Conversion Story: A Pilgrimage of the Heart

Julie dressed as a 13th century pilgrim on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

By Julie Stevenson Kurisko

My conversion story is a testament to the evangelizing power of Catholic art and culture down through the ages.  I was raised in a family of strong faith; we always turned to God in prayer for our needs and in thanksgiving for our blessings.  Our denomination was a Protestant sect with strong roots in New England Congregationalism.  And as I grew, I came to know the power of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the healing that comes from this faith as a very real thing that I could rely upon.

I also had a strong interest in history and religion.  As a teenager, I joined a medieval/renaissance social organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism, wherein you develop a “persona” that  might have existed between 600 – 1600 AD.  Since I was taking Spanish in high school at the time, I chose to research 13th century Aragon (Spain) – and because my beliefs were Christian, I delved into learning about Roman Catholicism in a  medieval Spanish context, since that would have overwhelmingly impacted the life of someone in that culture at the time.

This opened up a world of fascination for me!  I drank in the gorgeous art of cathedrals, the lives of the Saints (and the symbols used to identify them in religious art), the culture of religious pilgrimages, the different aspects of various religious orders…even the beauty of the language that one used to express faith.  I decided to learn how to say the Rosary in Latin because that’s something that my “persona” would have known, and I found the contemplative power of reaching out to the Holy Mother for intercession calmed and centered me.  This developing interest in religious history happened to coincide with a musical fad in the 1980s for Benedictine Chants, and someone gave me a CD of the music of St. Hildegard von Bingen (overlayed upon New Age electronica) called “Vision”.  I was enthralled to learn what an amazing woman St. Hildegard was, not only as a composer, a naturalist, a leader and influencer in the Church – a woman for the ages! 

As I grew through my teens and into my 20s, I was also drawn to the women recorded in the Bible – Deborah the judge of the Israelites, the loyalty of Ruth, the blessed Virgin Mary, and the women of the early Church.  All of these women were inspirations to me.  My love of renaissance art also introduced me to Judith, and I learned about her story, recorded in the “Apocrypha” books that I didn’t have in my King James Version of the Bible.

I had the opportunity to travel in Europe around this time, and seeing the wonders of Rome, Paris, Canterbury and other locations impressed upon me the sheer inspiration that the Catholic faith had upon its adherents through the ages.  Through the smell of incense, the echoes of music and chanting through cloisters, the feeling of beads through fingers, the traditions spoke to me with beauty and tenderness.

All these passions and experiences came to a culmination when I met the man who would become my husband — a cradle Catholic.  As I began attending church with him, the kindness and welcoming spirit of the parish impressed me greatly.  On the feast of Corpus Christi, one of the deacons spoke to the congregation to thank them for their prayers on his behalf while he had been in the hospital, and he ascribed his swift recovery to this spiritual support.  His testimony was a revelation to me – here were a people who, like myself, believed that prayer had genuine impact on our lives.  That turning to support and guidance from the Holy Trinity was an essential way of life.  This was a key factor in my decision to marry this man; a decision for which I am eternally grateful.

We had a beautiful daughter, who we chose to raise in the Catholic faith.  Not long after she turned 5, I heard a Voice speaking to me, telling me “The Time Has Come.”  There was no question to me as to what this meant – it was time for me to take the steps to transition from my Protestant faith formally into Roman Catholicism; both for my own self and also so that I could support my daughter fully when she became old enough to take her First Communion.  While my parents felt this decision was bittersweet, they chose to support me.  My in-laws too were strong pillars to rely upon as I went through RCIA.  My sponsor, like me, was a former Protestant who came into Catholicism as an adult.  After much consideration, I chose to take the confirmation name of Hildegard, after the Saint whose music and biography had impressed me as a teenager.

Every step that I have taken in this faith journey of my life has been a blessing – a holy pilgrimage that one day will culminate with no longer seeing God “as through a glass, darkly” – but then, face to face.  ¡Gracias a Dios!

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