By Lisa Spellman
John Fraysier is a local business owner and former Christian fellowship leader. He converted to Catholicism after studying Church history for several years.
Growing up, John attended American Baptist Church with his family. He describes his Christian faith as lukewarm until he reached young adulthood. “I didn’t have a strong faith growing up, but it increased as I started to get older…in high school, I got a little more interested”. After graduation, John attended Oswego State. At the time, he had a girlfriend who had gone on to a different college.
College represented a key turning point in John’s spiritual life. During freshman year, his girlfriend became involved with a group called InterVarsity at her school. InterVarsity is an interdenominational, evangelical Christian fellowship with chapters on many college campuses nationwide. His girlfriend was enthusiastic about participating. In talking with her on the phone, John noticed her new religious fervency and was initially suspicious. The social revolution of the times was the root cause of his wariness, “This was 1974, a time when a lot of hippies were turning to Jesus in large numbers, particular in California, but all over, too. When I listened to my girlfriend talk, she sounded like one of the ‘Jesus people’, but I didn’t want to lose her. So I figured I better do something too!”
Thus, that year, John joined the InterVarsity chapter at Oswego State. Like his girlfriend, he also enjoyed participating. John remembers it as a “large, very lively, and charismatic group”. InterVarsity helped him develop a more serious approach to religion and strengthen his relationship with God. “Through InterVarsity, I made my first real commitment to Christ and my spiritual life really began.” His relationship with his girlfriend eventually fell by the wayside, but he continued to participate in InterVarsity throughout his college years.
InterVarsity was to become much more than an extracurricular activity for John. He transferred to Plattsburg State as a sophomore and got involved with the InterVarsity chapter there. He became a student leader. Upon graduating from college, John went on staff with InterVarsity and spent the next five years working on various college campuses throughout the Hudson Valley. “I basically functioned like a college chaplain…it was like being a missionary, you have to raise all your own support.” His primary focus was to develop student leadership, and he spent much of his time coaching fellowship groups. He also taught students how to study the Bible. During this time, he developed a love for public speaking. After five years, John was promoted to Area Director, a position he held for the next five years. During this time, he managed other InterVarsity staff throughout the eastern half of New York.
In addition to his promotion, another significant event began unfolding in his life. He became acquainted with a large Catholic family. The children of the family matriculated through a community college within his jurisdiction, and they were active in their InterVarsity chapter. John became good friends with this family. “They would invite me to their home; I loved to go up there. They had a very joyful faith and loving home. I got to see faith from the side of what it’s like to be Catholic. I was very impressed with the parents’ faith and the courage they had in raising 11 children.” John eventually became engaged to one of the daughters, Peggy, and looked forward to becoming a member of the family.
John and Peggy planned their wedding in the Catholic Church. Many non-Catholic friends would be in attendance, and John’s family was very supportive. “My parents had always been very open…I didn’t grow up in an anti-Catholic family”. However, planning a Catholic wedding still raised some anxieties for John.
For one, John held a visible position with InterVarsity. Most of his financial supporters came from the Hudson Valley. As a group, his supporters were primarily Fundamentalist, and not necessarily Catholic sympathizers. He was concerned about their reaction to his Catholic wedding: “I was worried, ‘Will I lose my support base, my job?”‘
Secondly, there was the wedding promise to bring up children in the Catholic Church. Both John and Peggy were hesitant to make such a commitment. They knew their children would be raised knowing Jesus, but were initially uncomfortable about making such a promise. John remembers, “We had to work through that…I wasn’t sure. I do remember we talked to a local priest and told him our dilemma about committing to raise our kids as Catholics. We thought we might, but also thought we should have the right to do what we felt was best when the time came.” They even appealed to the bishop asking for a dispensation, explaining that their children would certainly be raised as Christians, if not necessarily Catholic. After a month or so, John and Peggy received the bishop’s reply, which they both found disappointing. The bishop explained he could not give such dispensation. John, says, “Inwardly I was really struggling…but slowly I could see a little bit of the wisdom in it.” In the end, John agreed to support his wife in raising their children Catholic, but thought, “Who can see the future? We will do the best we can”.
