Joy Story: From Atheist to Happy Catholic

Julie DavisBy Julie Davis

My parents are atheists so there was no religion in our home. They never tried to prejudice us against religion; they just never talked about it. It was kind of like talking about sex … it was the unspoken rule that you just didn’t mention religion.

As issues came up, we were taught to be good people in the morality of popular culture … work hard and do your best, be honest, don’t steal, cheat or lie. We learned that a lot of other issues were all relative. As long as you didn’t hurt other people or break the law what you did was your own business.

Of course, even though they never talked about it, we all knew that those boring churchgoers were weak because they needed a crutch like religion to get by.

Early in our married life, neither Tom nor I gave God much thought. We were just living our lives. And then God used what we cared about most to get our attention.

Hannah’s assignment

The oldest of our two daughters, Hannah, had a terrible teacher in public school and nothing we tried solved the problem so halfway through kindergarten we switched her to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. Her religion teacher asked all the kids who went to Mass every Sunday. Almost all the kids raised their hands. Hannah didn’t. Mrs. McDaniel told those children that they needed to go home and tell their parents that they should be going to Mass every week. Dutifully Hannah passed the message. There is no one for knowing black from white and “yes” from “no” like a kindergartener. She didn’t buy our feeble excuses and started quoting her religion lessons to us. Pretty soon we were attending weekly Mass at St. Thomas.

Tom is Catholic, but he hadn’t attended church in a long time. I wasn’t even sure if there was a God. How are you ever really sure? Most of the “proof” anyone ever offered seemed an awful lot like a coincidence to me. But, I couldn’t sit there week after week listening to Father B. without starting to wonder … is there a God or not?

Let’s make a deal

I was so clever, I figured out a sure fire way to find out. (I’ll just say here that I am thankful God protects fools because looking back I can’t believe I had such nerve!) About a year before, we had tried everything to sell our house. Even though the realtor said everything was just right and there should have been no problem, no one would even make an offer. So, kneeling at Mass one day, I made God a deal. All he had to do was to get me a new house as a sign. Then I’d know he was there … and I’d have a new house.

Of course, nothing happened. Except, that because I had made that deal I found myself listening more carefully at Mass and thinking even more. After about a year had gone by, when we were kneeling at Mass one Sunday, I told God the deal was off. I didn’t need proof. It wasn’t because of any dramatic feeling or discovery. I just didn’t have a reason not to believe anymore, so I went ahead and took his existence on faith.

Unexpected refund

That week our new accountant found major errors in the past three years’ taxes that gave us a huge refund — $11,000 — enough for a down payment on a new house, new furniture and some remodeling. In a time when houses were sold within days of going on the market, we found a house that had been sitting on the market for months for no apparent reason, except it was perfect for us and the price just been lowered to exactly the amount we could afford.

Two weeks after that our house was sold without ever going on the market to a girl who was determined to have a house with our exact specifications, only within a six- block area. We were right in the middle of that area. All the realtors and the people at the title company individually marveled at how smooth and fast things went on the sale of our old house and the purchase of our new one. They all said they had never seen anything like it.

I don’t believe in coincidence anymore.

Becoming a Happy Catholic

Now I had faith, but I didn’t see any reason to become Catholic. Hannah and Rose had their First Communions, and Tom went to confession and started taking communion again. I didn’t mind sitting in the pew until they got back. But, over time, whenever everyone went for communion I developed a yearning for the Eucharist that became an actual physical ache. This went on for months. A few weeks before Easter I decided I’d better find out how to become Catholic because I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I couldn’t believe it when I found out I would have to wait about a year before completing RCIA and entering the Church the next Easter. That was the longest year of my life, although I found RCIA to be an interesting spiritual journey in itself, which I did not expect. I think it is funny that I am such a reader (and have been my whole life) but God chose to reach me in a way that was totally outside books at all.

Finally it was the Easter Vigil of 2000, the wonderful day when I was Catholic and could have the Eucharist. I love it. I love the traditions, I love the saints, I love the Eucharist … I love being Catholic. (That was about six years after I told God I believed in him.)

How God used my conversion

And God blessed me that day in a way that I will never forget.

When I was kneeling after Communion, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my father-in-law smiling at me as he walked toward the altar. He had not been to communion since the 1960s when Vatican II changes made him so mad that he turned his back on the Church altogether. Tom’s devout mother and his aunts had been praying for many, many years for his return to the faith, so I was thrilled to see him take communion. His sister, Tom’s aunt, was my sponsor and she hissed in my ear, “Has he been to confession?” I was so happy I just said, “That’s between him and God. Let it go.”

Later Tom’s mother said that my father-in-law told her that if I had decided to become Catholic, it was because I had thought about it thoroughly and knew it was the right thing to do. That was when he decided to come back to the Church. And, yes, he had been to confession. He had carefully planned to have his return to communion be at my confirmation. He had gone before they left Houston. For my father-in-law to show such total respect of my decision to become Catholic by rethinking his faith was overwhelming. Even more overwhelming was the realization that God had used my conversion not just for my good but also to reach someone close to me … and I had been totally unaware of it.

The power of conversion

One of the things that made my conversion so powerful to me in retrospect is that it was done without any reading or influence from outsiders at all. This was all just between God and me. No one else’s opinion was even solicited, as I really didn’t talk about that sort of thing. (I know a bunch of people probably wish I were still that way!)

One of my confirmation gifts was a book by Scott Hahn that started me down a whole new path of reading. I had no idea anyone wrote books about this stuff! I devoured Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Francis Sheed, books about the saints, everything I could get my hands on … and so on to the Christ Renews His People (CRHP) retreat and so on to Happy Catholic … and here I am today, waiting to see where he’s gonna take me next on this wild, but very interesting ride.

Julie Davis, the daughter of atheists, but always seeking, converted to Catholicism in 2000. She is not always happy but always happy to be Catholic. She began blogging at Happy Catholic in 2004, food blogs at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen and podcasts novels at Forgotten Classics. Julie and her husband Tom live in Dallas, Texas, where they have worked together at their graphic design firm for 30 years. They have two grown daughters. Julie is a very busy woman at this stage of her life. But not so busy that she doesn’t have time to be a gifted and creative detective looking for signs of God’s presence in films, books, television, animals, nature, work, relationships and more. She is the author of Happy Catholic:Glimpses of God in Everyday Life, (Servant, 2011), Lord, Open my Heart – Daily Scriptural Reflections for Lent (Creative Communications for the Parish, 2011) and Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life (Niggle Publishing, 2017).

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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at JoyAlive.net,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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