Tonight I spoke with Opus Dei priest Fr. C. John McCloskey. While a chaplain at Princeton, he received into the Church a good friend of mine Jeff Ziegler. By God’s grace, he’s also responsible for the conversions of the late columnist Bob Novak, economist and CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow, and the father of the modern abortion movement Dr. Bernard Nathanson.
Father and I spoke because I’m preparing a review of the book The Mississippi Flows Into the Tiber by John Beaumont (2014, Fidelity Press, South Bend, IN), for which he wrote both the foreword and afterward. The book treats the subject of notable US converts to Catholicism: actress Louise Brooks (click here for my recent post on this groundbreaking figure), former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dorothy Day, Dr. Warren Carroll, socialists, communists, founders of National Review magazine, politicians, writers, actors (John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Bob Hope, Patricia Neal, Mae West, Dolores Hart), Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Ven. Cornelia Connelly (what a story she has), etc. The book is over 1,000 pages long, and the review will appear sometime after February 26 in National Catholic Register.
Here is what Fr. McCloskey told me:
For every one of the faithful, “everyone who they come in contact with there is an opportunity for them to talk with them about the possibility of their becoming a Catholic. ‘Is there anything about the Catholic Church you don’t understand or I can help you with?’ Many of these people [i.e., the converts in the book], someone did that to them. Conversion requires friendship and prayer.
“In this Year of Mercy, the greatest mercy we can do for anyone is not giving them money or other good things. Doing that is good, but it’s not the greatest mercy. The greatest mercy is to share the Faith with them, and this book is very useful in that way.”
He highly recommended a book he’d previously reviewed for the Register titled Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends by Mary Claire Kendall and published by Franciscan Media (click here to learn more; in the interest of full disclosure, my publisher Servant Books is a subsidiary of Franciscan Media, but I make nothing off the sale of Kendall’s book).
Father hinted that Bernard Nathanson may be the greatest example of a convert of mercy who has ever come into the Catholic Church here in the US, or at least the most prominent one. Click here to learn more about the man who did as much as anyone to help legalize abortion in the US and who later repented of his actions.
We were discussing the fact that most of the stories contained in the book I’m reviewing are “intellectual” conversions rather than of the “Prodigal Son” variety. And Father observed it’s because “Catholicism is something that’s real. People who come from nothing, they understand if I’m going to believe in God, this is it.” Indeed, toward that end, I related to Father a passage in the book where someone noted there is not a single known case of a Catholic becoming a Protestant on his death bed, but there are innumerable instances of Protestants asking for reception into the Catholic Church as they lay dying. Same with Jews, atheists, agnostics, and even some Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people from every religion on the planet. Because Catholicism is true, and at the end of one’s life, one is struck that one is going to meet the truth, and the truth in what the Bride of Christ teaches, the pillar and bulwark (or foundation) of truth (cf. 1 Tim 3:15) is the surest way to eternal beatitude.
I can’t wait to finish the book and share the review with you. It’s a remarkable work, a feat, really.