Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Converts You Didn't Know About

Douglas Hyde
My last post told you four stories of converts to Catholicism you didn't know aboutHere's a link to another great collection of convert stories that I knew about but was unable to find for my first post. And here are four more stories:

Communist turned Distributist with a sad ending: Douglas Hyde (1911-1996)
Raised a Methodist, Hyde became a Communist as a young man. For a time, he lived both as a Communist and as a Methodist preacher. In the 1940s, he worked as the news editor The Daily Worker, Britain's largest Communist publication. The book Beyond Capitalism and Socialism explains his conversion:
Assigned to "expose" the "clandestine fascists" who published [the Catholic Distibutist paper The Weekly Review], Douglas Hyde...was converted by The Weekly Review to both Catholicism and Distributism. [...] Hyde's conversion in 1948 was headline news in the daily press in Great Britain. His subsequent book, I Believed, and his nationwide speaking tour was not only a blow to the Communist advance, but gave Distributism a new lease of life. Asked at one lecture, so the story goes, what his politics were now, he held up copies of Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno and said, "These are my politics." (pg 9-10)
He wrote another book, Dedication and Leadership, about his experience as a Communist, revealing Communist tactics for recruiting members. Unfortunately, an obituary after his death in 1996 reported that he had become disillusioned with the Church late in life and "on his last hospital admission form he listed himself as an 'agnostic Christian'".

Hamish Fraser
Communist turned Distributist with a happy endingHamish Fraser (1913-1986)
Baptized as a child in the Church of Scotland, he became a Communist in his teen years. He was so committed, he decided not to pursue a career but be a 'professional revolutionary' instead. He worked for the Communist party in Spain and Scotland, where he helped organize Communist cells in the shipyards. He gained fame after his Communist explanation of WWII sold out in its first week after publication. One source explains how his faith in Communism was cracked:
However no sooner was it published than Fraser realised that it was blatant sophistry from beginning to end, and that if no one else had tried to explain Moscow’s arbitrary manipulation of non-Russian Communist Parties in terms of Marxist doctrine, it was simply because it was impossible to explain Moscow’s behaviour other than as a ruthless exercise of totalitarian power - Thenceforth, until 1945 when he left the Party, Fraser was a dissident Communist. ...[H]e began to ask why the Russian socialist dream had turned out to be such a nightmare, why Marxism in labour had begotten such monstrous offspring, and eventually realised that this derived in large measure from the corrupting influence of enormous power concentrated in fewer hands than ever before in history, and that this quite unprecedented concentration of power was essentially a function of the 'socialisation' of the means of production...
He came across writings on Catholic Social Teaching and saw in the Principle of Subsidiarity and the emphasis on the distribution of property and power the solution to the problem. In 1948, he joined the Church and quickly developed a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. His conversion was also a media event similar to that of Douglas Hyde (above).

Avery Cardinal Dulles
Giving a public talk in 1952, he declared: "I do not believe that prayer can convert Communists: I know that prayer can convert Communists." His 1954 book Fatal Star explained his new Catholic beliefs, as well warned Catholics of "the Communist Fifth Column within the Church", which was made up of people who "see nothing wrong in combining Mass attendance, or even frequent reception of the Sacraments, with the acceptance of Marxist social political and economic ideas." He said it was this "sector of Catholic opinion [to which] Communism seeks to harness its chariot." To combat the threat, he founded the journal Approaches in 1965 which sought to defend Catholic orthodoxy (it has since been renamed Apropos). He remained committed to the Church until his sudden death in 1986. (Read more about his story here.)

Did anyone else know that Avery Dulles converted while at Harvard?: Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008)
If you've studied any theology, you know who Avery Cardinal Dulles is. Internationally known, he was a prolific writer (700 articles and 22 books) and held teaching positions at Fordham University and Catholic University of America. He was greatly respected as a theologian and Pope Bl John Paul II made him a Cardinal in 2001, even though he was priest and not a bishop (he requested to forego episcopal consecration). He was also a signer of the 1994 ecumenical document Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

But he was actually raised a Presbyterian. By the time he entered Harvard University as an undergrad, he had become an agnostic. One day on an ordinary rainy day he exited a building and saw a tree that was just beginning to flower. In that moment, he realized that God existed and never again doubted his existence. His religious searching turned toward Catholicism, of which he said: "The more I examined, the more I was impressed with the consistency and sublimity of Catholic doctrine." He joined the Church a few month after graduating in 1940 and went on to Harvard Law School. There, he co-founded the St Benedict Center, which was later led by the famous/infamous Fr Feeney. (Also, random fact: Virginia's Washington Dulles Airport is named after his father.)

Evelyn Waugh
One of the best English language novels of the 20th century was all about Catholicism: Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
Raised Anglican, he lived an irreligious life as a young man, though he was interested in religion. On December 22nd 1925 Waugh wrote in his journal: "Claud and I took Audrey to supper and sat up until 7 in the morning arguing about the Roman Church". Waugh's friend Olivia Plunket-Greene joined the Church in 1925 and of whom Waugh later wrote: "She bullied me into the Church". She introduced him to Fr Martin D'Arcy who persuaded Waugh "on firm intellectual convictions but little emotion" that "the Christian revelation was genuine". He joined the Church in 1930 to the dismay of his family and many of his friends. He explained 19 years later that his conversion was based on his realization that life was "unintelligible and unendurable without God".

His life was rocky at times. Within just a few years of joining the Church, Waugh was accused of obscenity and blasphemy in his book Black Mischief by the Catholic journal The Tablet. He defended himself in an open letter to the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Francis Bourne. Later in life he struggled with a drug addition and suffered from hallucinations.

Though he had written many books before, Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945, was his big break-out success. TIME magazine, Modern Library, and the BBC have all recognized it as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. It was also, in Waugh's mind, the first of his Catholic novels. Waugh wrote to his literary agent A. D. Peters, "I hope the last conversation with Cordelia gives the theological clue. The whole thing is steeped in theology, but I begin to agree that the theologians won't recognise it." He died suddenly on Easter Day, April 10th 1966, just after attending Mass.


  1. A friend emailed they say you on EWTN on Monday 3/17/14. I love these posts of other converts. May God continue to bless you and yours.

    Steve Brown