|The Kilpatrick family. Left to right: Elizabeth, Alexandra, Charlie, his wife Nancy, oldest son Zachary, and Peter.|
October 19, 2010. South Bend, IN. The call to faith
can take place in many ways in an individual person’s
heart. For Peter Kilpatrick, it was like a clarion call
to battle, a sense of mission to uphold values worth
living and dying for.
The son of a high-ranking Air Force
officer, Kilpatrick had grown up amidst a tutti-frutti of religious
services on military bases around the world, from Catholic Masses
in Turkey to non-denominational services in South Dakota. He had
been baptized in a Methodist church in Texas during a
brief religious awakening at age 11, but subsided into a
kind of religious “confusion” during his teenage and college years.
college, he and his fiancée, who was Catholic, began to
make arrangements for their future marriage. She wanted to get
married in the Church, so Kilpatrick went to meet with
the no-nonsense priest. The conversation went something like this:
want to marry in the Church, then you have to
sign this paper that says you promise to raise your
kids Catholic,” the priest told him.
“Well, I can’t really do
that. It’s not my call; it’s their call,” Kilpatrick responded.
then I can’t marry you in the Church.”
“But my wife
wants to get married in the Church.”
“Well, sign the paper.”
some time of back-and-forth arguing, he finally signed the paper.
And for the first few years, it really was just
a piece of paper. Neither of them went to church
until his wife got pregnant with their first child.
she reminded him of the promise to raise the kids
Catholic, that paper suddenly sprang to life again.
So off they
went to talk to the pastor of St Lawrence Catholic
Church in the city of Minneapolis.
“We’d like to get
our baby baptized at the parish,” they told Fr Tom.
He looked at them closely. “I don’t think I’ve ever
seen you at my parish before. I can’t baptize the
child of non-practicing Catholics.”
The next Sunday found Kilpatrick and his
wife sitting in the pew listening to the associate pastor,
Fr Corbett, tell the story of another young couple in
Chicago that was expecting a child. When the baby was
born, it was discovered that he had both Down’s Syndrome
and a malformed esophagus. The doctor counseled the distraught couple
to allow the baby to starve to death by not
fixing the esophagus… and the couple followed his suggestion.
sat next to his very pregnant wife, listening to the
priest talk about the sanctity of life, it suddenly hit
“Something clicked inside me. I said, ‘I want to
belong to a group of people who espouse the beliefs
that that fellow up there is talking about.’”
It was almost
like a clarion call to battle. The Church, he realized,
stood for fundamental values that resonated deeply in his heart
and mind. This was important. This truly mattered.
he joined an RCIA program and entered the Catholic Church.
royal lady and the hound of heaven
As the years went
by, he was asked to serve on the RCIA team,
teaching the faith to each year’s new crop of catechumens
As he studied his faith more deeply and
worked with the RCIA program, he began to see God
at work in the lives of other people… the footprints
of the “hound of heaven.”
One of the candidates he sponsored,
Alex, had been a Baptist his whole life, along with
his wife and four children. When Kilpatrick asked him why
he was exploring being Catholic, Alex told him about a
vivid dream that he had had more than once.
dream, Alex was sitting in a chair and a woman
dressed like a queen came and stood behind him and
smiled. That was all. He could see her smile in
The dream kept coming back. Suspecting that the royal
woman was Mary, Alex began to pray to her, asking
her for guidance. It was through prayer that he got
a clear answer: “I want you to be part of
Alex was in RCIA in obedience to that royal
lady. His conversion came first, followed by his oldest son.
His wife converted two years later, along with the rest
of his children.
For Kilpatrick, witnessing and accompanying that conversion was
a cause for wonder at God’s work.
“It just shows
me how much respect and dignity God gives us in
our freedom to choose,” he said. “And yet, in that
freedom and in that love, he pursues us like the
hound of heaven.”
Called to Notre Dame
Several years ago, Kilpatrick was
summoned by another kind of “royal lady”: the University of
Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
“I came here not because
I really wanted to, but because I felt I was
summoned. I prayed and discerned about what I was supposed
to do with my life, and the only inspiration I
got was ‘Go to Notre Dame and quit worrying about
For the past two and a half years, he has
been serving as the McCloskey Dean of Engineering. In that
short time, he has been privileged to witness the conversions
of fellow faculty and administrators, from a Unitarian engineer to
a sociology professor and his wife to another associate dean
who is currently discerning.
For Kilpatrick, seeing these conversions is a
boost of encouragement for his own faith, a shot in
the arm for the daily battle.
“I get a lot of
my enthusiasm for the struggle and energy for the journey
from the witness of these courageous men and women who
are following God’s lead in spite of the resistance of
their loved ones, society, the culture we live in, which
is often pretty hostile to religion,” he said.
No institution is
perfect, including Notre Dame. The choice of President Barack Obama
to deliver the commencement address in May of 2009 stirred
up tremendous controversy both on and off campus, and there
have been other conflicts as Notre Dame wages its own
internal debates about what it means to be a Catholic
But Kilpatrick observes that there is also a
brighter, more grace-filled side to Notre Dame that deserves to
be known. Along with the conversions he has seen, there
are also the 200 Masses celebrated every week in the
campus’ 60 chapels, the many hundreds of confessions heard every
week, and the 70 priests circulating on campus.
is a serious and authentic Catholic university and it recognizes
that it has a battle on its hands to remain
Catholic and to enhance its Catholic character,” said Kilpatrick.
conversions he has witnessed—including his own—are a sign that the
battle is not being waged in vain. God is alive
“I like conversion stories because, in a very
real sense, they are miracles. They are about God intervening
in a specific and personal way,” he said. “He is
not the divine watchmaker. He loves us with such abandon
that he personally intervenes in our lives. And I have
to believe that Our Lady and her Son have a
vested interest in what happens here at Notre Dame.”
it takes a battle to help midwife those miracles, Kilpatrick
is on board.
“As a Regnum Christi member, all I’ve ever
wanted to be is in the heart of the Church.
That’s my battle cry as a member of the Movement,”
This article is part of a series
about God’s action in the lives of Regnum Christi members
who turned to him in prayer. If you have a
story to share, please contact us at this link.