by Mark Tooley
As of today (February 16) I’m the only living IRD president who has not converted to Catholicism! At Saint Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill this afternoon, my predecessor, Kent Hill, converted from the Nazarene Church to the Church of Rome. It was a beautiful mass in a beautiful sanctuary a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The cantor was Jeanne Monahan, who now directs the annual March for Life. She sang angelically. In his homily, the priest recalled St Augustine, who wrote that no soul is at peace until it is “at peace with Thee.” We together recited the Nicene Creed, which is always a pleasure.
In the program, Kent cited the influence on his faith of the late IRD co-founder and Catholic intellectual Richard John Neuhaus. IRD emeritus board member George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II, was a sponsor of Kent’s conversion but could not be present because he’s in Rome.
The opening hymn was Charles Wesley’s classic “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” In his written testimony, Kent gave thanks for his Wesleyan heritage. His other sponsor for the conversion was IRD board member Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. Tom is a former Methodist. Also present was IRD board member Bill Saunders, another former Methodist, now Catholic, and vice president at Americans United for Life. Former IRD board member Mary Ellen Bork was present. She recently lost her husband, Judge Robert Bork. I was glad to hear her report that Judge Bork had completed his soon to be available memoir of 1973, when he served as U.S. Solicitor General, momentously becoming acting Attorney General during the Saturday Night Massacre of the Watergate scandal.
Longtime friend Bob Royal, head of the Faith and Reason Institute, was there, reporting that he’s headed to Rome to offer commentary on the election of the new Pope. I met his wife, Veronica, who is a talented iconographer.
It was good to see Ed Knippers, husband of the late, revered IRD president Diane Knippers, who died of cancer in 2005. Also present was Diane’s successor, and my predecessor, Jim Tonkowich, who became Catholic last year. He and I enjoyably posed for an historic photo with Kent, all the living IRD presidents, with Kent bemusedly predicting he and Jim were surrounding the next convert.
I’m confident that Providence has assigned me a vocation within Methodism for the duration. But I’m very grateful for many impressive, faithful Catholic friends. In his prayer today, the priest cited protecting all human life from conception to death, protecting marriage and family, and protecting religious freedom. All of us together need to labor and pray for these vital protections.
The service at St Peter’s today was a vivid reminder of IRD’s 32 year history, the great figures who founded and sustained it, and the cause of religious liberty, which motivated its creation and continues to make its work essential.