Was faith a big part of your early life?
When I was growing up, my mom was the choir director of the Wauwatosa Avenue United Methodist Church. I was kind of a church rat growing up because my mom was always needing to be there for something. We didn’t talk about God in the family, we didn’t read the Bible, we didn’t pray — everything was all music oriented, and somewhere in my teens, there was a while where I was rather repulsed by God.
What was your first experience with Catholicism like?
I met Jim in high school and started thinking about marriage. Jim was way more religious than I was. I had the sense that it was important to bring your kids up in one faith, so I figured I would convert to Catholicism. I went through whatever the RCIA program was back in 1978, but I don’t remember any of it. Then I spent decades being a pew-filler. I didn’t get it; I was disinterested.
How did you go from being a pew-filler to a spiritual director?
It started with a Bible study I was invited to at work. I thought, “OK, I’ll go.” For three years, I went to that Bible study and didn’t say anything — I was like a sponge, soaking everything up. When we were reading the book “Lord, Give Me a Heart for You” by Kay Arthur, it talked about a personal relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit — two concepts that were completely foreign to me. But there was something about this book — I wanted a personal relationship with Jesus, and I wanted to feel this Holy Spirit within me. I wanted “it” even though I didn’t know what “it” was. I prayed for “it” for several months. I told Jesus that he would have to hit me over the head because I felt no connection, no response. Then came my conversion week.
What happened during your conversion week in Lent of 2011?
At that time, I was doing sprint-distance triathlons, and I was in the pool after work exercising. I’m swimming along and all of a sudden, I get this thought: Lord, you’re in control. I turn my life over to you. And I thought, huh? I had this compelling desire to drop to my knees right there in the pool. Boom, I’m on my knees in the pool, turning my life over to the Lord. It was like I had come out of the womb; I was reborn. I had this feeling come over me that I had never felt before and have never felt since — this peace, joy, tranquility, warmth — it just enveloped me. There was no doubt that it was God.
What did Dcn. Jim think?
I didn’t know what to tell him; I didn’t want him or anyone to think I had lost my mind. I came home, and I didn’t know what else to say other than, “I’m going to reconciliation tomorrow.” I didn’t know what to expect; I had never been to reconciliation before. I went to Fr. David Reith and told him what had happened the night before. The minute Fr. Dave absolved me of sin, it was like a switch was flipped.
How did that feel?
I was a completely different person than I was an instant before. My heart was filled to overflowing with the love of the Holy Spirit. I literally thought my heart was going to burst. I was suddenly hungry and voracious for all Church teaching. I couldn’t get enough; I wanted to be involved. I was all in. I feel the love of the Holy Spirit coursing through me every waking moment.
When you think about your conversion, what amazes you the most?
This happened in the everyday ordinariness of my life. I could have missed it if I had ignored his promptings and nudges. God is still very much alive, here and now, and he can enter the everyday ordinariness of your life and do the same.
What motivates you in ministry and in your work? What’s your specific mission?
My mission has become helping people become enthralled with Jesus — to encounter him. I hope to accomplish this by calling upon my charisms of pastoring, encouragement and evangelization, along with the authentic witness to God’s action in my life. Make a friend. Be a friend. Bring a friend to Christ. The power of one friendship can change the course of a life. Invite, invite, invite. With humble confidence, I hope to attain heaven. Who am I bringing with me?