From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian: Part 3

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Catholic Sistas welcomes the third installment of seminarian Craig DeYoung’s beautiful conversion story. You can read the second part of Craig’s story here. Please check back soon for the fourth and final installment in this inspiring series.

In Part II of my conversion story, I wrote about how my life was simply blah. God was present and working in me, but I couldn’t see him very well. I didn’t think him very important, nor did I think of him much at all. I believed there was a God, but not a particular sort of God. But I deeply longed to be loved and to love. In college, he revealed himself to me as the God who loves me in a scandalously particular way!

It’s hard to write a story when so much of it is a mystery even to the one who lived it. So much of God’s work in my life is still hidden to me. I see the harvest of much labor, but can only marvel at the growth of my soul.

Me at Texas A&M, where providential friendships would lead me to a true friendship with the Lord.

It was a special providence that brought me to Texas A&M University to begin my college studies. Texas A&M began in 1876 as a land grant college, and was a military academy until many years later. It retains many traditions from those days and the heart of the school is still the traditions upheld by the Corp of Cadets from its ROTC program. Over the years, it has remained a conservative school and the practice of religion is more common than not. I’d estimate 80% of the student population is Christian, with 25% of those being Catholic. The Catholic center of the university is the very active St. Mary’s Catholic Student Center.

Being in the top 10% of my high school graduating class, I was automatically accepted to any public university in Texas. I didn’t particularly want to attend A&M, but chose it after visiting the university twice. I knew hardly anything about the school until I attended “fish camp,” a camp for incoming freshmen designed to teach students about university traditions and help them make new friends. The camp is often referred to jokingly as a brainwashing session. It was at fish camp that I met my first college friends, and developed a crush on a camp counselor named Becky.

Becky was a beautiful young woman, full of energy and joy. All of which was attractive to a young man who longed for both. She was also a devout Baptist and truly in love with Jesus. Our Lord was the center of everything for her. It was, perhaps, my first glimpse of the joy that having a relationship with Jesus can bring.

When I told another counselor I liked Becky, she told me I would have to be more in love with Jesus than Becky was for her to want to date me. So when Becky invited a group of freshmen to attend church with her one Sunday, I went. The most vivid memory I have of going to church that day was being very uncomfortable at the service.

As Becky dropped us off back on campus, she invited me to attend another event and I immediately said yes. I didn’t know what the event was, nor did I really care. All I cared about was that Becky had invited me.

When I showed up it turned out to be a Baptist Bible study for freshmen called Upstream. As soon as I showed up, I saw Becky, who introduced me to her boyfriend, Casey, and then left. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled to find out I was at a Bible study, that Becky had a boyfriend, and that she wasn’t even going to attend. Casey, to my disappointment, turned out to be a good guy.

As we were talking Casey introduced me to another guy named Jason. By now I was biding my time and looking for an opportune moment to slip out unnoticed. So when praise and worship began and Casey went in, I thought I’d have my opportunity to leave. Jason, however, stayed and kept talking to me. It must have been apparent how uncomfortable I was, because he asked if I wanted to sit and talk outside. It’s funny how such a small moment can change everything.

Outside the Bible study, we sat and talked. He asked me what I believed about God. He didn’t challenge me or tell me about Jesus or tell me what I believed was stupid. Instead, he listened and cared about what I had to say. When praise and worship ended, I went back in with him and was assigned to his Bible study group.

I began attending every week and to my surprise, looked forward to it as the best part of my week. At first it was because of the friendships; I simply enjoyed being with Jason and the others. As we studied the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, I realized I had something to offer the group: questions…I was full of them! Many of my questions remained unanswered and that challenged the group to go deeper. In studying Scripture with my Upstream group, I felt valued and loved. I felt closer to truth and it felt great.

As it turned out, Jason was a Catholic but was co-leading one of the Upstream groups. He saw it as giving back to Upstream, which had been influential in his life. As a leader of a Baptist Bible study group, he was not allowed to explicitly teach the Catholic faith. What he did do was love me, affirm me, and build me up in my quest for truth. He also invited me to my first Catholic Mass.

At the time, I was still unconvinced of the truth of Christianity and was attending different services on weekends more out of curiosity and loneliness than any sort of religious devotion. I went to my first Mass alone; I didn’t go with Jason but just sort of showed up. I was very lost and had no clue what was going on. I did, however, remember my time in the Episcopal Church and went up to receive Communion. In my ignorance, I received my first Communion. After I received and was walking back to my pew something told me I shouldn’t have received and without knowing why, I never went up again except for a blessing.

Except for that prick of conscience after Communion, there was nothing remarkable about my first Mass. I remember thinking the priest seemed kind of fake, though this turned out to be far from the truth. After Mass, I saw Jason and he invited me to the parish’s Sunday Catechism classes and I began attending sporadically.

Not long after, Jason invited me to a Catholic student retreat called Aggie Awakening. This retreat turned out to be the single most influential event in my conversion. It was on this retreat that I realized Christianity was real. The love present at this retreat was tangible. God was active and working in the world. Jesus was not just 2,000-year old history, but was present in the here and now; I saw him working in and through all those who led and staffed the retreat.

I left the retreat convinced Christianity was true. I wanted to be Christian, but I wasn’t going to do it halfheartedly or blindly. But even then, I wanted to know what I was committing myself to, so I began to explore what seemed to me to be different kinds of Christianity. I went to the Lutheran church, the Baptist church, and others searching for the truth. After a while, I was attending only the Catholic Church, involved in many of the ministries, and was going to Mass every day.

