Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Mormon College Student converts to Roman Catholicism

Following a link from the blogroll on "StellarCross", the blog of my friend, Fr. Rob Lyons, I first read about Levi Checketts in Robert King’s "Thou Shalt Blog" at the website of the Indianapolis Star.

Checketts, 21, is a Junior at the University of Notre Dame, majoring in Arabic and Theology. Although he grew up in a Mormon family in the small town of Vernal, in northeastern Utah, he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, less than two weeks ago, at Notre Dame.

I spoke with Checketts on the phone earlier this evening because I wanted to learn more about his journey from the LDS Church to Roman Catholicism. Checketts says he comes from a deeply devout and committed multi-generational LDS family, one in which the family prays together daily, attends church weekly, and which sent its sons and daughters to both Sunday school and “seminary”, a religious education program for elementary and high school students which takes place during the week, usually before school. He says his two older brothers went on their expected missions. Checketts says he has always been keenly interested in religion, in religious texts, and for that reason chose to study both Theology and Arabic at Notre Dame, even before deciding to become Roman Catholic. He says he always did well in the religious education programs in which he participated while growing up in the LDS Church.

He says he began questioning his Mormon faith largely because no one was willing to pin down a time for what is called the Great Apostacy, the idea that the original, apostolic Church completely abandoned the faith and lost the priesthood, only to have it restored by Joseph Smith. Checketts says he was always taught, growing up, that this apostacy coincided with the death of the Apostles but that now, the LDS Church is teaching that it occurred later, but is not specific on the question. He says that the LDS Church lays great stress on certainty in all matters religious, but that it seemed unable to answer the questions, such as this one, he was beginning to ask. He says he also found it impossible to conceive of a god who would abandon his people, his Church, entirely because some members, even some leaders, were losing fervor.

Finally, Checketts says, he decided to follow the instructions found in the Book of Mormon. He prayed, he says, “The most important prayer of my life.”

Moroni 10:4-5, in the Book of Mormon, reads: “And when ye shall receive these things [the teachings of the LDS Church], I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

Checketts says he had been taught that if he did this, and waited, the truth of Mormonism would be confirmed for him by a physical sensation, sometimes called “the burning in the bosom”. Nothing happened; however, he was not yet ready to become Roman Catholic. This did not come until about a year ago, when he says he attended a Roman Catholic silent retreat over Spring Break. Those directing the retreat suggested that the retreatants use the time to pray for discernment over anything that was bothering them, that they felt they needed “to clear up”. So, Checketts says, he prayed about whether or not he should become Roman Catholic, and by the time the retreat had ended, he had a clear answer.

Last September, as a new academic year began, he entered the RCIA program at Notre Dame, and was baptized a little more than a week ago.

One commenter on King’s blog post asserts that Checketts’ conversion was probably a matter of peer pressure, that one could not “party” at Notre Dame while holding to “Mormon values”. Checketts denies he is a partier, says he found the comment "offensive," and he wonders if the commenter himself may be, on some level, questioning his own Mormon faith. He says that other Mormons, not related to him, have responded with "more charity" and have been "more ecumenical" about his conversion, even if his own family is still coming to terms with his decision.

Checketts says he is, for the second year running, President of a group of Notre Dame students that tutors neighborhood children in South Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame is located. He says he is also involved with various international cultural programs for students. “I am trying to make the most of my educational opportunities,” he says. He also says no one at Notre Dame ever tried to convert him, that everyone he encountered there had been respectful of his previous Mormon faith.

As far as the future is concerned, Checketts says he plans to get a Ph.D. in Theology and then, to teach. When asked about the possibility of the Roman Catholic priesthood, Checketts chuckles. “I don’t think my girlfriend would like that very much,” he says.


Mahnori Checketts said...

I really appreciate your more fair look at who I am. I enjoyed our conversation and am glad that somebody out there is willing to give my conversion story a serious look.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I am Levi's girlfriend. Thank you for such a nice (and insightful) blog post. That other guy was not so kind; I become so happy when I see Christians acting the brotherly way we are supposed to.

FrGregACCA said...

You're very welcome, folks. As I told Levi on the phone, I had no agenda here other than to tell some more of his story.

Levi: May I ask about the pseudonym, "Mahonri"?

Mahnori Checketts said...

It's actually my middle name. And it's a very Mormon name. I like it because it sounds cool, even if it is a vestige of a part of my life that's over. It is a part of who I am, though. But I use it for my blog

Seth R. said...

I think it's unfortunate that so many in the LDS Church are taught that the "burning in the bosom" is the only way to do things when you're talking about testimony.

It's not true. Mormon scripture never claims this is the only way to have a conviction of the religion. And I myself have never, in my entire life, not even once experienced a "burning in the bosom." My own conviction is based on numerous other factors.

My view of the apostasy doesn't match with the popular Mormon view either, but I don't really want to get into an inter-faith scrum over a story about someone's personal experience.

Robert Lyons said...

Happy to sorta help make the connection!