“My longing for truth was a single prayer…” (St. Edith Stein)
Welcome to our first Spotlight on the Saints post! Today, as per the request of my friend Mary, I’ll give a few quick Saintly Summaries on great converts and re-verts who changed the face of the Church, as well as a few modern examples. Let’s hop on in!
This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that Christianity was the one true religion. Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terrible ashamed of himself. “What are we doing?” he cried to his friend Alipius. “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!”
Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself out into the garden and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” Just then he heard a child singing, “Take up and read!” Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul says to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life.
He was baptized, became a priest, a bishop, a famous Catholic writer, Founder of religious priests, and one of the greatest saints that ever lived. He became very devout and charitable, too. On the wall of his room he had the following sentence written in large letters: “Here we do not speak evil of anyone.” St. Augustine overcame strong heresies, practiced great poverty and supported the poor, preached very often and prayed with great fervor right up until his death. “Too late have I loved You!” he once cried to God, but with his holy life he certainly made up for the sins he committed before his conversion. His feast day is August 28th.”
St. Francis of Assisi
After living a dissolute life, full of wild parties and pranks, Francis had a dream in which he believed that God was calling him to repair his church and interpreted this to mean that he was to repair the church in San Damiano near Assisi. Francis was soon to renounce all of his possessions and his family treasures including his clothes – a decision which disturbed his extremely wealthy family deeply. Dressing as a beggar, he was joined by companions who were called brothers. They rebuilt the church of San Damiano and traveled throughout central Italy preaching for people to turn from materialism to Christ. They worked or begged for their food. When there were eleven brothers, Francis gave them a short Rule and received approval from the pope to form a brotherhood which Francis called the Friars Minor.
Francis called for simplicity of life; poverty and humility before God. With the brothers, he worked to care for the poor. One of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers. Thousands were drawn to his sincerity and joy.
Francis is known as the patron saint of animals. There are many stories about the life of Francis that deal with his love for animals.
A story tells of a wolf which was terrifying the city of Gubbio near Assisi. Having compassion for the frightened residents, Francis went up to the hills to find the wolf. Walking alone because all of his companions had fled in fear, Francis eventually found the wolf, made the sign of the cross, and instructed the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. He said to the wolf:
Brother wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you. But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.
Francis led the wolf into town. Surrounded by the startled citizens, he made a pact between them and the wolf. He explained that the wolf had terrorized the people because he was hungry. He told the people to feed the wolf regularly and the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.
St Francis was also a mystic and stigmatic, which means he bore the five wounds of Christ on his body. He had the nail marks in his hands and the spear wound in his side. St. Francis died in 1226, and his feast day is October 4th. If you want to read the much longer and more detailed story of his life, go here.
St. John Henry Newman
John Henry Newman began his career as an Anglican churchman and scholar and ended it as a Roman Catholic cardinal. He was born in London on February 21, 1801, and at the age of fifteen, he enrolled in Trinity College, beginning an association with Oxford University that would last for nearly thirty years.
Newman moved from Trinity to Oriel College after receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1820, becoming a fellow in 1822 and a tutor in 1826. Two years later, Edward Hawkins became the new provost of Oriel. Newman supported Hawkins’ candidacy, but it soon became clear that the two held different views about the responsibilities of a college tutor: Newman believed that the tutorship carried some pastoral duties, while Hawkins maintained that the tutor/student relationship should be strictly academic. When Newman objected to this view, Hawkins cut off his supply of new students, leaving him little choice but to resign his post, which he did in 1832.
Newman’s work in Oxford did not end with his resignation from the Oriel tutorship. He had held academic and pastoral assignments simultaneously for several years, serving first as both fellow of Oriel and curate of St. Clement’s and later as both tutor and vicar of St. Mary’s. He remained in his pastoral office until 1843, attracting hundreds of students, university officials, and townspeople to St. Mary’s [this church’s UK site] with his scholarly yet earnest preaching.
