National News

Continuing Conversion: Becoming Catholic Feels ‘Like a New Beginning’

John Johnson said he is grateful for the help he received from his sponsor, Celeste Grillo, and everyone at the Shrine Church of St. Jude in Canarsie as he studied to become a Catholic. Grillo also accompanied him to the diocese’s Rite of Election service at Resurrection Ascension Church on Feb. 18. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

65-year-old will enter the Church at the Easter Vigil

CANARSIE — John Johnson, 65, is living proof that it’s never too late to start a new chapter in one’s life. And he’s also proof that joining the Catholic faith is something that is possible for anyone of any age. 

After spending most of his life attending Protestant churches, Johnson will be baptized into the Catholic faith at the Easter Vigil at the Shrine Church of St. Jude in Canarsie on Holy Saturday, March 30. 

He is looking forward to it, admitting that he will be feeling a wide range of emotions at the big moment. “I’m probably going to be nervous, excited too. It might be exhilarating,” he said. 

“It does feel like a new beginning,” added Johnson, a paralegal for the New York City Law Department. 

Johnson will certainly be the center of attention at his Eager Vigil baptism, not just because he will be initiated into the faith, but because he is the only one undergoing the sacrament of baptism at the vigil at St. Jude this year. “I’ll be up there on the altar with everyone in the church looking at me. But I don’t mind,” he said. 

Celeste Grillo, a volunteer in the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA) program at the Shrine Church of St. Jude, served as Johnson’s sponsor — helping to guide his faith journey. “He is a reminder that Jesus calls people to the faith at all different times of their lives, even people who have lived full lives up to now,” she explained. 

Johnson, who has lived in Canarsie all his life, came to his decision to become a Catholic gradually. He attended Canarsie Community Reformed Church for many years but had always been open to learning about other faiths. 

“I had been interested in the different religions, and on occasion, like on certain holidays, I’ve gone to Mass at St. Jude’s with friends in the neighborhood,” he recalled. 

Johnson enjoyed the experience so much, he started going to St. Jude’s on a regular basis. “First of all, it’s a beautiful church. And the people there are very friendly,” he explained. 

As time went on, he found himself becoming increasingly drawn to Catholicism. “I am really interested in all the different saints,” he said. 

After a while, his friends started encouraging him to become a Catholic. He gave it serious thought and decided they were right. A parishioner gave him Grillo’s phone number. She invited him to attend the next OCIA meeting and told him to feel free to ask any questions he wanted. 

“She said it would be good to become a full member of the Catholic Church and not just someone who goes to church,” he recalled. 

Grillo was impressed with his level of commitment. “From the very beginning, he showed a lot of interest and brought a lot of enthusiasm to the program,” she said. 

Johnson is one of 447 people who will be baptized at Easter Vigil Masses in churches throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn this year. He attended the Rite of Election service at Resurrection Ascension Church in Rego Park on Feb. 18, where the church officially “elects” newcomers, called catechumens, to become members of the church. 

Johnson enjoyed meeting his fellow catechumens. “I was impressed. There were a lot of people,” he recalled. “Because I’m the only one from St. Jude this year, it was nice to see people from all the other churches and see that we’re a big crowd.” 

As a senior citizen Catholic, Johnson will have a lot of company. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), people aged 65 and over make up 26% of the adult Catholic population in the U.S. 

Looking back on his decision to become a Catholic, he said it was probably inevitable. “I was born on St. Joseph’s Day,” he explained.