The Next Step

Happy Thursday of the Octave of Easter! Today we meet Anna Dunham.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a 30-year-old Michigander who moved to the DC area 9 years ago. I’m married to my college sweetheart, Will, and we have three kids: Mollie (5), Livia (3), and Beckett (9 months). I studied political science and English, and do hand-lettering and calligraphy when I want to use the right side of my brain. I’m happiest when reading, and my main goal with parenting is to make the kids independent enough that I don’t have to curb my reading habit. I’m…only kind of kidding.

Tell us how you became interested in Catholicism.

I grew up in the Anglican church, where my grandfather was a priest. He and my grandmother had been Catholic, but wandered away from the Church after Vatican II and led a vibrant, reverent Anglican church in our small college town. When I was in high school, they told us that they felt called back to their Catholic faith. The rest of us (my family, cousins, aunts and uncles, members of the community, and college students) initially felt lost, but the vast majority eventually found ourselves attending mass as well – just to see what it was about.

While there are obviously significant differences between the Anglican and Catholic Churches, they’re so similar in many ways. The emphasis on the liturgical calendar, language of the prayers, and even the “smells and bells” made attending mass seem natural. It took some time to work through the theological differences; consubstantiation vs. transubstantiation was the most significant! I had this feeling that my Anglican faith had set me on a strong path to Heaven, but it was as if I reached a point in my faith where there was a tree branch across the path. It was clear that I shouldn’t stop walking, but that I needed to climb over and take up the path on the other side.

I decided to convert my freshman year of college, and by our best estimation, more than forty members of that tiny Anglican church did the same. I’ve told my grandparents that the best thing they could do for the Church was be Anglican for awhile – they prepared so many hearts for Catholicism!

What were some of barriers you had and struggles you faced on the road to becoming Catholic?

The largest barrier for me was, quite simply, my own pride. I felt like I needed to be able to explain my conversion and defend my new faith completely before being confirmed. But one of the beautiful things about Catholicism is the extraordinary richness and depth of the faith, which meant that it was impossible for me to know and understand everything before choosing to stand in front of the church and say “I believe.”  Ultimately, I needed to accept that it will take me the rest of my life to learn about Catholicism, and it’s ok to admit that I don’t know a particular tenet…as long as I’m willing to keep learning.

Was there a defining moment or series of moments that cemented your decision to convert?

As I mentioned, my whole family was attending mass for about a year before becoming Catholic. At some point, the rhythm of the liturgy and the prayers became familiar and comforting. But I remember distinctly that all of us reached a point when we were no longer satisfied to just receive a blessing during Communion – we wanted and needed the Eucharist. And once we realized that, there could be no substitute!

What was your experience with RCIA?

Even though I was converting at the same time as my family, we did RCIA separately. They attended classes through the local church, while I was doing it on my college campus. I’m grateful that I had that option, because it made me feel like the decision and learning process was completely personal. My college freshman advisor just happened to teach the RCIA classes. He was already one of my favorite professors, and having a talented teacher walk us through the precepts of the faith was wonderful.

How has your relationship with Jesus changed since becoming Catholic? Your relationship with yourself? With others?

I think that the Rosary has brought about the biggest change in my relationship with Jesus. To Jesus, through Mary, right? Fifteen years of bible studies and talk of Jesus as my best friend couldn’t hold a candle to the way the Rosary helped me see Jesus as truly human and divine. I got a scriptural rosary book for Christmas this year, and it’s my new favorite way to pray. I can’t believe how verses I’ve read again and again keep teaching me something new.

Confession has definitely brought about the biggest change in my relationship with myself (and with others, I hope!). I don’t know if I’d say it was a stumbling block in converting, but I’m an INTJ (or melancholic/phlegmatic…and I can never remember my enneagram) and it took me awhile to realize how much I need that particular sacrament. I’m not even close to being perfect, but I now know well enough that when I can’t shake a bad attitude it’s probably time to hurry to confession!

Tell us your favorite Catholic book or author and why.

Many of my favorite “Catholic” books are actually written by Protestants, who I think just happened to divine the Truth through their work. C.S. Lewis is an obvious example – he’s almost Catholic at times :). Dorothy Sayers is another favorite. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather introduced me to the beauty of the universal church and the sacraments years before I converted. As for Catholics, I’ll be reading Tolkien for the rest of my life! I reread The Lord of the Rings last year and was astounded by the theology in it. And his Leaf by Niggle is what made this Anglican comfortable with the idea Purgatory.

What would you say to someone who was thinking of becoming Catholic?

It can feel like such a momentous (and potentially isolating) decision. But you don’t have to do any of it alone. Find practicing Catholics and talk to them. Take your doubts and questions to a priest. Read, read, read. And you have the whole communion of saints to appeal to, also! The Church is a family, and family is always ready to help.