I had visited this particular Catholic bookstore at least once before, looking for a new Missal. I noticed some super cute baby stuff while I was there, because what infertile girl doesn’t notice cute baby stuff?! I was invited to a baby shower a month later, and since the woman’s husband is Catholic, and their first baby was baptized, I thought “Yay! Now I have an excuse to go buy that cute baby stuff.”
I remember when I walked in, the store was pretty empty. I was only one of two people in the whole store, in addition to the saleswoman. While I was trying to decide between bibs, onesies, children’s books and other baby things, a man in the book section asks the saleswoman for help in finding a Church history book. I wandered over to where the conversation is happening, trying to soak up any information I can.
In the middle of the discussion, another man walked in. The saleswoman says “Hi, Deacon.” This poor deacon -- you could tell just by looking at him -- was having a bad day. I loved our deacon back in Salt Lake so deacons are some of my favorite people. We all started talking and the deacon was asked which parish he belongs to. He answered, then also told us that he ministers to prisoners in Flo.rida Sta.te Pr.isons, specifically those on death row. My first thought is “Wow! this guy is brave. That must be a horrible ‘job’.”
The man who was looking for the Church history book spoke up, saying, “What a coincidence.” The deacon looked at him surprised and said, “What?” The man goes on to tell his story:
The man before you now is not the man I used to be. I was not a nice person. I did some things I shouldn’t have and was sent to prison. While in prison, my behavior got worse and I was put in “max”, aka, maximum security. One day a Catholic priest came to max, doing his rounds, and stopped at my cell door. As ashamed as I am to stand here and say this, I was not very nice, cursed and spat at him. The priest did something I did not expect: He said ‘God loves you’ and walked on.When he was done telling his story, the saleswoman, the deacon and I are all bawling like babies in this Catholic bookstore. Thank goodness no one else walked in, because they would have thought we were all crazy. The tears rolling down our cheeks weren’t tears of sadness, but of joy. There was a man, right in front of us, who had to through hell and back to find his way to God. I watched this Deacon go from sad to happy in :02 seconds. He was so excited! Like jumping up and down excited! He tells us he was having a really bad day, and this man's story helped turned his whole day around. He said stories like this man’s are what make his ministry all worth it. Since he mostly works with death row inmates or those sentenced to life in prison, he doesn’t get the happy ending stories like this one. He asked to pray with us and give thanks for God’s love. We all joined hands, the deacon prayed, and we cried even more. It truly was amazing to watch the transformation in this deacon. You could truly tell his whole outlook changed. I will forever be thankful for that day in the Catholic bookstore.
This priest continued to visit me every time he came to max. We built a great friendship. I told him I was Mormon and we talked about the Catholic Church. The priest told me, ‘I will live to see you become a Catholic.’ I laughed in his face. ‘Mormons don’t become Catholics. You’re crazy.’
Eventually, I was released from prison, and went to live with my parents while I got back on my feet. A year later, I met a girl. Two years later, we got married. There was a Cathedral about two miles from where my wife and I lived that always intrigued me. It was beautiful. One day when I was driving by, it felt like God Himself was telling me to go into the Cathedral. It happened to be during a daytime mass. I sat in the back and cried. There are no words to describe how I felt.
The next week, I talked my wife into going to mass with me. She wasn’t so sure what to think about the Catholic church, but I decided to enroll in RCIA that fall. I was so happy when my wife told me she wanted to enroll to. RCIA was a great experience. We met wonderful people and learned so much. We were baptized during the Easter Vigil. As we were processing back to our seats, I see the priest, MY priest! I was so excited! After the service, I grabbed my wife and made a beeline for him. I asked him if he remembered me, and he said, “Yes, of course.” He was so happy for me, we hugged and cried. It was one of the best days of my life. A day I will truly never forget.
The kicker of this story? The man in the story -- the one who had been to prison and then became Catholic -- that’s my husband. A man of whom I am truly proud, and whom I couldn’t love more.