Fr. Daniel J. Sanders, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Fontana, baptizes Morgan Meeker during the Easter Vigil Mass at the parish, this past April. (Submitted photo by David Dowling)

Morgan Meeker spent much of his 18-year-old life as a Jehovah’s Witness, and those years are filled with bitter memories. He recalled being taught by his parents not to ask questions, shun those who were non-believers and to forego higher education. He lived in fear of Armageddon, was taught not to salute the flag, never celebrated a birthday, Christmas or any holiday and often felt isolated and different.

After much soul searching and prayer, he transformed his life; he was baptized, received his first Communion and confirmed into the Catholic faith at St. Benedict, Fontana, during the Easter Vigil. 

According to RCIA director Mary Jeanne Lindinger-Olsen, Meeker’s family were rigid practitioners and didn’t want their son mixing with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses in high school, so they taught him at their home.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well and he ended up not getting a high school diploma, so he is working on his GED and some other classes right now,” she said. “He is very bright. Although he moved from his home, he found friends in the community who have gone out of their way to help him.”

Meeker recalled the frustration he felt as a child when, after asking questions about his family’s unusual beliefs, the answers never seemed to come.

“When I would ask something, my parents would go off into something else that had nothing to do with the questions and what I wanted to know was never answered,” he said. “I also wanted to go to college, but they don’t believe in college – the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after high school the system is so bad that we should only dedicate our lives to serving Jehovah. I know the system is bad, but I am smart enough to realize that I have to support myself and I don’t want to work in a retail store the rest of my life.”

Once he moved to Fontana and was on his own in June 2009, a friend began talking with him about the Catholic faith. Although skeptical about the information she gave him, he stopped in for a Mass.

“I went in and attended. I didn’t understand one part of what was going on, but I had this great feeling that I never experienced before,” Meeker said. “Everyone was so nice. I never had so many people shake my hand and say ‘hi’ and really care that I was there.”

The one aspect of his first Mass experience that touched him the most was seeing the Eucharist and experiencing an internal longing for something, but he wasn’t sure what.

“I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to take Communion that day, and when I left, I knew I wanted it. I didn’t understand the true meaning of the Eucharist – but it was drawing me in,” he said. “After Mass, I had a feeling come over me that I never felt my entire life.”

Meeker attended Mass for a couple of weeks and met with Lindinger-Olsen to discuss becoming part of the RCIA. In the beginning, he was reluctant to take the next step.

With hurts and negative voices so strong, the first six to eight weeks of RCIA classes were more an exercise of going through the motions for Meeker, but then, according to Lindinger-Olsen, he began to heal, soon becoming the “poster child” for an adult catechumen that was so contagious, it drew in the entire parish.

“He was so hungry to go through the process,” said Lindinger-Olsen. “As he went through the journey, his faith deepened and he knew that the Catholic faith was meant for his life. He knew that this is what he had missed throughout his life. He had a group that he sat with for daily Mass, and everyone really welcomed him.”

Through the steady guidance of his sponsor, Eric Kerkman, Lindinger-Olsen and those he met while attending daily Mass, Meeker began to unravel what held him bound.

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses were so brainwashing, and I felt like I was committing the biggest sin if I prayed. I didn’t think I would be really accepted in the Catholic faith, but Mary Jeanne explained a lot of things for me that got the light bulb going,” he said, adding, “And now that light bulb is just blinding!”

Not only is Meeker’s light shining for Jesus, he has begun talking to others about Catholicism, almost becoming a one-man evangelization team. It is common to see Meeker bring friends and acquaintances to daily Mass – something about which a few members of St. Benedict’s gently rib him.

“We see him with this growing circle of friends, bringing others to Mass, and joke that he is trying to bring everyone he meets to the faith,” said Lindinger-Olsen. “We have a lot of fun teasing him, but really, he is quite amazing and has such a strong faith already.”

Despite the estrangement from his family, Meeker holds no resentment or animosity; he prays for reconciliation with them. Like others who are separated from relatives due to religious differences, he is happy to be surrounded by a parish community that showers him with love.

“My family chooses to ignore the fact that I have become Catholic,” he said. “But I have told them that this is who I am and what I want, and if they say they want me to be happy, they will understand. I don’t know if they will ever understand, but I have the best parish family that there is here, and I am so happy.”

When he isn’t attending Gateway Technical College for pre-architectural design classes, Meeker devotes his free time to reaching out to struggling teenagers searching for a different path.

“When I was growing up, I was so mad at my parents because there were no options,” he said. “I rebelled a lot.  Now I am looking forward to talking to teenage kids to tell them about Jesus and how he died for all of us. I don’t think that most kids really realize this – and I think that I can help them because I am close to their age and might be able to help them translate their questions and find the answers they are looking for.”