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Local priest a guest on national program about conversion

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Rev. J. Thomas Wray(Courtesy Photo)
Rev. J. Thomas Wray(Courtesy Photo)

By Gail Finke

Fans of EWTN’s The Journey Home program saw a familiar face Monday: Father Tom Wray, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Director of Evangelization and Discipleship.

Once an Episcopal pastor, Father Wray converted to Catholicism and, after several years of work as a layman, was ordained a Catholic priest under what’s called the “pastoral provision.’ Established in 1980 by Pope St. John Paul II, it’s a process that allows American bishops to ordain some former Anglican and Lutheran pastors as Catholic priests, and to dispense them from a vow of celibacy if , like Father Wray, they are married and have children.

The journey has been a difficult leap of faith for Father Wray, who declined the offer to appear on the weekly interview program two years ago. Leaving the Episcopal church caused rifts in his extended family, unhappiness and anger in his former (Episcopal) parish, and astonished disbelief from old friends. It meant the end of a career and of seemingly settled plans for the future – all without any guarantee that ordination as a Catholic priest would ever be possible.

But The Journey Home host Marcus Grodi, himself a former Protestant pastor, kept asking, so he said yes to the program. “I hope it’s able to touch and help people,” said Father Wray, who describes the Catholic Church as a North Star with a gravitational pull impossible to resist.

The show was taped in a small studio in Zanesville, Oh, in November. “It looks like a house in the middle of farmland,” Father Wray said, “but inside it’s got state-of-the-art everything.”

Grodi only skims the guests’ biographies, said Father Wray, so that the show unfolds as a conversation instead of a scripted interview. The priest said he found the idea unnerving ahead of time, but the hour went quickly and he was able to make all the points he wanted to make, and explain how he gradually became convinced that the Catholic Church is the one Church founded by Christ, and that anyone who realizes that is obliged to join it.

Father Wray said that one of the main points he wanted people to understand is that, while the cost of his conversion was high, he left one good church for the one True Church.

“Everyone expects something negative” from his story, he said. “But I wasn’t running away from anything. I was running toward fullness and depth, toward being more fully who God made me to be.”

The Journey Home is produced by Coming Home Network, an organization that helps Protestant clergy convert to Catholicism. The network helped Wray and his family through trying times finding temporary employment and explaining the decision, something Father Wray says he’s profoundly grateful for. When a pastor comes to think that the Church he preaches about is an historical “house of cards,” as Newman said of the Anglican Church “he’s haunted by that….” Father Wray said. “But being a pastor is his identity, his vocation, his mission, his life’s purpose. The Coming Home Network says, ‘Trust us, God does provide.’ And He does.”

In addition to helping Catholics and non-Catholics better understand the faith, Father Wray hopes the program will help others who want to say, “I will follow and obey,” but don’t know how.

“I hope it helps somebody,” he said “If anyone in the conversion journey watches, I hope it can be an encouragement to them.”

The Journey Home airs Mondays at 8 pm on EWTN. Father Wray’s episode will be available to watch online after Christmas.

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