One man’s road to the church

From Evangelical Baptist to Catholic, apologist plants seed for Arrington


GREENVILLE — “The priesthood seems beautiful to me.”

One year ago, Jonathan Arrington would have considered those words blasphemous. Now he embraces them.

This sophomore at Furman University grew up a fundamental Evangelical Southern Baptist who had nothing decent to say about the pope or his flock.

The Holy Spirit, however, has opened Arrington’s eyes, leading him on a journey closer to Christ.

“I was as anti-Catholic as one could be before I heard Gerry Matatics at Furman last April,” Arrington said.

Matatics, a Catholic apologist, had accepted an invitation to speak at Furman and challenged any naysayers to prove the Bible did not jibe with Catholic teachings.

Arrington was one of those naysayers. He, however, was curious. He had questions about his own faith, and he was searching for the truth.

“I didn’t have guidance. I didn’t have direction,” Arrington explained his dilemma of faith. Baptist teachings, he said, were based too much on opinion, and he was looking for concrete answers. “To put it simply, I couldn’t find objective truth.”

Then Matatics came to town.

Karen Blackwell, a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, remembers that night.

“All these guys came in with their well-worn Bibles that were underlined and well-marked,” she said. They were ready to challenge Matatics.

“We prayed that they would be open to the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Their prayers reached Arrington that night, and he was drawn to the faith.

“Every time Gerry would make a Catholic reference, he [Arrington] would turn around and ask me what that meant,” Blackwell said.

Matatics showed Arrington the

fallacy of solo scriptura. He told the Furman sophomore about the magisterium of the church. He outlined for the college student how Jesus had set up his church on earth.

For Arrington, the truth finally was coming up Catholic. The Catholic apologist had lit a fire under the student. The two of them talked until the wee hours of the morning, when the cleaning crews finally ran them out of the building.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Gerry,” Arrington said.

His study was just beginning, and Blackwell stood by his side. She said she bought him all the tapes that would help him in his search.

When Arrington said he was interested in a Douay-Rheims Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Blackwell went to St. Anthony’s bookstore and bought them for him.

“If Jonathan ever comes in, let me know,” she told the clerk at the bookstore. She even purchased Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Truth for Arrington.

Blackwell and Arrington now correspond by e-mail, and she says he’s asking great questions that are bringing him closer to the church.

“Once I was able to accept it (the Catholic Church), I dove right in. I checked out every nook and cranny,” Arrington said.

The sacraments, the early church fathers, the doctrines, the rosary, perpetual adoration — he checked them all out.

“I’ve discovered that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ it claimed to be, and I fell in love with the church,” Arrington said.

Now he goes to Mass at St. Mary’s and is going through the RCIA program under the guidance of Father Jay Scott Newman. Arrington plans to be accepted into the Catholic Church on March 30, the Easter Vigil. He took part in the Rite of Election ceremony at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville on Feb. 15. There he stated his intent to enter the church.

Arrington, who said he has felt a desire toward a religious vocation for quite awhile, always imagined he would become a Baptist preacher. Now, he is looking into the Catholic priesthood.

He said he has checked out the different seminaries and their requirements.

Learning that philosophy is a heavy part of their study, Arrington said he wants to focus on earning a philosophy degree from Furman.

He knows his journey is a long one. It also has become a joyous one because he has found faithful friends along the way.

One of them is Blackwell.

She wants to help out because she sees a lot of her sons in Arrington.

“They are about the same age,” Blackwell said.

Another is an RCIA partner named John.

“John is a lifelong Catholic, but he goes to RCIA to learn more about it (his faith),” Arrington said.

Then there is Father Basil Congro from Our Risen Savior in Spartanburg.

“I was at Christmas Eve Mass at ORS, and when it was over I was praying the rosary. He was ready to lock up, but he waited on me,” Arrington said. “It was so great to have a priest take an interest in me.”

Since Arrington has taken an interest in the Catholic Church, it doesn’t seem blasphemous anymore. It seems blessed, and so does the priesthood.