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Taking a Page from Fr. Calloway's Book

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By Marc Massery (Feb 15, 2019)
Eastern Oklahoma Catholic (EOC), the magazine of the diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma, published a story in October 2018 about how John Ford of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a man who had been away from the Catholic Church for 45 years, returned after he heard Marian Father Donald Calloway's conversion story and, though he hadn't read a book in 50 years, devoured Fr. Donald's autobiography No Turning Back (Marian Press).

Though John was raised by a devout Catholic family and Sheila grew up Baptist, neither practiced their faith in their adult lives. "At the time I left, I did not think that an institution was necessary. I cannot complain about my upbringing. I cannot explain why I went away for 45 years," John told EOC. "You do need the Church. You cannot do it on your own. I learned that lesson the hard way by not raising my children in the Church."

After their daughter went through drug rehabilitation with a faith-based organization, they started attending Assembly of God services with her.

"[It] opened our eyes to the Christian life, and it was because of that we ended up in the Assembly of God," John told EOC. "It was all about Jesus. It is what I remembered about my upbringing."

Around this time, John developed a new hobby painting his own stained glass. He went online and looked at thousands of different templates. "I stopped on one, and I said, 'That's the one I want to do.' It was the first stained glass I ever did. It was a picture of Mary," he said. "It just felt natural." At that time, it didn't register that his church didn't venerate the Blessed Mother.

He and Sheila remained active in the Assembly of God for three years, but then something provoked John's repressed Catholic faith. "We were at a gathering, and one of the speakers said that Catholics were not Christians," John told EOC. "The moment those words came out of his mouth, I went blank. I went into a rage and did not hear another word he said."

This experience inspired John to research what Catholics actually believed. "I discerned fairly [quickly] that there was a division and the central point was the Eucharist. I looked up The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, and I read it. I reread it. I just kept reading it over again," he told EOC.

Then in the car he happened to hear Fr. Donald on the radio. "I was just scanning through local radio stations, and I happened upon EWTN. I didn't know it existed. I caught Fr. Donald giving his personal testimony," he said.

Since he was about to lose his radio signal, he pulled over so he could listen to the rest of the story. "I had to hear more," he told EOC. "I looked up his book No Turning Back, and I ordered it. I had not read a book in 50 years, and when it arrived, I could not stop reading it."

Meanwhile, Sheila was surprised to find her husband reading. "I considered myself a non-reader up until that point," John told EOC. "Once I started, it didn't stop."

Though intrigued by John's interest in Catholicism, Sheila couldn't imagine leaving the Assembly of God. "I was established in my church. He could become Catholic again, but I was staying," Sheila told EOC.

John started going back to Mass, and one Sunday he invited Sheila. She agreed to go. She had never been to a Catholic Mass before. The frequent kneeling, standing, and sitting confused her. "It was like a foreign country. I knew nothing," she told EOC. But she kept returning with John each Sunday. "John was really good in the beginning not to push. He was very patient with that," she said to EOC.

Sheila began to understand the Catholic faith more when she started reading the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. "It was about pain and suffering — how she welcomed all pain and suffering," she said. "It made me understand a little more."

Though she was raised a Baptist, Sheila didn't have a problem accepting Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. "It just made sense to me. Some struggle with that coming from a Protestant church," she said. "I felt like that was all part of the Blessed Virgin Mary being so apparent in our lives. Almost overwhelming."

To honor the Blessed Mother, John and Sheila built a Rosary prayer garden on their property and erected an eight-foot stained glass cross. "We did not realize until we looked back at the journey. She was always there," Sheila said.

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JoAnn Kahl - Nov 29, 2020

John and Sheila,Thank you for sharing your story. I think it will come in handy someday especially John 6.

Toni - Jun 25, 2019

I really enjoy conversion stories. I really enjoyed this one. But would love to see more pictures of the rosary garden.