Running into Catholicism

When I was in middle school, I joined the track team. My mom took me to get all the gear—shoes, sweat suit, obligatory physical, the whole nine yards. She dropped me off at practice the first day, and when she came to pick me up a couple of hours later, I told her I didn’t want to do track anymore because there was much more running involved than I had anticipated.

I went on to play soccer in high school, and when forced to run, I would do so very reluctantly and with loud protestations. I figured that I was best suited to running only when chased.  Running, I figured, was not for the likes of me.

Then, sometime after having my first child, I started running again. And I found that I liked it. I was awful at it, but it didn’t matter, since I had fun. My husband and I participated in two triathlons, I ran a couple of 5Ks, and within the space of two years, I had developed a moderately serious running habit.

I kept that habit while pregnant with my second child, running through the streets of my neighborhood until I was about seven months along. That’s when the feeling that I was going to have a lead watermelon burst out of me if I shuffled one more step won out over the urge to run. My elderly neighbor was relieved, I’m sure. He had taken to coming out on his porch every morning during my pregnant run, shaking his head at me and shouting, “Slow down!”

The upside to mad pregnancy running (besides annoying the neighbors) was that I recovered from my second delivery much faster than I had from my first. Within five weeks, I was back at it, training for a marathon my husband and I had signed up for at Disney World.

All this matters because the combination of late-night Internet research about which religion was the “correct” one and mid-morning five-milers gave me things to think about and time to do the thinking. Every runner is a philosopher, at least while on the run.  I’d think about what I had read about the early history of Christianity, about the compilation of the Bible, how since the beginning of the Church, the understanding that Christ was physically present in the Eucharist was the norm, and it wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that denying that fact gained any real foothold.

Over and over again, everything came back to the Eucharist. What if the Catholics were right? What if that really is Jesus there, the King of the Universe, come to us as bread? I tried to wrap my mind around that, but it seemed like a fever dream. It would present itself as the most obvious of facts; then it would shift, and I found myself recoiling at the implications.

I’d run and run, having debates with myself as I logged the miles. When I needed a break from thinking about the Eucharist, I’d craft objections to the Papacy, the all-male priesthood, and what I understood to be the Church’s loathing of human sexuality.

At night, I’d do more research, trying to find holes and flaws in the case for Catholicism that was slowly building all around me. If you’d asked me then if I were running to or away from the Church, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I was running, that’s all I knew.

Nonstop on Memphis radio, playing in the background as I tried to Internet my way to God, were ads for a particular King James Bible-only website.  Finally, I checked it out, to see what it had to say, and every time I visited, I eventually found myself throwing up my hands in exasperation. As far as I could tell, the point of the website was to convince people that the only trustworthy, inspired version of the Bible is the King James Version.

If that were true, it would mean two things:

  1. Every single person who has been guided by Scripture prior to the publication of the KJV has been led by someone other than God, which means . . .
  2. That whole thing Jesus promised St. Peter about the gates of Hell not prevailing against His Church? A hollow boast.  A lie. After all, if fifteen hundred years’ worth of Christians had been misled, wouldn’t that mean Hell had, in fact, prevailed?

This was where the whole thing always broke down for me. It wasn’t really about that particular website. It was the endless variations of Protestant theology, dogma, and fashions that were driving me insane. If Jesus told us that His Church wouldn’t be defeated by Hell and had then spent a great deal of time praying for unity for His Church, how did we end up here? If only there were some sort of central authority—some divinely protected clearing house of information to help the faithful navigate their way through the waters of daily life.

And that’s when the Papacy started to make sense. Even if I didn’t agree with it yet, the necessity for it became crystal clear. We had a Savior who didn’t live capriciously. Every moment of His life on earth was rife with meaning and purpose. Why would He leave His Church subject to the whims and fancies of time and culture?

Really, it was all over for me at this point, although I didn’t fully see it. I spent time learning all I could about the Papacy — both what Catholics taught about it and the accusations leveled against it by outsiders. My trifecta of spirituality at the time was in full force—research, running, and badgering Mary for insight. If Christ had in fact set up a central authority in His Church, then all the objections I had to things like an unmarried, all-male clergy or bans on birth control were problems with my understanding, not Christianity.

It was a horrifying and humbling prospect.

One day, as we were driving back from Ken’s parents’ house, Joaquin started crying in the backseat. I crawled into the seat next to him and comforted him. My three-year-old daughter was next to me, staring out the window, and I followed her line of sight — Queen of Peace Catholic Church, with its giant, turquoise, tin roof, dominated the view out the right side of the car. Ken slowed down, put on his turn signal, and waited to pull into our neighborhood.

Everything seemed to slow down and become crystallized with perfect, radiant clarity. In the rearview window, Ken’s eyes met mine.

“I think I want to become Catholic,” I said, apropos of absolutely nothing.


The preceding is an excerpt from my book Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale.  It’s a story about conversions, from New Age to Catholic, from childless to a mother of many, and from pro-abortion to pro-life.  You can find it through Sophia Institute Press, and is available both in Kindle and Nook e-book formats. 

My 11 year old would like to assure you that the story is “very, very good, reads quickly, and has barely any hard words in it”.

image: Tony Taylor stock /


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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