Jim Nahrgang, convert, St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish, Scottsdale

When a friend asked former professional hockey player Jim Nahrgang why he was becoming a Catholic, he gave a sports analogy. His son John had already converted and was in seminary, studying to become a priest.

“If your son or daughter was a college athlete or a professional athlete and they were playing their games in your hometown, would you like to go to watch or would you not? Would you like to participate or just kind of stand on the sidelines and not acknowledge that this is what they’re doing?”

That’s where the desire to become Catholic began for Jim.

“His ordination, basically, pushed me. If he’s going to give up his life for Christ and live a life in Christ, then I need to figure out what this is all about. Am I missing something? So that was really why.”

Jim and his wife Cindy had married and raised their children in the Methodist Church but were no longer practicing. Once their son began his discernment and seminary studies, they used to accompany him to Mass when he came for visits. They longed to participate more fully, particularly in Communion.

Jim was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2019. His wife Cindy became Catholic in 2023. Fr. John Nahrgang was on hand to administer the sacraments of initiation.

Dina Ortiz, revert, St. Thomas Aquinas, Avondale

Dina Ortiz rediscovered her faith during the pandemic. Hunkered down at home, she was drawn to YouTube videos chronicling Marian apparitions.

“And there was one that really hit home with me, and that was Mary’s Miraculous Medal. And I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to do a pilgrimage there.’”

At the same time, she was convinced that she couldn’t go on pilgrimage without first going to confession. She hadn’t been since she was 12 years old. There was just one problem: She and her husband were in an invalid marriage, having both been previously married and divorced. The couple attended Mass on Christmas and Easter and sent their son to Catholic high school.

Dina made an appointment with her pastor for confession. For two and a half hours, she confessed her sins and received counsel. At one point, the priest asked why the couple hadn’t married in the Church.

“And I said, ‘Well, we can’t be. We’re previously divorced.’” The priest encouraged them to approach the tribunal. Both received an annulment.

After returning from their pilgrimage, they began their marriage and confirmation preparation. “It was just so joyful and enriching. I can’t even tell you what a blessing it was to get married in the Church. It was a dream for both of us.” They were received back into the Church in the spring of 2022. Today, the couple serves as catechists.

Megan Mastro, revert, Mater Misericordiae, Phoenix

“I started off realizing that I was not at peace, and I had a lot of anxiety. It was getting to the point where it was getting in the way of my everyday life.” An abortion at 16 fomented inner turmoil, Mastro said.

Thus began a two-year, circuitous search for meaning.

“I went out looking for peace and got tangled up in the New Age movement.” Dabbling in crystals, tarot cards, reiki and seeking the counsel of psychic mediums didn’t bring peace. So Mastro began another search, this time for truth.

After researching the origins and studying the sacred texts of major world religions, she zeroed in the Bible. Ultimately it was the Eucharist and eucharistic miracles that sold her.

“I really knew that it was true because I was disappointed in the outcome. I was disappointed that the Catholic Church was true because I had to then had to put to death the life that I was living. And I realized that everything would have to change and that there was no other option because it was either live in rejecting what I know to be true or embrace the truth.”

Mastro began her journey back to the Catholic Church by way of the sacrament of confession. She’d been away from it for 12 years.

After her reversion to the faith, other family members followed suit. “My dad returned after 32 years.”

Today, Mastro is involved in prolife work. “I have found consolation in embracing suffering, being able to put meaning to my suffering and to unite it with Christ.”

Leila Fitzgerald, convert, St. John Vianney, Sedona

Leila Fitzgerald said she’s been spiritual her whole life. “Every time I went into a church, I would start crying. I was so embarrassed I stopped going.”

But then she met Michael, her future husband, a cradle Catholic who attended Mass sporadically.

St. John Vianney Parish is within walking distance of the couple’s home. A friend invited Leila to attend the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes.

She went through the whole program, eager to be initiated into the Catholic Church. Fitzgerald met with the new pastor.

