Evan Thomas came right from work. The sun shone through the window, which gave his white shirt what almost looked like a glow.
He was excited. He loves any opportunity to talk about Catholicism.
The 20-year-old LaGrange, Ind. native is a student at Purdue University Fort Wayne and also works two jobs: one on campus, as a resident assistant; and the other off-campus, as an intern with Regal Beloit, an electric motor company.
“I like to work out,” he said, regarding how he spends his very limited spare time. “I like to practice faith, play sports, watch movies.”
Of these things, one has become much more important to Thomas than the rest.
“Evan is this very joyful person,” said Nicole Rudolph, an acquaintance of Thomas. “He’s really gotten into his faith on the Summit Awakening retreat last year and then he converted recently.”
Summit Awakening, according to Rudolph, is a retreat for college-aged students in Fort Wayne to learn more about the Catholic faith. It lasts for three days, many of the details are secret, though some things are still allowed to be discussed . Staff and participants alike are under instruction not to reveal what happens on the weekend.
“He’s participating in the retreat this year, but as a leader. And he’s giving a talk on the retreat about the Eucharist.”
The Eucharist, more commonly referred to as communion, is the most important part of Catholic worship and it is the final stage in a person’s being accepted as a full member of the church, according to flameoffaith.org, a website run by the Archdiocese of Brisbane in Australia.
“At my church, it was very liberal,” said Thomas, regarding a misunderstanding between he and his Catholic girlfriend prior to his conversion. “And their communion beliefs, it was not quite transubstantiation, Jesus was not completely present in communion when we took it.”
He said this church, which was non-denominational, did not require its members to take communion; however, they did offer it.
“I went up, and she refused to take communion at my church,” Thomas said. “I got pretty upset with her at the time, you know, thinking that she was stuck-up in her faith and, you know after my formal training, then I came to understand exactly why she would not want to take communion there.”
Thomas was raised in a Methodist home until he was 14 years old, when he stopped going to church altogether.
“I think there were a lot of members of my church who influenced me in a negative way,” Thomas said. “They were what I saw as negative influences of the church, people who claimed the faith and didn’t live it. And so, for me, I thought that was very detrimental to my faith life.” Thomas said many of these people were members of his own family. He said he was also told a lot of negative things about the Catholic church.
“That priests were people that held power above the layman, as you may call it. That they had an organization that was very corrupt; a very political and hierarchical society just integrated into what it meant to be a Catholic.”
He also said he viewed Catholics as more people who claimed the faith, but did not live it.
“I don’t think I really knew anything about it,” said Thomas about the Methodist theology. “I didn’t look deep enough into faith to distinguish between the different points of what each denomination believed compared to another so I didn’t learn a lot about that until maybe this previous year or two.”
Thomas said before that, he saw Christianity in terms of Catholics and Protestants, and the Protestants were the correct side.
Protestantism began in 1517 when a German monk named Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church over practices he deemed could not be found in the Bible; chief amongst them the buying and selling of indulgences, which promised the purchaser would go straight to Heaven when they died. Since then, a degree of enmity has existed between those who stayed with the Catholic Church and those who followed Luther and formed their own churches.
Thomas began dating his girlfriend who got him to look into Catholic theology.
“I think it wasn’t necessarily one point,” Thomas said. “It was several points building up. I would look into a question and I would find that the Catholic church had the — to me — correct answer. And this process would happen again, and again, and again and eventually I believed it without already knowing the Catholic answer.”
Thomas said once he realized this was the case, his decision became obvious. When he made the decision, his family had mixed attitudes.
“My mom is Catholic, she was very excited. My girlfriend is Catholic, she was also very excited. The rest of them didn’t quite understand. I think a lot of them thought I was doing it because of my girlfriend was Catholic.”
Thomas said they commonly responded by making jokes, but eventually learned to accept it.
Next for him came the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, or RCIA for short. RCIA is the process where one is accepted into full communion with the Catholic Church, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To begin the process, the prospective convert must talk to a priest or an RCIA director. This comes after the Period of Evangelisation, in which the convert must partake in a period of deep personal reflection.
This process is difficult for many converts, including Thomas.
“I think it was because I was such a big opponent of the Catholic Church in my own mind. To owning up to that and accepting it proudly and then also dealing with the fact a lot of people thought I was converting because of my relationship.”
Thomas is a man who wants his peers to see him as someone deep in his faith and does not want that perception to change. At the end of this period, he began RCIA classes at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne.
These classes are just like any at a college campus. You have the instructor, usually a priest or a nun, running through the different points and aspects of Catholicism while the students take notes and ask questions. Students are generally also joined by their sponsors.
A sponsor, according to the USCCB, is a person chosen by the convert to help them through the process; one who exemplifies how to live the faith and answer questions the convert may have.
“I would say my sponsor Philip Litchfield was very helpful,” Thomas said. “It was nice to be able to turn to him and get an intellectual answer to faith.”
“People question things like the papacy and different things Catholics do,” said Ruth McMahon, a sponsor in another diocese in the 1980s.
According to McMahon, many Protestants question Catholic obedience to hierarchy, which she said is also present in Protestant churches to some degree.
The Hierarchy, which many Protestants are hesitant to get behind, is the Catholic Church’s leadership which is based in Vatican City, just outside of Rome.
It is headed by the Pope, who every Catholic around the world considers to be infallible and incapable of teaching anything wrong.
This explains why, even in the midst of accusations that the current Pope covered up a sex scandal, Thomas’s faith remains unshaken.
“I think that it motivates me to be a stronger Catholic,” said Thomas, matter-of-factly. His confidence justified his tone.
“Now more than ever, there needs to be good representatives of the faith and I think it’s important for people outside of the Catholic church to look at what we have and to see that we’re still proud, that we’re not shaken or hesitant at all, that I’m not reserved, that I’m still confident I made the right decision.”