Twenty years ago, when Mother Angelica had an idea for a new TV program featuring converts and reverts to the Catholic faith, no one could have imagined that it would air continuously for the next two decades — and still be going strong.
Every week, men and women from every imaginable faith background — and no faith background whatsoever — join host Marcus Grodi on EWTN’s The Journey Home program. They each share the amazing path that ultimately led them to the Church.
Scott Scholten, director of studio/media for The Journey Home, says the 800-plus shows to date “are all different.”
Each guest’s path to the Church involved various nudges, prompts, conversations and incidences, but each one is a fascinating story.
Grodi — who briefly introduces each guest with, “I’m privileged to be able to bring you tonight’s story of God’s grace,” and then his signature line, “So now I’m going to get out of the way and let our guests tell his own story” — started hosting the show in 1997, after being interviewed on Mother Angelica’s show about his own conversion.
EWTN’s foundress thought a regular show featuring reversions and conversions would bring hope to many families, so Grodi, a former Protestant minister, agreed to do the show and proposed the name. ( Mother Angelica herself was interviewed twice, emphasizing the need that all have for ongoing conversion.)
Three years earlier, Grodi had started The Coming Home Network (CHN) as a forum for fellowship and support for those coming to or coming back to the Church.
“Often, folks who are converting don’t know many Catholics. And especially if they’re a member of the clergy of another faith, leaving to become Catholic, they can feel very alone. The CHN puts them in touch with others who’ve gone before them on the same path,” said Grodi in a recent phone interview.
Many of the guests on The Journey Home have been people Grodi was familiar with through The Coming Home Network.
The on-air guests aptly describe their awe of how God called them to the Church.
“I was the most unlikely person in the world to go to Rome, to swim the Tiber,” said Norm McCrummen in a 2012 interview on the show. “I was raised in such a thoroughly Protestant home, but something was always pulling and tugging at me.”
McCrummen shared how he began watching the EWTN program in 1992, adding that it was a “great teacher” in guiding him along.
“I wasn’t able to articulate it then,” he said, “but it was the Holy Spirit bringing me into the fullness of the Catholic faith.”
Revert Kevin Vost, who was raised Catholic, was featured in a 2016 episode. He remembered thinking, “If everything I’ve been taught about Jesus is true, this is the most important thing in the world.”
Vost never thought he’d return to the faith of his childhood, after two decades of professed atheism. But he came to see the souls in the dementia patients he worked with. His wife’s conversion, his children’s attending Catholic school, and even chats with his barber were all nudges back to the faith, for Vost.
“We never know how the Holy Spirit is going to use a particular instance or conversation in our life,” Grodi explained. Vost said it’s crucial we “equip our kids so they have the answers when these arguments against the faith come along, especially in college. It’s great to know Scripture, but we also need the rational reasons to believe in God’s existence … to know the reasonableness and the truth of our Catholic faith, and that incorporates truth from wherever it comes from.”
Finding truth was key for Mark Drogin, who was a Jewish atheist. Along with his wife and some friends, he started a commune, where they sought enlightenment. Reading the teachings of Buddha, Jesus and others, he was drawn to Jesus because of his suffering for others, and then he was drawn to the Church because of its strong pro-life stance. His heart was finally opened to the Church after watching the movie A Man for All Seasons, about St. Thomas More, as he recalled on the show in 2014.
Legionary Father John Bartunek was raised in an atheistic home, with his father discouraging any religion. Bartunek was introduced to Christianity through his sister’s high-school coach. He sang with a church choir, even though he was not yet a believer.
A student at Stanford University, he found himself church-hopping, while developing a love of Scripture and gradually finding himself drawn to Catholicism. He had many long discussions with an atheist history professor who was an expert on world religions. At one point, his professor said, “There are only two real religions in the world: Judaism and Catholicism.”
That propelled John to take a closer look at the Church. Studying art history in Italy, he was further drawn in by the beautiful Catholic art of Florence.
“I spent a year falling in love with the Church through the art, visiting sites, chapels, museums — drinking in the beauty of the art and getting more and more of the faith as I did. And that opened my heart,” he recalled on the 2005 Journey Home show of his travels in the late 1980s.
After some time in Poland, where the strength of the faith there further impressed him, Bartunek returned home, met with a priest for individual instruction and was received into the Catholic Church. Father Bartunek was ordained a priest of the Legionaries of Christ in 2003.