“He sat me down and said, ‘I’m sorry but this isn’t going to work and you’re not going to get baptized.’ And I started crying, I was so disappointed.”

Her preparation to receive the sacraments really only scratched the surface and had not given her the full picture of the serious commitment of becoming Catholic.

“I said to myself, ‘This is actually a blessing because this is a serious matter. This is a lifelong commitment and there’s so much more that I need to know.” She said the second go-around was much more in depth and that she’s grateful her pastor encouraged her to take a deeper look.

Fitzgerald was baptized and received into the Church on April 16, 2022. She attends Mass frequently during the week and prays the rosary daily.

“I feel like this has always been my path and that I’ve always been meant to be a Catholic because it feels so right. It’s so fulfilling and rewarding to me in my life and I feel so at peace.”

Anthony Sears, convert, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Tempe

A Google search during the wee hours was the first step in Anthony Sears’ journey to becoming Catholic.

“The only reason I’m at the Catholic Church right now is I decided I should go to church on a Sunday at 3 in the morning,” Sears said.

Though he did not have much in the way of religion during his upbringing, Sears knew a hunger inside for God. His boss at the time invited him to attend a non-denominational church. “We went to one Sunday service, and I turned to my girlfriend at the time and I said, ‘This feels like a concert and the theme is Jesus.’

“I could tell everyone was enjoying themselves, but it didn’t feel like it was supposed to,” Sears said. He liked the weekly men’s group though where they gathered to discuss the Bible but didn’t want to return to the Sunday services.

Tragedy struck when the girl he was living with died. “I tried to do CPR and it didn’t work,” Sears said, voice breaking. The search for God in the midst of suffering continued.

While surfing the internet, looking for churches, something inside told Sears to add the word “Catholic” in front of “churches.” That’s when Our Lady of Mount Carmel popped up. It was a short distance from his house and had a 6:30 a.m. Monday morning Mass. Sears showed up.

“And immediately, being in there, even though I had no idea what was going on, I was like this feels like the correct way to do this. This is all right.”

Sears was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil on March 30, 2024.

Yancy Evans, convert, St. Thomas the Apostle, Phoenix

Yancy Evans was raised Baptist and attended private Christian grade schools. He hoped to attend Valley Christian High School, but it was too far away. Instead, his parents sent him to Gerard Catholic High School. Though the school closed in 1989, its legacy remains and Evans is proof.

“Gerard was my first place where I got a lot of formation.” During his junior year, he thought about becoming Catholic but didn’t want to hurt his grandmother who was active in his life.

After marrying a woman who belonged to a Pentecostal church, Yancy went on to become media director for their church, but his exposure to Catholicism had planted doubts. His position on the church staff ended and he began reading Scott Hahn books and watching Bishop Robert Barron videos.

For a while, the couple decided to compromise and attended the Anglican Church. “I was still feeling unsettled,” Evans said.

Eventually, it was the Eucharist that convinced him to become Catholic.

“If the Eucharist is true, then by logical extension these other things have to be true.” Evans signed up for RCIA and came into the Church in 2022.

“Ultimately it was the Eucharist that did it for me. It’s something that’s been tugging at me probably since I was at Gerard. It took this long to get there but I’m happy to be there.”

Sabrina Jeffery, revert, Holy Spirit, Tempe

Growing up in a family of six children, Sabrina Jeffery went to church every Sunday with her family. The hospice nurse drifted away from the practice of Catholicism during her young adult years but began finding her way back when a childhood friend took a job as the parish music director.

Jeffery wanted to help her friend and began singing in the parish choir.

Her mom, a woman of deep Catholic faith, never gave up praying for her daughter to return to the Church. “My mom is huge but it’s hard growing up — you don’t really want to listen to what your mom wants to do.”

But when her mother sent her a YouTube video about a psychiatrist who was brought in to deal with an exorcism, Jeffery was intrigued. “He was finding patients that did not fall under any description of a mental disorder. It was possession.”

