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A Heart’s Journey – Conversion Story of Kathryn J. Betournay, D.Min.

Cross and sunset


I was born on April 15, 1952 in Columbus, OH, the first of 2 children, into a family that did not practice any religious faith. We moved every couple of years, as my dad advanced his career as a professor. Christmas and Easter were celebrated as secular holidays. In fact there seemed to be an outright opposition in my household to anything to do with God, Jesus, the Bible, or church.

At 8 years old I became convinced that God did not exist. By then, I felt I was smart enough to figure out that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were fictional fun. At that time, the United States space program began sending men into orbit. I thought, “Surely, if heaven did exist, wouldn’t it be obvious?” My 8-year-old mind reasoned that heaven did not exist, and that God was just another fantasy, like a Santa Claus for adults.

I can remember one summer, feeling very sad and confused when my friends were going to Vacation Bible School and my parents would not let me attend. It seemed that my parents thought “faith” was beneath our dignity, which only reinforced my perception that there was something inferior about people who believed in God and Jesus.

Old, family wounds

My mother’s parents immigrated from what is now Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia. They were Catholic and my mother and her brother were baptized in the Catholic Church. My grandparents did not have a lot of income and decided to have only two children. When the priest asked my grandmother why they weren’t having any more, she admitted to using contraception. She refused to give it up and the priest refused to give her absolution. By the time my mother was in high school she decided that when she got married she would also use contraception. It was then she stopped attending Mass. Her grandmother, who was a devout Catholic and attended daily Mass, lived with them for a couple of years. I believe my great-grandmother’s intercession probably had something to do with my own Catholic conversion. In her honor, on the day I was confirmed, I wore some lace she had crocheted as well as a gold cross that my grandfather had given to my mother.

The other side of my family was Methodist. My paternal grandparents were active members of a church, until World War II, when my father was missing in action. The Methodists supported conscientious objectors, which made my grandparents feel betrayed. They felt as though their church
had no compassion for the suffering they were enduring, nor appreciation for the soldiers’ sacrifice. Thus, they stopped attending church. Once I asked my father why he didn’t go to church. He replied, “The last time I went to church, I came out married!” On another occasion, he said, “I’m not going to let some minister tell me how to live my life.”

My mother eventually joined a Unitarian Church, and I attended Sunday School during my elementary years. We learned how to get along with others, the wonders of created nature, and the varieties of creation stories in other religions. In sixth grade we built models of “sacred buildings,” such as the pyramids and the new Prudential Center in Boston. All I could ever find out about Jesus was that He was a “good teacher,” which about sums up my religious formation as a child.

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