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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Called to Battle
U. S. A. | NEWS | NEWS
Peter Kilpatrick on the gift of witnessing conversions to the Catholic Church.

Peter Kilpatrick and family
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.

After 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:

“If you 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.

“OK, then I can’t marry you in the Church.”

“But my wife wants to get married in the Church.”

“Well, sign the paper.”

After 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.

When 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.

As Kilpatrick sat next to his very pregnant wife, listening to the priest talk about the sanctity of life, it suddenly hit him.

“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.

Shortly after, he joined an RCIA program and entered the Catholic Church.

The 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 and candidates.

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.

In the 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 his dream.

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 my Church.”

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 it.’”

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 educational institution.

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.

“Notre Dame 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.

The conversions he has witnessed—including his own—are a sign that the battle is not being waged in vain. God is alive and active.

“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.”

If 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,” he said.

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.



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