Feminist Approved

Tell us a little about yourself.

Am I the only one who gets stage fright when I see this question?! 😛

I am a newlywed, having been married for about eight months now to my wonderful husband. We live in Lexington, KY, but I am originally from Montgomery, AL, and I went to college at the University of Alabama. So there wasn’t a large Catholic population, although it’s funny that I came in contact with more Catholics growing up than anyone else living in Alabama may have.

My Jewish mother taught Spanish in a Catholic preparatory high school, which is how I met my long-term, Catholic high school boyfriend. I never considered converting with him, and honestly got a bad taste in my mouth for Catholicism because his mother was so against him dating a non-Catholic. But the relationship didn’t last past college anyway, and by that point I became really close friends with another Catholic who was a much better role model for the faith (she was even my maid of honor at my wedding). Even though she was such a good friend, I still never thought about becoming Catholic.

Instead, I took an intermediary step by leaving my Jewish roots and becoming an Episcopalian. I even spent three years in Los Angeles with the Episcopal Service Corps before coming back to the south for a job as a faith-based community organizer.

Tell us how you became interested in Catholicism.

I finally thought about converting soon after moving to Lexington, KY about three and a half years ago. The first church I started working with as a faith-based community organizer was a Catholic one. The first few months of my job required me to have hundreds of one-on-ones with members of that church, so I was finally able to have individual conversations with people about their faith. I learned things from them about Catholicism that I had never heard before. I also started dating my now-husband, and we started having conversations about the faith.

I also reached out to my close friend from college to ask her questions, since I had never talked with her about Catholicism before. She was the perfect person for me to talk to, because she was a staunch feminist like myself. Although the type of feminism that I embraced when she knew me in college was different from hers, I was finally open to understanding how she reconciled her Catholic faith with her strong belief in the equality of the sexes.

Still, I didn’t take the plunge into RCIA for a few more months. I knew I could marry my husband as long as we agreed to raise our children Catholic, and for a while I was content with remaining an Episcopalian. I was worried about how worship would look for my family, since I wanted to attend church with my future family without being the one person unable to receive communion. But one thing kept holding me back…

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

For a long time, the artificial birth control was the BIGGEST thing that kept me from converting. I understood why sex outside of marriage was discouraged by the Church (but only because I had spent years in bad relationships because of my shallow view of intimacy…another story for another time). But I really didn’t understand why a woman couldn’t take hormonal birth control or use condoms to ensure she wasn’t pregnant all. the. time. I had heard of NFP, but I understood it to be the rhythm method, so all I could think about was that joke… “What do you call a couple that uses NFP? Pregnant.”

So I kept searching and asking for more information about this, and I stumbled across Theology of the Body, particularly in relation to why NFP was approved by the Church. I fell in love. I had learned about female reproductive health in great detail in college, and had even gone off artificial birth control for a little bit and was able to see changes in my body that let me know when I was ovulating. Plus, it made so much more sense for sex to be a total giving of self – without shutting off my fertility or stopping a part of the male’s fertility.

When I started researching the sympto-thermal method (the one my friend was using in her marriage), it didn’t take me long to understand that this method was NOT the rhythm method, and that it COULD be effective. And NFP was more in line with my feminism than birth control anyway. After that, I understood that Catholic feminism was more in line with my values after all – in all areas of faith and life.

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

Really, being vulnerable and asking my friend about her experience of the Catholic teaching on artificial birth control. She had been married for a little over two years by that point, and although they did have a child, their little girl wasn’t a honeymoon baby. Plus, they hadn’t had a child since. So I got up the courage to ask her what she did, and she told me about the method of NFP she was using.

Later, I learned what was running through her mind when I asked. Of all of our friends, neither she nor I had ever thought I would be the one to convert to Catholicism. So when I started asking questions – and particularly when I asked that question – she knew she needed to be careful with how she answered so that it wouldn’t immediately turn me off. Clearly, she did a good job. 😉

Johnna with her Matron of Honor, who gave her the NFP real talk, on her wedding day

What was your experience of RCIA?

Honestly, not very good. I had done a lot of research just to become an Episcopalian, so I already knew a lot of the information I was learning. I really would have loved it if my RCIA class had gone deep into the philosophical and historical aspects of the surface level things I was learning about the Church and her teachings.

I may be the only one who cares about these sorts of things, though, so the class was wonderful for people who didn’t know anything about Christianity. Plus, I think the additional, self-taught RCIA information I did brought me and my husband even closer because he knew a lot of the information I was searching for. So we were able to have great conversations!

Johnna and her husband at Easter Vigil for her confirmation.

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

When I first became a Christian as an Episcopalian, it was all about feelings. I had a convert’s high, in a way. Everything was new and exciting, and I imagined it would always feel that way. By the time I entered the Church, I was instead in awe of the steady love offered through Catholicism. I would say my relationships have become more mature because of that. I understand that feelings – both good and bad – come and go. But that it’s the day-by-day choices we make to love someone and sacrifice for them that is really the best thing about God and His Son.

Tell us your favorite Catholic author/ book and why.

Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn was one of the first books I read when I started asking questions about Catholicism, and it was great. I also really appreciate modern-day Catholic writers like Jennifer Fulwiler. I actually prefer books like that to things written by the saints, just because it’s easier for me to see how I can incorporate my faith into my daily life if the life is set in the same time as mine.

What is one thing you would say to someone who is thinking of becoming Catholic?

It’s really important to have an open mind and to humble yourself. I think it took me a long time of interacting with Catholics before I decided to look into converting because I thought I knew best. I wasn’t open to hearing about other people’s experiences or learning the reasons behind the Church teachings. It wasn’t until I approached life with curiosity, realizing that I could learn something from everyone that I was able to let the Spirit guide me.

Final thoughts you want to share.

Like I said – I am the last person anyone would have thought would become Catholic. So for those of you who are praying for the conversion of others…keep at it, even if it’s starting to feel futile. You never know when Jesus can take a hold of someone’s heart!

Johnna is a writer, speaker and wellness coach for active millennial women. She is a RRCA-certified running coach, an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor, a POP Pilates instructor, and a SymptoPro Fertility Educator. She’s also the co-founder of Catholic Women Run and the Well Life podcast. You can find her on Instagram and on her website.