Muslim convert David Shawkan was born in Bagdad, Iraq, and was “a regular Muslim kid.” His remarkable story was shared on The Journey Home in July. After getting an engineering degree and living in Jordan, Shawkan came to America with his wife and children. Difficult times and losing confidence in the God he believed in led him to a dark place.
“I wondered where I would go. At this point in the darkness, a light started there. And that light was Jesus.” He read the Bible: “I opened the New Testament and read the Gospel of Matthew and the beatitudes. That’s when the beauty of the teachings of Jesus I never knew before hit me … forgive your enemies … ‘Seek and you will find.’ It was as if Jesus were talking to me.”
He started to believe in Jesus, but still had questions. That night, Shawkan had a dream of a man wearing all white.
“It was Jesus, and he told me, ‘Come. Do not be afraid.’ I was filled with what I now know is the Holy Spirit.” He wanted to understand the truth of the Catholic faith. One day, he asked Jesus for a sign that he was on the right track. It was a humid, foggy day, and the car windows were covered with condensation. When the fog cleared, “There was a fish drawn very clearly in the fogged window on my side. My wife and kids saw this, but they didn’t see it as I saw it — it was the sign I asked for! And it was the sign I associated with Christianity in the early states. I couldn’t not follow Jesus now.” His wife and children came into the Church soon after his conversion.
In another compelling interview from 2015, Ulf and Birgitta Ekman shared their path from founders of a Swedish megachurch.
In the 1980s, they moved to Israel to start a Bible church, and it was there they met many Catholics. The couple realized how much they didn’t know about Church history, so they began exploring.
“When we saw this so clearly, how central Mary is to our faith, and that opened us to” Catholicism, Brigitta said. They became Catholic in 2014.
A remarkable gangster conversion was shared in 2007 by John Pridmore, who was baptized Catholic but not raised in the faith. His life in organized crime — the expensive cars, women and drugs — left him with an emptiness inside.
At a club one night, he knocked a man to the floor and suspected he’d killed the man.
“Driving home, I asked myself what I’d become … that I’d killed a man,” he said. “I sensed a voice inside my heart, a voice your viewers will know. I suspected it was the Holy Spirit.”
His father had come to a relationship with God that had been missing all his life, and seeing this change in Pridmore’s father and his father’s ability to finally express love to his son during the last few months of his life began some much needed introspection.
He found out his mother had been praying for him every day, too. Then, for the first time in his life, he said a prayer. “And as I said that prayer, the love of God, the Holy Spirit just came pouring into me. It was only a minute, but in that minute, it was the best feeling in the world. Nothing in my life had compared to that feeling.”
He has been giving his testimony at jails for years now.
Some find that a particular episode is the nudge they need to journey home.
Julia Covelle, 24, is a recent convert who credits the 2010 episode with Marian Father Donald Calloway as helping inspire her toward Catholicism. Growing up as a nominal Episcopalian, Father Calloway’s journey included rebellious and dangerous years of drinking, drugs and fighting. After his parents’ conversion and the witness of a faithful Filipino woman, he found himself randomly picking up a book on the apparitions of the Blessed Mother, which he couldn’t put down. He became Catholic and was ordained a priest in 2003. Covelle now prays the Rosary regularly. “I love that show!” she told the Register.
One episode brought about a dramatic and immediate result. The guests were two sisters from Canada, both raised Catholic, with one a lifelong Catholic and the other a revert after years of atheism. Just as the show was ending, a call came into EWTN. It was a woman calling from a hotel room, where she’d purposely gone to take her own life. She’d turned on the TV, which just happened to be on EWTN, heard the word “atheist,” and for some reason, decided to keep listening. She called to say it changed her plan and given her hope to continue living.
“We just never know who’s watching,” Grodi said.
For Mary Clinton of Floral Park, New York, the show has made her appreciate her Catholic faith more.
“For lifelong Catholics, we often take the amazing truths of our faith and the history of it for granted. I love to hear what prompted converts, what fascinated them and made them look closer at our Church,” she told the Register. “It makes me feel proud.”
As host Grodi said: “I’m enormously grateful to EWTN for airing the show so we can demonstrate to people around the world that there is a constant stream of men and women coming to the Church. God has a way of reaching people.”
Patty Knap writes from Long Island, New York