By Chelsea Wojes Reformation Day, 2013
It’s Reformation Day, and in somber remembrance of that great and tragic fracturing that began when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis, The Porch will have a special two-part series reflecting on conversion. The first comes from Chelsea Wojes.
It’s been two years and several months since I officially became Catholic. Go me! Exciting as it is, and as incredible a journey as it has been, I must say I feel a little lackluster in the tale of my conversion.
Perhaps because the several years I spent searching for Truth, Love, and Hope were marred with confusion, despair, and affectionate trouble-makers. Or, perhaps it’s because God didn’t smack me upside the head with any big “ah ha!” moment. Or, maybe I am the Grinch and my heart is two sizes too small… Okay, it’s probably not that last one. In any event, here goes my tale of how Jesus found my heart and won me over for all eternity.
As a little girl, I had some troubles, by which I mean I had bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) at age four and underwent surgery, chemotherapy, physical therapy, braces, x-rays, doctors, blood drawings – the “whole nine yards,” if you will.
Previous to this early event in my life, my family went to the First Congregational Church in Traverse City. There we listened to the wonderful preaching of Dr. Gary Hogue. When I was diagnosed, however, we stopped having time to go to church and I really didn’t end up going back there until I was able to drive myself. Still, shortly after the doctors at Munson Hospital told my family the news, Dr. Hogue baptized me in our home (a precaution, my mother once said) and I didn’t know that was an unusual circumstance until I was about 15.
That was when I met a new friend, Lauren, who went to a weekly youth group at a church near my home, and she invited me to come with her one day. I liked it. I really enjoyed learning about faith, and I also happened to find a cute boy at the church. I went for several months, and I learned words like “meek” and “humble.” At some point, however, I drifted off from the youth group bandwagon. The closest worship activities I came to in the next couple of years were when our choir Christmas concert performed at the First Congregational Church (it’s a small world after all…). I tried getting my parents to go with me, but they just weren’t interested.
During my first two years of college, I had a lot of ups and downs. I met some really cool people who had some interesting connections to and beliefs in their God, and decided to try something new. I went to the Ash Wednesday service at a Catholic church one year, I went to the church of Latter-Day Saints one Sunday, and I hit up various other denominations, including some which were just labeled “prayer services.” It wasn’t until the end of my third year in college, when my life was actually heading in an extremely wonderful direction, when I said “You know, I’m very happy with life, but there’s just something that’s missing. I think it could be faith related.” Until that time, my church shopping experience had left me null and void. Nothing made sense to me and nothing called to my heart; who and where was God? It seemed hopeless.
I transferred to Aquinas College in the fall of 2008, and I remember thinking “Well, Dad was Catholic and here I am at a private Catholic college… Maybe God has a sense of humor?” I decided to have hope and try again. I went to a Catholic service, but once again, I didn’t find it a fit. A handsome young man then invited me to his church, across the street from the Catholic Church I attempted. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I began to form a couple new friendships with some parishioners and I eventually found refuge there when the romance with the handsome young man didn’t work out. I could sit there and cry and pray and pray and cry, without anyone bothering me or asking why I was upset. I felt safe there and I found God was answering my questions and healing my hurts. During the spring of the next year, I met another friend, Emily, who was very Catholic. She started introducing me to some aspects about the faith, and by the fall of 2009, I went to Mass at Bukowski Chapel on the Aquinas campus. I loved it. I didn’t understand I wasn’t supposed to receive communion (sorry, Jesus), but I loved the music, the prayers, the readings, and (once again) I really liked this one boy who was altar serving…
Almost a year later, and after I had experienced dozens of Catholic Masses, adoration times, a rosary or two, and a few other Catholic interests, I decided it was time. I woke up one fall morning, said to myself “I think I’m going to become Catholic,” and felt my heart beat at peaceful pace. It felt good to say it out loud. It felt even better to talk to the RCIA director about converting. Every time I spoke with an RCIA leader, it became clearer and clearer that this was a calling. I found out how much I loved the rosary and how incredibly important Mass is. I struggled with not being able to receive Jesus, but I knew my time would come; and it did on April 23rd, 2011. I was nervous, a little tired, and fighting a terrible cold. But I chose my confirmation name (inspired by Saint Rose of Viterbo), and soaked in that chrism oil like a desert soaks up water. I cried tears of joy after receiving Jesus and for weeks, I cried after every Mass. I was so grateful to everyone who got me there, and to everyone who supported me. Looking back, I realized I was searching for a place to call home and here it was.
“Adorned in masters’ loving art, she lies. She rests at last beneath the starry skies.” The starry skies of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, where I am a parishioner. The beautiful painted stars on the ceiling remind me to “check my compass” and make sure it’s always pointing north; pointing home to God.
Chelsea Wojes – A professed Catholic convert and Aquinas College alumna, Chelsea hails from Traverse City but has found her home in Grand Rapids. She works for St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and confesses to working towards homesteading and using social media for good, not evil.