Catholics Come Home

Deal W. Hudson
May 5, 2008

One out of every ten Americans is a lapsed Catholic, according to the Pew Forum’s recently released “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” Though the Pew statistics could be disputed, the survey confirmed what any observer of the Church knows: Many cradle Catholics leave the Church never to return.

In response to the Pew survey, Inside Catholic sponsored a symposium with over 30 Catholic leaders discussing the question, “Why Are They Leaving?” One reason is obvious – a lack of concern for evangelism, reaching out to those who have either stopped attending church or never did in the first place.

Those of us who converted to Catholicism from an Evangelical background are always struck by what seems an almost total lack of interest among cradle Catholics in sharing their faith.

There are notable exceptions, most of whom are connected to EWTN in one way or another: Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Pat Madrid, Marcus Grodi, Rev. Michael Scanlon, and Matthew Kelly, to name a few examples. The contribution of Mother Angelica to restoring our Church has only begun to be recognized, as is evidenced by Raymond Arroyo’s masterful biography. In addition, Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., and Tom Monaghan will one day, along with Mother Angelica, be seen as the prophetic trailblazers they were.

But I think they would all agree that their efforts amount to plugging the leaks with their fingers, so immense is the problem of Catholics leaving the Church.

However, an exciting new apostolate may help change that. A short time ago, Tom Peterson launched CatholicsComeHome.org, and it promises to lead the effort in restoring evangelism in the Church. Peterson is a man who understands the power of media, with 25 years of experience in advertising. In 1998 while living in Phoenix, he created VirtueMedia, which has aired pro-life radio and television commercials on over a thousand stations nationwide.

His experience with VirtueMedia led him to create a unique organization – Catholics Come Home – and a Web site to connect with those interested in exploring the Catholic Faith. The site starts with an interactive host who takes the viewer on a tour that includes powerful collections of videos called “Real People, Real Stories.”

Peterson told me his site had over 100,000 unique visitors last month, in part due to the fact that he was savvy enough to advertise at the papal Mass at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. He has already aired commercials announcing the site in Phoenix and Lexington, Kentucky, but thinks most of the traffic is a result of the wide dispersion of person-to-person e-mails.

Now located north of Atlanta, Peterson got the idea for both of his apostolates after experiencing a “reversion” on a men’s retreat twelve years ago. “Afterward, I had two dreams. In one I was saving babies, and in the other, I was making a Catholic film.” The first dream led to the creation of VirtueMedia, the other to a film for the Phoenix diocese issuing an invitation to a Catholics Come Home rally that brought 3,000 attendees.

But the bishop in Phoenix didn’t want to continue the effort, so Petersen had to put his plans on hold until five years ago when he started developing the materials for the Web site.

What Peterson has created goes far beyond the average Web site. Catholics Come Home is a comprehensive evangelism program for dioceses and archdioceses. It begins with airing commercials in the local area, leading interested people to contact a particular parish or diocese.

He is already receiving invitations to various dioceses who want to use his program. “Within a year I plan to go national, airing commercials on the major U.S. networks and in major markets like the Super Bowl. This is something no Catholic organization has done to this level.”

Before airing his commercials, Peterson asks bishops and archbishops to train workers “to be welcoming” toward those who contact them. “The key is to have a loving person on the other end of the phone when they call. You only get one chance in a situation like this, so we have to get it right.”

The dioceses will need a “collaborative spirit” to implement the program locally in order to work with those who want to return to the Church or become a Catholic. In the Diocese of Phoenix, for example, receptionists have been trained to take calls in response to Peterson’s commercials.

“Parishes and dioceses have to have the right spirit” or the program won’t work, he explained to me. Peterson tells the story of a woman who had been away from the Church for 30 years who called the local parish only to be told, “Everyone’s in a meeting now, can you call back tomorrow?”

“Catholics have gotten out of the habit of evangelizing,” Peterson says. “Three out of four Catholics have never tried to win a person to Christ.” This number strikes me as optimistic, but if Peterson’s effort is successful – and I have every reason to think it will be – Catholics around the country will be finding themselves talking about their faith to others, perhaps for the very first time.

Catholics Come Home looks to be the most promising new apostolic effort since Mother Angelica started EWTN or Father Fessio created the St. Ignatius Press – and hopefully the fruits of Peterson’s efforts will find their way to your diocese.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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