For me, becoming Catholic was like winning the lottery. Now, I’m not trying to be poetic or overly sentimental about my faith when I say that. To be sure, it is a treasure beyond compare, but that’s not what I’m really getting at. Rather the odds of it occurring at all – the particular circumstances and the way things happened – is what makes mine (and most conversion stories) so remarkable. You’ve heard the saying, “God works in mysterious ways,” and this is certainly true. But what’s even more mysterious to me is how He works through His Blessed Mother. I didn’t see it at the time, but I believe now that it was Mary who opened my heart and ultimately led me to the Catholic Church.
I grew up in the Bible belt, the southern region of the U.S. dominated by Baptists and other evangelical Christians. Not that there weren’t Catholics, but from my perspective they seemed few and far between. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with parents who made sure we went church every Sunday, received the sacraments at the appropriate times, and said grace before meals. Had I been asked, I would have professed to be a Christian, but you probably wouldn’t have known it otherwise. In high school, I was much more concerned with being popular and having fun than in following the commandments. At some point, though, I began to wonder what life was all about and questioned what I was doing. Was this really all there was? Something seemed to be missing, but I didn’t know what, or even where to look.
Then I met a girl who had moved to my school from Vermont. Everything about her and her family was so different from what I was used to. They all had these crazy New England accents and looked like they’d just stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog with their turtlenecks and top-siders. More importantly, they were so genuine and friendly, and I found myself wanting to spend more and more time with them. As I got to know them better, I discovered that they were also Catholic. It was obviously important to them, a big part of who they were as a family.
One day my friend and I were out riding bikes when a storm suddenly whipped up. Within minutes, the wind began to blow and the sky visibly darkened. Giant raindrops started to fall, soon followed by hail and the crash of thunder. Wearing only t-shirts and shorts, we tried to pedal faster to get home. Even though I had witnessed plenty of wild Texas weather in my lifetime, I was a bit terrified and wondered what would happen next. Then my friend did something rather strange. She began to pray the Hail Mary. I had never heard this prayer before, but quickly learned the words and found myself repeating them. The storm raging around us didn’t miraculously stop, but the one in my heart did. Even though we were drenched and cold, we thankfully made it back to her house safely. The moment passed, and I don’t really remember discussing it with my friend. But it stuck with me.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was a moment of grace: God reaching out to me through His Blessed Mother. Not to discount my friend’s part – her sure response in a moment of uncertainty was very important. But it wasn’t only her. The Lord used all the circumstances together – a “perfect storm” – to get my attention. Before that day, the Catholic Church wasn’t even on my radar. But something changed after that. I didn’t know it, but a little seed had been planted in my soul and was growing imperceptibly. A couple of years later, I started dating this great guy at university who was Catholic, and my curiosity was piqued again. There’s a lot more to the story, but I bet you can guess the ending. I became Catholic, that great guy became my husband, and the rest, as they say, is history. Come to think of it, it was more like hitting the jackpot!
But here’s the really interesting part. It’s been over 30 years since I entered the Church and I’ve probably told this story a dozen times. Yet it’s only recently that I realized Mother Mary’s role in my conversion. She was content to remain hidden, in the background, allowing me to think that it was my doing. But all along it was gentle, quiet Mary. She unexpectedly touched my life in the simplest of ways, and it hasn’t been the same since.
– Kelley Holy