The high point of Newman’s Anglican career was his influential role in the Oxford Movement, a High Church effort to return to the foundations of the faith–the sacraments, episcopal governance, and apostolic succession–and to affirm the Church’s status as the via media, the middle ground between Roman Catholicism’s unfounded claims to authority and infallibility and the Dissenters’ equally unfounded emphasis upon spiritual liberty and private judgment. The Movement began on July 14, 1833, when John Keble delivered a sermon entitled “National Apostasy” (full text)from the pulpit of St. Mary’s. Newman became involved a few months later and was the Movement’s primary spokesman, promoting its doctrinal and moral concerns through his editorship of the British Critic, his contributions to Tracts for the Times, and his weekly sermons at St. Mary’s.
In 1839, Newman began to lose confidence in the cause. The study of the Monophysites he undertook that summer raised doubts about the validity of the via media, and he soon became convinced that Rome, not Canterbury, was the home of the true Church. He expressed his new views in Tract Ninety, in which he argued that the Thirty-Nine Articles, the doctrinal statement of the Church of England, could be interpreted in a way that supported Roman Catholic doctrine. The Tract was published on February 27, 1841; its censure by the Oxford authorities on March 15 was a severe blow to the Movement and led to Newman’s rapid withdrawal from Anglican life. Between July 1841 and September 1843, he left the British Critic, moved from Oxford to a semi-monastic community at Littlemore, retracted the anti-Catholic statements he had published, and resigned his position at St. Mary’s.
Two years after leaving St. Mary’s, Newman began a new life as a Roman Catholic. He was officially received into the Church on October 9, 1845 and was ordained to the priesthood the next year. His work with the Church included establishing the Oratory of St. Philip Neri near Birmingham in 1848 and helping to create the Catholic University of Ireland, which he served as rector from 1854 to 1858. He continued to write as well; some of the major publications of his Catholic years were Parochial and Plain Sermons (1868), a new edition of his Anglican discourses; The Idea of University (1852), a collection of the inaugural lectures for the Catholic University and other academic essays; An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), a treatise on the philosophy of religion; and Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), his classic work of spiritual autobiography.
The 1870s brought Newman special recognition for his work as both an Anglican and a Roman Catholic. In 1877 he became the first person elected to an honorary fellowship of Trinity College; two years later, Pope Leo XIII awarded him a place in the College of Cardinals. He died on August 11, 1890, and was buried in Warwickshire. His epitaph reads, “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem”–“out of shadows and pictures into truth.”
St. Edith Stein (Theresa Benedicta of the Cross)
Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D. (German: Teresia Benedicta vom Kreuz, Latin: Teresia Benedicta a cruce) (12 October 1891–9 August 1942), was a German Jewish philosopher who became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church and later a Discalced Carmelite nun. She is regarded as a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church.
Stein was born into an observant Jewish family, but was an atheist by her teenage years. Moved by the tragedies of World War I, in 1915 she took lessons to become a nursing assistant, and worked in a hospital for the prevention of disease outbreaks. After completing her doctoral thesis in 1918 from the University of Göttingen, she obtained a teaching position at the University of Freiburg. She was a true feminist, saying once, One could say that in case of need, every normal and healthy woman is able to hold a position. And there is no profession which cannot be practiced by a woman.”
From reading the works of the reformer of the Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Avila, Stein was drawn to the Christian faith. Seeing how Catholic friend was full of hope and joy in the face of the death of her husband, Edith was deeply moved. She was baptized on 1 January 1922 into the Roman Catholic Church. At that point she wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite nun, but was dissuaded from this by her spiritual mentors. She then taught at a Catholic school of education in Münster.
As a result of the requirement of an “Aryan certificate” for civil servants promulgated by the Nazi government in April 1933, as part of its Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, Stein had to quit her teaching position. She was admitted to the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne the following October. She received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In 1938, she and her sister Rosa, by then also a convert and an extern Sister of the monastery, were sent to a Carmelite monastery in Echt, the Netherlands for their safety. However, when offered the chance to escape to a convent in South America, Edith instead chose to stay, saying that she would offer her life as a sacrifice for the conversion of the Jewish people. Despite the Nazi invasion of that country in 1940, they remained undisturbed until they were arrested by the Nazis on 2 August 1942 and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they died in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942.
