas City; he loved the idea of a place where the most important people in his life could visit him. We prayed the Rosary, my mother prayed for Padre Pio’s intercession (to whom she has a particularly strong devotion) and we prayed the traditional prayers for a peaceful and holy death. At first, this made me very uncomfortable, but my father took each and every prayer with such gratitude that I knew he was ready to meet his Maker. Before I left, I told him I was sorry for being such a crappy teenager, and hoped that I still managed to make him proud. He told me that he was proud of the woman I became. I asked him why, and he told me because I had faith, and that faith left me open to life to birth his grandsons (the true MVPs!). He touched my cheek and told me this wasn’t goodbye, and that he would indeed see me again. That was the second time I saw my father cry, and I, too, cried right along side of him.
On November 26th, my father passed peacefully in the night with my mother by his side—just the way it’s supposed to be.
When folks hear of a “death bed” conversion, it is easy to be critical and perhaps even find fault in that choice. But his conversion was just that, a choice—his choice. Not one of us can say what we would do when faced with our imminent mortality—but of course, we all will face final judgement. God’s plan is perfect and His timing is perfect—to those with wickedness in their hearts, it will seem that my father walked over the edge of a cliff. To those who know Christ, know he did walk over that cliff, but instead of falling, he soared.
St. Philomena, Ora pro nobis.