My Catholic Conversion Story – Part III: Coming Home

The Final Chapter of My Story of How I Converted to Catholicism.

The only photo I have from when I was in the process of converting to Catholicism.
My first Eucharistic Congress after I started RCIA. This was the exact outfit I wore when I received the Sacraments of Initiation.

Welcome to Part III of my conversion story! If you have not read Parts I and II yet, head over to my last two posts and catch up on my journey from Agnosticism to Catholicism.

Last Week, On “How I Met Your Mother (Church)

Let’s dive right back in, shall we?

I had abandoned whatever shreds of faith I had left and settled for agnosticism in the heat of trauma and turmoil.

Comfortable, self-serving agnosticism.

Bouncing between believing in God long enough to blame Him for every single problem and denying His existence had become my spiritual sweet spot.

And then, I went to Mass. I had walked in angry and hurting, and I came out with a laundry list of questions and a glimmer of hope.

A Glimmer of Hope

It was a strange feeling, honestly. I had learned to ignore the ache in my heart that longed for something to believe in. Feeling restless was what I told myself humans were supposed to feel. Entertainment, college, and social media were enough to keep me sane, or so I told myself.

Who needed organized religion when I could bow down and worship the gods of distractions and idle amusements?

Against all odds, sensible, stubborn me was intrigued by what I experienced that day at Mass. Whatever these bead-counters were up to, I was determined to find out what it was.

I knew I needed to find answers about this Church. I didn’t know what Catholics believed or if I even thought they were Christians.

All I knew for sure was that no matter what I discovered, I would never again be able to settle for anything less than what I had experienced on that dreary Sunday morning in December of 2012. My old, stony heart had been stirred by what I had seen on that altar, and I knew that if I were going to find anything that would satisfy its every desire, I would find it in the Catholic Church.

The question remained, what exactly was I looking for, anyway?

Catholic Answers to Protestant Questions

So I did what I always do when faced with the unknown: I researched the ever-loving hell out of it.

I poured over books, articles, and forums. The friend who had introduced me to her world of kneeling and saints patiently answered question after question. I discovered the wonderful world of Catholic Answers and was literally able to type every question I had into a search bar and have biblically founded answers instantly available. Each post I read led to another, and even more after that.

Lest you get the impression that the decision to become Catholic was easy for me, I will now clarify that certain aspects of Catholicism left me disillusioned and sometimes even downright scandalized.

“Why would I even bother praying to Mary or saints? Seems like praying to false gods to me.”

“How can you say that Mary was immaculately conceived?! That would mean that she is on the same level as Jesus, and that’s not right at all!”

The list of doubts and objections went on and on. And yet, for every concern and “gotcha” moment that I raised, an answer waited for me.

“The saints are simply people we believe are in heaven. They are more alive in heaven than we are on earth. We ask for their prayers in the same way we ask our earthly friends and family to pray for us. They do not answer our prayers; they take our prayers directly to God since they are united with Him in eternity.”

“Our Lady was conceived like any other human being. She has a mother and a father. She was not born of a virgin like Christ was. God preserved her from ever having Original Sin because she was the first to experience redemption.”

This pattern continued for some time. I’d come up with what I was sure was going to be the final blow to my fascination with Catholicism. I would pose these revelations to my friend or Catholic Answers. I always expected to stump them with my brilliant theological revelations and never considered that I could be wrong.

Again and again, I was the one left stumped. I found myself unable to concoct any arguments that held a candle to the answers they gave.

There was only one aspect of Catholicism that I never questioned or doubted: the Eucharist.

Bread from Heaven

I remember the night I finally dared to ask my friend the question that had been burning in my brain since that day at Mass. What was that bread the priest held up when the bells rang out? Why does everyone kneel at that point in the Mass? Why did I get chills at even seeing pictures of that little round wafer, often enthroned in beautiful golden cases?

I remember laying in bed in my grandparents’ spare bedroom. It was late at night. I had my laptop propped on my legs and my iPod in my hand. The light of a tiny lamp in the shape of a pineapple cast a warm, golden glow across the room. I remember waiting anxiously as I watched those three tiny bubbles float across the screen as she typed the answer I was seeking.

“Because we believe that that Bread is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.”

There it was. No fluff. No long-winded answers on where to find proof for such a bold claim in Scripture. Just the truth.

