Never too late to cross the Tiber
Last year I made a wonderful new friend — a dynamic and wise 86-year-old author who lives on a hilltop in Winchester where she took a chance on a stranger who invited herself because after reading her story, I had to meet her.
Leona Choy, author/speaker/former missionary/Christian broadcaster (owner of WTRM), converted six years ago — at the age of 80 — to Catholicism. It wasn't an easy conversion and it took Leona as much by surprise as anyone who knew her.
Leona was raised in an exceptionally strong Presbyterian home. In Czeching my Roots: A Heritage Saga and Autobiography — which Leona believed would be her last book — she describes her upbringing and the biblical foundation that stretched back centuries. She graduated from Wheaton College, married a classmate from China, then served as a missionary with him in his native land. She co-founded several evangelical organizations, authored more than 30 books, raised four sons and survived breast cancer as well as the loss of her husband.
Her Protestant credentials were impeccable. So how in the world did Leona come to cross the Tiber? As she explains, she was never militantly anti-Catholic, she was just indifferent — at least until she was shocked by the conversion of an old Calvinistic friend. Little did she know that in her research to persuade her friend of the error of her ways, she would find the error was on her side — that the roots of her faith stretched much farther than Herrnhut, Germany, and the pietistic movement of the 1700s which she had documented in Czeching my Roots.
Leona's conversion took time as she tested every detail, then wrestled with the realization of all she stood to lose, knowing her family and associates would react to her conversion the way she had to her friend's.
Still she persevered through Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes, her journey nurtured by Father Michael Kelly — as was mine once he left Sacred Heart Parish in Winchester for St Francis de Sales Parish in Purcellville. That Father Kelly died such a short time later made our bond as spiritual sisters even stronger. We felt he was watching over us. Was he happy we had become friends?
Like most converts, Leona fell head over heels in love with the Catholic Church — and so it turned out that her investigation into her family’s spiritual roots was not her last book after all. In Journey to the Land of More — the book that prompted her appearance on EWTN — Leona describes how God gave her the commitment and courage in her 80s to risk family, friendships, fame and fortune to obey His call to come home. This was the book that prompted me to call her, and while at first Leona was probably a little skeptical of this brash intruder, we quickly became the best of friends.
Now Leona has released a new book, which I know all Catholics — converts and “cradlers,” as she calls them — will cherish. In it, she explores the communication problems between Evangelicals and Catholics — particularly as they cause Evangelicals to judge Catholics as not true Christians because of theological differences like infant baptism, different prayer styles, respect for the Blessed Mother and the saints, and different expectations of our coming together on Sunday to worship. Many times I found myself nodding, laughing, even crying — as when Leona described how strange the short homily seemed to her after a lifetime of attending services where one man’s 45-minute sermon was the Sunday centerpiece and where “Communion” was offered only once a month.
Noting how evangelical churches have been stripped of any sensorial elements, Leona describes how for the convert, the Catholic Church seems filled with treasure — riches beyond our imagining. Sounding so much younger than her years, she exclaims, “The Catholic Church is always celebrating something or someone and we are invited to the party.”
Living the Treasures in the Land of the More will resonate with converts like me — but it also will re-energize cradle Catholics who may have somehow missed or forgotten the excitement of their faith. When Leona unpacks the Sign of the Cross, for instance, you feel like you will never be capable of doing a semiconscious one again.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s not just because she’s my friend, but because her age, unique experience, wisdom, and commitment to learning and passing on all she can in her remaining years have produced a work that will jumpstart your appreciation of your faith and your church.
As Catholics, we all need someone like Leona in our lives.
You can find Leona’s books at goldenmorning.com.
Curtis, who blogs at mommylife.net, is a mother of 12 and author from Lovettsville.