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April 12, 2009

He discovered 50 wasn’t too late to join the church

By William Booth


Let me first briefly set the backdrop that accentuates my Catholic conversion experience. I am now 63 years old but didn’t see Christ in my heart for at least the first 45 years.

I remember my parents taking me to a Presbyterian Church when I was around 7 years old for baptism. That was the only time that I can recall going to church during my formative years, adolescence, college and even most of my professional career. I thought religion was a crutch to be used by those in need.

Times were good as I climbed the corporate ladder achieving my idea of business success. My professional career in fundraising led me to Los Angeles, where I took on the task of helping raise major funds to support the Catholic inner-city schools.

In this professional capacity, I attended Mass a few times with potential donors (CEOs of major companies and wealthy families), but never as a means to grasp the spirituality of the moment, at least that’s what I thought. In idolizing these captains of industry, I found them bowing to another master during these worship sessions — Jesus Christ. That intrigued me and perhaps planted the seed for more to come.

With the campaign ending in L.A., I moved to Chicago to rejoin a national fundraising firm and resume my climb on that corporate ladder. One of my first business deals was to reach agreement with Catholic Theological Union (CTU) to conduct a major capital campaign. CTU is the largest Roman Catholic graduate school of theology in North America and the major seminary for 25 men’s religious communities.

Someone other than myself in the firm would be assigned to do the campaign while I would move on to find other potential clients, or so I thought. God had other ideas.

I found myself with no senior counsels that were agreeable to CTU with a campaign needing to get launched. It was at that moment that I felt a calling that would change my career path forever.

Faith immersion

The story unfolds with “yours truly” becoming the senior counsel to direct the campaign for CTU and leaving my present status with the firm. It was at CTU that I received a full body, mind and spirit immersion into the Catholic faith. But it wasn’t until the campaign was about to end three years hence that the conversion experience really managed to come alive into my heart.

It was at this moment that I received a call from a board member at CTU, an African-American woman who was a member at a South Side Chicago parish. She was excited to invite me to the veneration of the cross service at St. James — excited because the Holy Spirit asked her to call me. That is what she said.

Was I open to the call or was I going to be the reluctant bystander one more time? Many things were going through my mind. Was it that same Holy Spirit that showed up three years ago? I needed to find out.

The veneration of the cross was profound; but I didn’t want this would-be revelation to stop there. The invitation was extended to the entire weekend, and what a weekend it was!

For the Easter Vigil I went to a parish near where I lived — Holy Family in Inverness. I felt like the main attraction in the famous Charles Dickens novel, “A Christmas Carol.” The ghost of Christmas “yet to come” told me that it wasn’t too late to begin my journey even after 50.

A yearlong immersion in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults gave me the credentials to complete the conversion process the next Easter. I recall giving witness at the various Masses that memorable year in 2001, and immediately afterwards being asked to facilitate a small Christian community.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, much like many of the reluctant prophets must have felt as they were charged with spreading the reign of God.

My request was, obviously, on a much smaller scale, but nevertheless exciting. What I knew was that Jesus was now walking with me, and with that I couldn’t fail.

Continuing growth

Here we are eight years later, a SCC that has grown beyond “small” much to my surprise, but I know it isn’t me responsible for all of this.

Every time we meet, I ask the group if they have seen God in their lives since our last meeting. When I first asked the question many years ago, there were no responses, just puzzled stares. Now we have many God sightings that are shared.

For this Lenten season, I asked them to take 20 minutes out of their day every day to experience the wonder in God’s creation as their Lenten sacrifice. This is hardly a sacrifice but an act of joy that all of us should do as we live our lives in hope and promise.

Booth is the major gifts officer for Catholic schools for the archdiocese’s Department of Stewardship and Development.