My mind flashed back to that conversation we had had over the phone years before when she had said that she would rather have her own heart cut out than for someone to harm the Blessed Sacrament. She wasn’t talking about a mere symbol or a metaphor; this was far beyond that. The statement that had astounded and confused me for so long finally made sense. The chills, the peace, and comfort I felt in the presence of that little Host.

Everything clicked.

I had fallen in love with my Eucharistic Savior so subtly that I was in the middle before I had even realized that it had begun.

I knew I had to convert to Catholicism at that moment. This Church housed the actual Body of Christ, and that revelation changed everything. The Catholic Church became a home on earth that I had so desperately sought for so long, without even realizing that that was what I was seeking to begin with. I knew that I could handle whatever else Catholicism could throw my way as long as it led to the Eucharist.

I took that truth and ran with it, aware that this was quite possibly the greatest truth I would ever know, or I would find myself in hell for worshiping a piece of bread.

Because, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, if the Eucharist is nothing but a symbol, to hell with it!

Great, I Want to Convert to Catholicism…Now What?

The rest of the tenants of the Faith kind of fell into place after that.

Apostolic Succession? Sure!

Mary as the Mother of God? Well duh!

2,000+ years of tradition and beauty? Sign me up!

The only thing left to do was sign up to attend a class called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

The next RCIA class did not start until the following September, so I spent my time devouring every scrap of theology that my brain could handle in preparation for class. I had become the Hermione Granger of Catholicism. I was determined to tackle whatever came my way with the power of knowledge, perseverance, and maybe more than a pinch of smugness. (From the desire to die of embarrassment over my foolish, youthful pride, deliver me, Jesus!)

I walked into that RCIA class with my head held high. Having basically been living as a Catholic for almost a year at that point, I felt confident that I knew all that I needed to ace that class. I went to Mass every week, helped with youth events, and shadowed Faith Formation classes.

My notebook was blank and waiting to be filled with my untidy, furiously scribbled thoughts. I was there to kick theological tail and bring baked ziti to the monthly potlucks, and I was all outta baked ziti.

I won’t bore you with all of the details about my time in RCIA. The work was hard. The months were long. The Easter Vigil felt like it would never come, and I had moments where I doubted whether I was where I was supposed to be.

Fighting Demons, Sophia Petrillo-Style

Looking back, I realize that my inception into that class was basically the day that my spiritual battle began.

I had visited a trusted priest in the middle of my conversion to ask for guidance. He looked me dead in the eyes and said that the trials and tribulations I was facing made it abundantly clear that the Enemy did not want me to be Catholic. Mind you, I was never one to buy into the whole idea of angels and demons, and if I did not know this priest to be the holy man that he is, I would have dismissed that all together and concluded that people were just jerks and I was far too stubborn to let sleeping dogs lie.

However, at that moment, things made sense. I had a different enemy now, not just fallen humans on power trips, but actual, pure evil. And for a 19-year-old who just wanted to be a part of the Church she loved, that was absolutely terrifying.

St Catherine of Siena prayer card that was given to me when I converted to Catholicism.
St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis!

…And thrilling.

I mentioned on my blog’s About Me page that I come from a line of strong Italian women. Not only do I know how to cook freaking delicious food in quantities large enough to feed small armies. I also look a challenge in the eye and tell it to go back to hell, where it belongs, with a wooden spoon in one hand and a glass of chianti in the other.

So, basically Sophia Petrillo with a bottle of holy water and a love for making the devil angry.

When I started to leave the priest’s office the day he warned me about the dangers of the spiritual battle I found myself in, he gave me a holy card of Saint Catherine of Siena. He advised me to ask for her intercession because “she’s Italian, and she gets stuff done.” I still have that card hanging front and center on my inspiration board above my writing space. It reminds me that I am strong enough to handle whatever is thrown at me, human or otherwise.

The Hammer of Heretics

I had chosen on St. Anthony of Padua several weeks earlier after bouncing between him, St. Joan of Arc, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I had chosen the humble Franciscan because of his title, “The Hammer of Heretics.”

Given the trials I had endured since deciding to convert to Catholicism, I found comfort in the idea of an otherwise gentle saint who made it rain holy fire when he needed to. Studying apologetics had become my life’s work, and I was about to be armed with the grace of the Sacraments.

I was ready to take on the world, and I was excited to have a saint known for his passion for Christ and apologetics on my side.

Talitha Koum

April 19, 2014.

