An Encouraging Word — From Baptist minister to priesthood

See, I am doing something new. Isaiah 43:19

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

“Things are not what they used to be!” This is especially true in the seminary today.

When I was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad from 1964-1970 all of us were U.S. born except for one seminarian from the Bahamas. Now we have seminarians from 22 countries. Eating meals is like eating in the cafeteria of the United Nations. I absolutely love it! I don’t have to travel to meet the world.

The influx of new nationalities is not the only thing new in seminaries these days. In my day, most of us started seminary right out of the eighth grade. Now most come to us after college and even as second career students: doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and even widowers.

Most shocking of all are seminarians like Norman, married to Laura, from the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark. They are “converts” to Catholicism; they are married and they have kids. He
is a former Free Will Baptist minister and they have served as Baptist missionaries in Brazil.

They live in a house at the bottom of the hill. Norman is in formation with the seminarians. Laura works in the kitchen. They come to Mass, and several other seminary functions, together. I saw them walking home the other night, hand in hand, at the end of a long day. Right then, I decided to ask them if I could interview them. They agreed, but Norman
pointed out that he would have to get permission from his vocation director. How funny — a Baptist minister getting permission from his Catholic vocation director!

Why did they “convert” from one of the most fundamental Protestant churches to Roman Catholicism? The answers might surprise you.

The first reason was the example of ordinary Catholics they met in Brazil when they were Baptist missionaries. They chose Brazil because it was a heavily Catholic country and they thought that those Catholics needed to be “saved” because they were told Catholics don’t know Jesus Christ. They were shocked to meet so many Catholics who were deeply religious and obviously loved Jesus.

Second, Norman began to read early church history. He had been reading the Bible apart from its historic development. The more he read, the more he knew he would have to make a change.

Next, his reading of early church history led him to his belief in, and love for, the Eucharist as we know it.

Finally, he was attracted to the authority structure of the church, something that our lifelong members are struggling with these days. He pointed out that, in the past, he never knew who had the right to say what was true or false. Individual believers were left to decide for themselves. He was attracted to the idea of a central teaching authority — the magisterium.

Like all serious “converts,” I expect them to remind us of the treasures we often take for granted, as well enriching us with their own.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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