Hugh’s News & Views
CONVERSION OF A CATHOLIC NUN
Joanne Howe is a native of Pittsburg, PA, and the oldest of eleven children born and reared in a devout Roman Catholic family. After attending Catholic elementary schools, in 1949 she entered a preparatory school for girls who wanted to dedicate their lives to God as nuns. In 1953 she entered the religious order of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, PA, where she remained until 1968. As she later wrote in From Nun to Priest (Christian Communications, 1994): “Returning to society after three years in a preparatory school and 16 years in the religious order left me unprepared for the challenges that lay ahead” (p. 16).
I am honored to know Joanne as a good friend and as a faithful member of the Nashville Road Church of Christ in Gallatin, TN. In her remarkable book, A Change of Habit (Gospel Advocate Company, 1986), Joanne tells the touching story of her growing disenchantment with her life as a nun, the questions and doubts that she came to have with reference to various Catholic doctrines and practices, the struggles she experienced in exiting the Catholic Church, and finally the exhilaration of coming to know the truth of the gospel in its original purity and simplicity.
After returning to secular life as an elementary school teacher and revealing her struggles to a teacher friend, she was introduced to Paul Coffman, a preacher of the gospel in Baltimore, MD. Here I will let Joanne speak for herself. “After listening to my story, Mr. Coffman reached for a book on his desk. Displaying its title, he asked, ‘Joanne, do you know what this book is?’ Unfamiliar with the contents, but aware of its authority, I replied, ‘Yes, it’s the Bible!’ He continued, ‘My dear, the answers to all of your problems and anxieties are here in God’s Word. The Bible will tell you who you are, where you are going, and how you will get there” (A Change of Habit,p. 89).
Joanne said, “I was dumbfounded! No one in my entire religious life had ever given me such a sense of direction. As a nun, I was not encouraged to concentrate on [the Bible’s] contents, nor permitted to interpret it. My familiarity with the Word came primarily from stories in Bible history classes. I had taught religion and studied theology for years, but I had never studied God’s Word for direction. I was totally ignorant that the Bible could show me how to be delivered from guilt, released from sin’s slavery, and freed from fear of God’s condemnation” (p. 89-90).
Several months of intense Bible study followed. From the Holy Scriptures themselves Joanne learned of the true Rock (Christ, not Peter) upon which the church was built. She learned the falsity of the claim of Peter being the first pope and the fact that the papal institution itself is unscriptural. She learned the truth about the Lord’s Supper as opposed to the Catholic doctrine of the Mass. She learned of the true place of Mary. She discovered from the Scriptures that Christ is the one Mediator between God and man. She learned the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament and that mankind is now governed religiously by the New Testament. She learned that scriptural baptism is immersion and that those who have only been sprinkled or christened have never in fact been scripturally baptized. She discovered what the Bible actually says about many other matters concerning which she had previously been in complete ignorance, shrouded in the superstitions and dogmas of a religion that she had never previously questioned.
Finally, on October 4, 1972, after an immense inner struggle, Joanne stood before a congregation of people committed to being simple New Testament Christians, confessed her faith in Christ as the Son of God, and was immersed with Him in the waters of baptism for the remission of her sins. From that day until now, there has been no turning back for Joanne. She wrote: “Philosophies and traditions of men no longer confuse me or influence me, for the Bible’s truth is the yardstick by which I measure every false doctrine. I study the scriptures daily, using them for counsel, assurance, hope, and strength to do His will” (p. 110).
A few months ago at a luncheon in which I was seated next to Joanne, she said to me, “I have no doubt that the church of Christ is the one true church of the New Testament.” She has discovered that the church of which one reads in the New Testament is the true catholic (universal) body (church) of Christ. Loyal churches of Christ are committed to the restoration and replication of the New Testament church in the present age. Joanne is pleased to be a part of that noble effort.
(Note: In addition to A Change of Habit and From Nun to Priest, Joanne also has authored Biblical Answers to Catholic Questions (Gospel Advocate, 2012), using the format of the Baltimore Catechism to contrast the Catholic response to Catholic questions with the Biblical response to the same questions.)
July 3: Dalraida Church of Christ, Montgomery, AL
July 2, 2013