The day I had been preparing and longing for over a year and a half. The day I had been preparing for since the night I learned the truth about the Holy Eucharist. I had attended all of the preceding Holy Triduum liturgies. I had helped prepared the parish hall for the festivities to follow the Easter Vigil. The final rehearsal left me panicking out of fear that I would forget everything I was supposed to say and do before the night was over.

My fellow converts and I processed into the darkened sanctuary with our candles. I sat in the front pew with my fellow converts. I was the only catechumen waiting to receive all three Sacraments of Initiation. The choir sang the Exsultet. Lectors read Scripture passages ranging from Creation to the Resurrection. We sang the Alleluia for the first time since Fat Tuesday. Finally, the moment of truth had arrived.

I stood and shakily walked towards the baptismal font. I listened with bated breath as the Litany of the Saints was sung, and I was anointed with Chrism and Holy Oil. Father blessed the water and asked me if I renounced Satan and to profess my faith. I assumed my position above the baptismal font. I was baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and I beamed through my tears the entire time.

Even just recalling this moment brings tears to my eyes. I had arisen from the sleep of sin and death into a new life with Christ. And there are not enough words to accurately describe the utter joy I felt. Those healing waters had washed away every one of my sins. I stood up straight and tall and beamed out at the congregation with the biggest smile I could manage.

The priest stood and looked at me with tears in his own eyes as he concluded the Baptismal Rite, and the liturgy moved onto Confirmation. I received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and took my Confirmation name. I returned to my seat and waited impatiently for what would come next: the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Only Say the Word, and My Soul Shall Be Healed

I had lost count of how many Sundays I had knelt before the altar and watched those simple little wafers and those cups of wine become the Body and Blood of my Lord. I would kneel week after week and long for the moment when I could join the lines of people who went up to receive the Blessed Sacrament.

Now that my time had finally arrived, a million fears ran through my head. Was I really worthy to receive? What if receiving Communion isn’t as amazing as I had imagined? What if I was completely wrong about this little Host, and I was going to receive a piece of common bread with a side of condemnation after all?

I approached the altar and reminded myself that I did not have to cross my arms across my chest any longer. I knelt and waited anxiously as Father took the Host from the ciborium and held it up in front of my hungry eyes.

“The Body of Christ”


If I had died when I received the Eucharist for the first time, I would have died the happiest woman on earth. After months of waiting and longing, I had finally received the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of my Savior.

I returned to my spot on the kneeler and sobbed tears of gratitude. Truly, this was the Son of God. And I, who is nothing but a wretched sinner, had received Him into my soul. Not only that, He had invited me to do so. I knew all of this to be true, and that blessed Truth astounded me.

Until I Rest in You.

I cannot tell you how many times over the years I’ve told this story. And every time, I come back to that moment at that Mass in December of 2012: “You never cease to gather Your people to Yourself.” Sometimes I feel silly admitting that that was the moment that changed everything.

That one line changed the entire trajectory of my life. That one seemingly insignificant moment in the divine drama of the liturgy. Yet, it was enough to soften my heart and awaken my soul.

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” And I feel that that perfectly sums up my entire conversion story.

God made me for Himself, but I did not know it. I allowed myself to wander, aimlessly trying to find something to satisfy me. My heart was restless until God drew me to Himself on that Sunday morning. More than that, He never ceases to gather me to Himself.

Seven years have passed since I converted to Catholicism. My faith isn’t the shiny, perfect answer to all of my problems that I had once believed it to be. I learned extremely quickly that receiving the Sacraments does not automatically mean living an authentic Catholic lifestyle is easy. Yet, even in my darkest moments of doubt and frustration, I’ve never contemplated abandoning my hard-won faith. Maybe that’s just me being stubborn. Maybe it’s grace. I may never know. I’m just thankful that that is the case.

I am still restless, but now I know in Whom I can find rest. I’m still prone to wander, but now I know Whom I can turn to when my wandering leads me home. I fall and fail, but now I know Who has forgiven me. Who died for me so that I might live.

And that, dear readers, is a story worth retelling.


  • Mercedes Pereira Burgos

    JuliaMarie, thank you for sharing your story. It brought me to tears of joy! May God continue to strengthen you in the path of holiness and mama Mary cover you under her mantle for protection and safekeeping and you persevere in Jesus’s Way, Truth, and Life!

    • juliamariewoolbright

      Mercedes, thank you so much for taking the time to leave me this comment! Your sweet words and prayers made my heart so happy! Thank you for reading my story! ❤️

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