Finally, the night before the wedding, a woman from John’s church called and said she thought he was making a big mistake. “I worried that this signified a landslide of my ministry falling to pieces.” However, the wedding went on as planned. “I did get a few letters from people,” John said, “Some were concerned, some were supportive….but InterVarsity stood by me; they could see the bigger picture”.
As newlyweds in 1985, John and Peggy went to separate churches: Peggy to Catholic Mass and John to a Protestant service. John recalls, “I knew it wouldn’t stay like that, Peggy would probably convert.” They knew that having children would soon press the issue of religious homogeneity. Furthermore, John entertained thought that he might someday become a Protestant minister; in which case, his family would need to attend the same church.
Whether coincidence or providence, around this same time John came across an article in the periodical Christianity Today that captivated his attention. (”Why Did Thomas Howard Become a Roman Catholic?”, Christianity Today, 15 May 1985). It was an interview with Tom Howard, a Catholic convert. While John didn’t know Tom personally, the Howard family was quite well known in Evangelical groups. Tom’s brother was a leader in InterVarsity, and his sister Elizabeth was both a missionary and author. “I had never seen someone from the Evangelical world become Catholic….I was really impressed with Tom Howard’s answers to the questions.” John wanted to learn more, so he read the books noted in the article’s footnotes.
It was thus that he became familiar with the works of John Henry Cardinal Newman, a well-known Roman Catholic priest who converted from the Anglican Church in the nineteenth century. Reading Cardinal Newman began a three year period of studying Church history. He studied history from the perspectives of both Catholic and non-Catholic authors. He read about the early church, the Middle Ages, and the Reformation. “I was amazed at what I didn’t know, “he said. John was intrigued to learn about the Catholic Church’s belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as well as the development of Papal authority, heroic faith of the martyrs, the reasons behind the Church’s reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the importance of sacred tradition in the passing on of the faith. “Martin Luther stood against the abuses of the Church, but he also stood against 1500 years of church teaching.”
He brought his interests to work at InterVarsity, and asked his staff members read some of the same literature. He recalls, “I don’t know how meaningful it was for others, but it was for me.” He and his staff would dialogue about these reading assignments. During one such discussion, a staff member said lightheartedly, “Why don’t we all become Catholic?” This was already much on John’s mind: Church history was opening his eyes.
Developing a greater appreciation and understanding of Holy Eucharist was a key factor in John’s eventual decision to convert to Catholicism. Through his self-directed study, John began to appreciate the centrality of the Eucharist throughout Church history. He learned about God’s true Presence in the form of bread and wine. “I thought, ‘Wow, how long have I been missing this?’”
Another influencing factor in his decision was Catholic Church’s position on the Saints. “Protestants tend to react against the idea that Saints in heaven can pray for those on Earth. But I was drawn to intercession of the Saints…it made so much sense to me.” John began to appreciate saintly intercession as a natural part of the faith from Scripture.
Finally, John was drawn to the authority of the Catholic Church to teach religious truth. “The Catholic Church has so much consistency in its call to holiness, spelled out clearly.” Key examples of this include the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and contraception, including abortion. John found no other churches consistently speaking out with clear guidance on these subjects.
Through study and inquisition, John opened his mind and heart to the one true Church. His parents and siblings were supportive in regard to his decision to convert, even though they were surprised at this radical turn in John’s faith. “They were a little disappointed that I didn’t stick with Protestant ministry.” Many saw this as John’s calling in life.
John was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. Alongside John, Peggy had also undergone a reawakening and strengthening of her Catholic faith by reading Catholic books and participating in prayer groups.
John eventually got in touch with Tom Howard and they exchanged emails. “[Tom] was both pleased and surprised that his article had such a big effect on my path to conversion.” He stays in contact with Tom to this day. John is now a businessman and faithful Catholic. He finds other outlets for his public speaking talents and enjoys doing most of his “public speaking” using paper, including poetry. Today, almost seventeen years after his conversion, John reflects, “Becoming Catholic for me has truly meant coming home. Coming home to St. Francis, St. Joseph, and GK Chesterton – to name a few!”
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Dr. Thomas Howard's Testimony
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Kevin Lowry's Testimony