A friend passes on this article, which is published in the Catholic Spirit (St. Paul - Minn), but not online.
Conversion story by Reggie Aspelund
My journey to the Catholic Church begins when I was in my thirtieth year of life. I was in the most undesirable places that I could ever imagine myself in. I was in prison. I had hit rock bottom and lost everything in my life, including my family. I had made a bad choice and I was serving a forty-four month sentence in a Minnesota state prison.
The most horrific experience in prison was when another inmate had chocked me to the point that I felt my life flash before me all because I accidentally threw a softball that had hit him in the back. I was told that if I didn't pay him one hundred dollars by the next week, he'd kill me. After this treat, I returned to my cell with bruises and I prayed to God. That was the first time I prayed to God in over a decade! The following week, after I paid that inmate one hundred dollars, I was moved to a much safer prison that had a treatment program for my alcohol abuse.
Once I had arrived to this "safer" prison, I had met an inmate who strongly encouraged me that I needed to read and study my way out of prison. He strongly encouraged me to read the classics and study Philosophy. To which, I fell in love with the written word and the quest for truth and meaning in my life.
Philosophy led me to the Church.
In one of Aristotle's books, I read in the introduction that Thomas Aquinas was pivotal in keeping the corpus of Aristotle's writings alive and influenced the Church to accept them. I thought to myself, "who is this Thomas Aquinas and why do I feel compelled to read his works too?" In a matter of weeks, my friend, Matt who also loves to read, gave me his copy of medieval philosophy; and in it, I found De Malo (On Evil) by Thomas Aquinas. As you can imagine, I was keenly interested in what evil was and how to avoid it. I believe this is when I noticed my affinity to Catholicism.
During this time, Pope John Paul II had passed away. I found myself profoundly sadden by this. Like most of you, I was keenly interested in who would become our Holy Father. When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, I was excited! I studied more about him and realized that Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, were close friends and shared a love for Philosophy which made me feel that I was on the right track. I kept praying for God to give me answers and help.
A Francisan monk becomes my mentor.
My prayers were answered when an inmate told me, "if you are serious about this Catholic stuff, you should talk to this Franciscan monk, named Brother Hilary. I told him to call Brother Hilary and ask him if I can call him. I finally did speak to Brother Hilary and by God's grace, Brother Hilary reached out to me and we established a monthly conference call.
At this time, we had a priest who could come and celebrate the Holy Mass with us. I started to attend Mass and I felt a connection to it from the go. But I sensed something was missing. There wasn't any music. So, I told the priest and others that if they wanted music, I would be willing to learn the parts and play the organ.
I was able to have a practice time every Monday night to learn the songs to the Mass. I couldn't believe how beautiful the music was and how important it was to the faith. I came to the conclusion that the music is pivotal to the Liturgy. I conveyed this to Bother Hilary and he kept encouraging me to play the organ for the Mass and reach out to God.
An encounter with the Archbishop.
I kept praying for more help and signs that the Catholic Church was the right path for me. My prayers were answered when Archbishop Harry J. Flynn came to MCF-Lino Lakes, the "safer" prison I was in, and celebrated the Holy Mass to us. I meet Archbishop Flynn that night and was profoundly touched by his love and compassion for inmates.
I was selected to become a Catholic representative for the inmates and I accepted. I wrote to Archbishop Flynn to thank him for his visit and encouraged him to pray for us and to come back. To my surprise, he wrote me back! And that started a correspondence that would last for the next year and a half.
I still had eighteen months to go before I was released, so I started to read everything I could that was Catholic! I read Cardinal Newman, St. Augustine, Jeff Cavins, and many others. I wrote Archbishop Flynn for materials and he sent me everything I asked for and more. But my favorite document was and still is, Dues Caritas Est. I think it's the consummate summation of the mission of the Church.
My release back into society.
I was released from prison on August 15, 2006, which is, in the Church, the feast of the Assumption. Archbishop Flynn had written to me the significance of that date and how it's one of his favorite feast days. I was so excited to leave and start a new life! A life that is sober. A life that is Catholic.
I was blessed with a finding a job, just six days after my release, one that provided me with a company car, so I could attend the Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. I finally met Brother Hilary at the Cathedral and he was so welcoming and loving to me. I was profoundly touched when I first came to the Cathedral, it took my breath away.
I received a beautiful letter from Archbishop Flynn officially welcoming back home and into society, but most of all, he wanted to convey that the Church has open arms to me. I felt so loved. Archbishop Flynn encouraged me to meet with him every month because he wants to see me in his office instead of my former place of residence. This is great, because I need all the support I can get to stay sober and on the "straight and narrow", as Archbishop described it.
After much debate, I've decided to share my story with you not to boast, not to gather attention, but rather to offer testimony to God's grace and love to those who have fallen and are in dystopic conditions. If you've prayed for prisoners, then you'll know that God is working in the prison system, by using faithful brothers and sisters, like Brother Hilary and our beloved Archbishop. Or if, like I was before my fall, you haven't thought of prisoners or had much faith in them, perhaps you'll think about them and pray for them.
This Easter, as a thirty-three year old, I plan to enter into the Church at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Despite the large number of perish members, I can't tell you how encouraging everyone has been to me. The young adults have been a great support, especially this study group that I'm in. Currently, we are reading Theology of The Body, by Pope John Paul II.
I look forward to Easter and my future in the Church. Please pray for me and others who are entering this year and years to come.