It was then that Christ became my friend. He was no longer a stranger, but someone I longed to be with all the time. Life was no longer blah but exciting! I was changing and becoming more of who I was meant to be, a child of God.

I constantly found myself on the same page with the teachings of the Church, though there were still some things about which I remained unconvinced. It was a long while before I would pray the Hail Mary, for example. Once when I was praying with a group and I didn’t pray it along with the others, some of the girls asked me why. They were surprised to learn I wasn’t Catholic since I was always at St. Mary’s..

The priests at St. Mary’s made a huge impact on my life, too. They taught and proposed the faith through their examples and homilies. Monsignor Mike Sis was especially influential in my spiritual life and became my hero. But it was during prayer at Mass that I found real peace.

At the beginning of my second year at A&M, I began RCIA to continue learning about Catholicism. Even then, I didn’t intend to enter the Church. That changed after I came back from staffing an Awakening retreat while attending Mass one Sunday. At this Mass, there were baptisms, professions of faith, first Communions, and Confirmations. I remember watching and saying to myself, “I want that!” I went home at Thanksgiving and told my mom, “I’m becoming Catholic, I’m changing majors, and I might be dating a girl.” Her response was, “What’s her name?”

I asked Jason to be my sponsor and during Lent made my first Confession, which took an hour…poor Monsignor Mike! I chose St. Jude, the patron saint of lost and impossible causes, to be my confirmation saint and I entered the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2004. It was the happiest day of my life and my jaw was sore the next day from grinning so much. Right after the profession of faith, I turned to all my RCIA classmates with a cheesy smile on my face and said, “Guess what…we’re Catholic!”

I had come joyfully home to the Catholic Church! For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a home. The sacraments, by which Christ is present in a special way to his Church, became my life. From that time, things only became better, thought they have never become easier.

In the fourth and final part of my story, I’ll share how God called me to the seminary to become a Catholic priest. Thanks for reading!

8 Replies to “From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian: Part 3”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I really enjoyed it and could relate to much of it. I entered the Church this past Easter and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced too. Being raised Protestant, I never imagined that I’d become Catholic – but God had other plans for me – Thank God!

  2. Thank you for an awesome article! As a new Rcia instructor, can you give me some pointers as to what makes dynamic lessons? My co-instructor and I will be using the internet throughout our class and I am sure there are some great articles! My prayes are with you as you attend the seminary! God Bless you and thank you once again for sharing your inspiring story!
    Valerie from Mesquite, NV

  3. Valerie,

    Thank you for your inquiry. I’ll be sure to pass the message to Craig who is on silent retreat this month. I’m sure he’ll have some great insights to share. 🙂

  4. Howdy Valerie,

    Thanks for your comment! Sorry for the delayed response and thanks Martina for explaining why! I had an excellent retreat.
    Teaching RCIA is a very rewarding experience. I’ve had the opportunity to teach RCIA in addition to participating while preparing to enter the Church. However, I’m by no means an expert. I’ll share a few observations though.
    First of all the sharing of stories among participants is very valuable. Everyone likes to know who their going through RCIA with and does much more than satisfy curiosity.
    Secondly, have people who have gone through RCIA recently give witnesses. This serves a similar function to the first point but goes beyond it.
    Thirdly, group time is very helpful. It’s an opportunity to unpack what they’re learning and engage more directly.
    Lastly, but most importantly, keep the person of Jesus at the center of everything. A personal and real encounter with Christ is the reason they are there (most of them) and want to enter the Church. Prayer!

    If you want a real resource contact Noe Rocha at St. William Catholic Church in Round Rock, TX. I haven’t seen a better RCIA program.

    I hope this helps Valerie! Good luck and I’ll see you in the Eucharist.

    In Christ,

  5. Craig, you have the best cheesy smiles! I am so blessed to have been able to see a glimpse of the amazing transforming power of God in your life! I am so blessed to have been part of that tangible love. From such a guarded, “tough guy” at Aggie Awakening to the wonderful, open man of God today. You have inspired me to go back to my faith and go deeper! Thank you for sharing your life story. -your gopher

  6. Mat 24:1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
    Mat 24:2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
    Mat 24:3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
    Mat 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
    Mat 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
    Mat 24:6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
    Mat 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
    Mat 24:8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
    Mat 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
    Mat 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
    Mat 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
    Mat 24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
    Mat 24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
    Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
    Mat 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
    Mat 24:16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
    Mat 24:17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
    Mat 24:18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
    Mat 24:19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
    Mat 24:20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
    Mat 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
    Mat 24:22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
    Mat 24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
    Mat 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
    Mat 24:25 Behold, I have told you before.
    Mat 24:26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
    Mat 24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
    Mat 24:28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
    Mat 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
    Mat 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
    Mat 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
    Mat 24:32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
    Mat 24:33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
    Mat 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
    Mat 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
    Mat 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
    Mat 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
    Mat 24:38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
    Mat 24:39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
    Mat 24:40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
    Mat 24:41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
    Mat 24:42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
    Mat 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
    Mat 24:44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
    Mat 24:45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
    Mat 24:46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
    Mat 24:47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
    Mat 24:48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
    Mat 24:49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
    Mat 24:50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
    Mat 24:51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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