Modern Converts: Bernard Nathanson and Abby Johnson, pro-life giants.
Originally a pro-choice activist, Nathanson gained national attention by then becoming one of the founding members of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (later renamed the National Abortion Rights Action League, and now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America). He worked with Betty Friedan and others for the legalization of abortion in the United States. Their efforts essentially succeeded with the Roe v Wade decision. Nathanson estimated that he presided over roughly 20,000 abortions.
With the development of ultrasound in the 1970s, he had the chance to observe a real-time abortion. This led him to reconsider his views on abortion. He is often quoted as saying abortion is “the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States”. He wrote the book Aborting America where he first exposed what he called “the dishonest beginnings of the abortion movement”. In 1984, he directed and narrated a film titled The Silent Scream, in cooperation with the National Right to Life Committee, regarding abortion. His second documentary Eclipse of Reason dealt with late-term abortions.
Referring to his previous work as an abortion provider and abortion rights activist, he wrote in his 1996 autobiography Hand of God, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.” Nathanson developed what he called the “vector theory of life”, which states that from the moment of conception, there exists “a self-directed force of life that, if not interrupted, will lead to the birth of a human baby.”[
Nathanson grew up Jewish and for more than ten years after he became pro-life he described himself as a “Jewish atheist”. In 1996 he converted to Catholicism through the efforts of an Opus Dei priest, Rev. C. John McCloskey. In December 1996, Nathanson was baptized by Cardinal John O’Connor in a private Mass with a group of friends in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He also received Confirmation and first Communion from the cardinal. He stated that “no religion matches the special role for forgiveness that is afforded by the Catholic Church” when asked why he converted to Roman Catholicism. Nathanson died on February 11, 2011.
Abby Johnson has always had a fierce determination to help women in need. It was this desire that both led Abby to a career with Planned Parenthood, our nation’s largest abortion provider, and caused her to flee the organization and become an outspoken advocate for the pro-life movement.During her eight years with Planned Parenthood, Abby quickly rose in the organization’s ranks and became a clinic director. She was increasingly disturbed by what she witnessed. Abortion was a product Planned Parenthood was selling, not an unfortunate necessity that they fought to decrease. Still, Abby loved the women that entered her clinic and her fellow workers. Despite a growing unrest within her, she stayed on and strove to serve women in crisis.
All of that changed on September 26, 2009 when Abby was asked to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion.
She watched in horror as a 13 week baby fought, and ultimately lost, its life at the hand of the abortionist.At that moment, the full realization of what abortion was and what she had dedicated her life to washed over Abby and a dramatic transformation took place.Desperate and confused, Abby sought help from a local pro-life group. She swore that she would begin to advocate for life in the womb and expose abortion for what it truly is.
Planned Parenthood did not take Abby’s exodus sitting down. They are fully aware that the workers who leave are their greatest threat. Instantly, they took action to silence Abby with a gag order and took her to court. The lawsuit was quickly seen as the sham it was and thrown out of court.
The media was, and continues to be, intensely interested in Abby’s story as well as her continued efforts to advocate for the unborn and help clinic workers escape the abortion industry. She is a frequently requested guest on Fox News and a variety of other shows and the author of the nationally best-selling book, Unplanned, which chronicles both her experiences within Planned Parenthood and her dramatic exit. Abby is a committed and passionate Catholic, though she was raised Lutheran.Today, Abby travels across the globe sharing her story, educating the public on pro-life issues, advocating for the unborn, and reaching out to abortion clinic staff who still work in the industry. She is the Chief Research Strategist for Live Action Films, Senior Policy Advisor for American United for Life and works on projects for various pro-life organizations. Abby lives in Texas with her husband and precious daughter. She is grateful to God for her calling to speak for life and considers herself to be incredibly blessed. (From Abby’s website)