By JEFFERY DEAN, Special To The Bulletin | Published April 12, 2012
It took me 40 years to find the Catholic Church.
I was raised very religious as a primitive Baptist. We had Catholic neighbors and for all intents and purposes I was like a son to them. They were such wonderful people. They never tried to convert me, but I saw from them a way of life that was, to a child’s mind, unbelievably loving and warm.
In my church, they would scream fire and brimstone. From my neighbors, I saw religion that was so different from what I was hearing.
When I was about 16, I started having thoughts of my own, thinking, “This can’t be right.” One Christmas a friend asked me to go to high Mass with him. I went on Christmas Eve to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Macon. I fell in love with the Mass. After that, I went on Sunday morning to the Baptist church and in the afternoon I would sneak downtown and go to Mass and never tell my parents.
When I went off to college, I met up almost immediately with a group of Catholics and started hanging out with them at West Georgia College. I thought about becoming a Catholic, but there was always a reason, always something standing in the way.
What happened next, Protestants call “back-sliding.” I don’t know what we Catholics call it. I would drift in and I would drift out. A lot of this was me, battling all religion, saying, “Forget it. I don’t need any of this.” I did that quite successfully for a long period of time.
About 20 years ago, I started dating a Catholic at Christ the King. I got very into it again and came as close as I ever have to entering the Church. For me, RCIA was standing in the way; six months of meeting on Monday nights, I thought, no, I’m too busy. The relationship ended.
Then a job came open at the Chancery. By that time I was a controller and had been for 20 years. I had done everything in the financial field. But I was pushing two years of being unemployed after never having had to look for a job in my life. I was happy to be offered the job of accounting assistant. And after a year the position opened for payroll manager, which I now have.
I got here at the Chancery and started meeting and knowing people. It began speaking to me very loudly. And the beautiful chapel downstairs, so peaceful, such a lovely place. I started realizing how much I was enjoying almost daily Mass, that centering I would feel, hearing the Scriptures. I would come back to my desk renewed.
One day in the chapel, I got down on my knees. I said, “You show me. You tell me. I don’t know what to do.” After that, it felt like I was being propelled forward. God wouldn’t let go.
I went to my pastor, Father Frank McNamee. I so remember for so many years longing for the Eucharist. He told me, “Jeffery, there are any number of ways we can do this.” He brought out a very nice study book. It was a beautiful presentation of what Christianity is, that what is really important is your relationship with God, letting him in and following him.
Looking back, I fought and I fought to get away from it. The older I’ve gotten, I realized there was a truth I couldn’t get away from. I believed there was something more than me—something higher, something stronger, something better. I realized that is what faith is. What I fell in love with when I was 16 at that high Mass—that beauty made incarnate—has always been a huge part of what attracted me to Catholicism.
All of a sudden I was caught up in a whirlwind. Father McNamee listened to me. He said, “What do you think of coming into the Church at the Chancery?”
The eagerness of people here at the Chancery to be a part of it was overwhelming.
When the procession started at Mass that day, and two priests went by, then three and four, then five and six, I started crying. It was overwhelming, this sense of affection. Not only did the archbishop jump to do it, but priests here that I have developed a working relationship with came also.
When I got back to my seat after taking Communion … so many people walked past me on the way to Communion themselves and touched me, gave me a pat, touched my head, my face. It was such a sense of belonging. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, I finally found my way home. It has been a long time since I have been so spiritually fulfilled, but it feels so different. I am 55 years old. For the first time ever, I don’t feel the need to fight it. It feels like I have slipped into a familiar, comfortable skin.
It was the Christian family here at work that really made me aware of what I had been missing. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was working at the Chancery.