Jeffery said that video in combination with the “state of our society as a whole, the politics and corruption,” helped push her return to the Catholic Church.

“I just felt I want to go back to my faith. It’s been a slow progression — it’s been really working on me.”

She said she now realizes that the 10 Commandments are there to protect and that not following them leads to natural consequences. She now understands that the sacraments are gifts from God. “He’s trying to tell us that He has given us all these things for our own benefit and not because He’s trying to be a dictator.

“Having that change of perspective has really changed everything.”

Jeffery attends Mass every Sunday and prays the rosary. She and her fiancé plan to marry in the Church this November.

“It just feels right. I feel like I’ve always known that I was going to come back.”

Ray Hawk, convert, St. Henry, Buckeye

Ray Hawk’s entrance into the Catholic Church started when his marriage was ending.

Growing up, he had little to no religious training and was never baptized. “I didn’t know what the Trinity was,” Hawk said. His wife was Catholic but they had been married in a civil service.

When the marriage began to crumble, Hawk said he proposed counseling but by that point, his wife had other ideas. Hawk went to talk with Fr. Billy Kosco, pastor of St. Henry, to see what could be done.

Ultimately, his marital woes and propelled him into further study of the Catholic faith.

In October of 2018, the parish hosted a series of evenings that showed Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire videos. Hawk was hooked.

“The part about how when Jesus died, the veil of the sanctuary was torn — that fascinated me,” Hawk said.

Then, while listening to Catholic radio one day, he learned about original sin. “I didn’t want to die without getting baptized.”

He began attending RCIA classes in 2020 but then the pandemic hit. He was still trying to save his marriage but by 2021 it became clear that was over. He started the annulment process.

The annulment was granted one month before he was baptized. Rather than waiting until the Easter vigil, Hawk wanted a private ceremony.

“I don’t like all eyes on me. No one knows me and I just figured since I’m going to be reborn, why not get baptized on my birthday?” Hawk’s birthday is just three days before Christmas, so he felt a kinship with the birth of the Christ Child.

“It wasn’t the Eucharist and it wasn’t Mary,” Hawk said. “It was Jesus Himself. He was like, ‘Ray, come. And I’ll lead you in.’”

Phillip Rayer, revert, St. Timothy, Mesa

“I grew up Catholic, but I hit that teenage phase and disappeared,” Phillip Rayer said.

For the next 40 years, he was deeply involved in the Protestant world, serving in many ministries. Still, there were things he couldn’t reconcile. His quest for truth led him to Exodus 90, a Catholic men’s ministry centered on small groups that practice 90 days of prayer and asceticism.

“I was struggling with things a lot of men struggle with, and it was affecting me and my marriage. The questions Exodus asked I couldn’t reconcile with Protestantism.”

Then, his wife’s aunt and uncle invited him to experience the Bible Timeline with Jeff Cavins. The series tells the story of salvation via a walk through the Bible. Cavins, a former Protestant minister, converted to Catholicism some years ago.

“The first week or two I felt God saying, ‘Just be humble.’ I opened myself up to the catechesis of the Church. Literally the thing that opened my mind was studying the Fathers of the Church.” Then he started going to daily Mass.

After viewing “The Miracle Box,” a documentary on confession, Rayer was hooked. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is what I’ve been missing!’” His heart needed deep healing, he said, so he sought the sacrament of reconciliation.

The priest told him he needed to resolve the issue with his invalid marriage first. Rayer and his wife both began the annulment process. In August of last year, he was able to go to confession and then began confirmation classes and marriage prep.

The day before their marriage in the Catholic Church, Rayer’s father, who had been away from the Church for years, suffered a freak accident. Rayer called for a Catholic priest, and his father received the Apostolic Pardon on his deathbed.

Today, he sees all the trials he went through to return to the Catholic Church as serving a purpose: “It was to be there and stand up for my faith and to be focused on that moment for my father. It was all about him.”

Today, Rayer serves as a greeter at his parish, St. Timothy in Mesa.