LeiningersPaul Leininger was born and raised Lutheran and had many Lutheran ministers in his family.  He converted to the Catholic faith in 2010 and organized the Catholics Come Home program for St. John Vianney parish in Belgrade, MT.  He is married to Maria and they have two children, Gabriel (7) and ChristieAnne (5).

Paul, could you describe your journey to the Catholic Church?

When I met my wife, Maria, we had to decide where we were going to go to church.  Maria was born and raised Catholic in the Philippines and I was no longer attending my Lutheran church.  We agreed that we were going to go to one church and that it wouldn’t be his church or her church, but our church.

We were going to Holy Rosary Catholic parish in Bozeman when my friend invited us to come out to Belgrade.  We did and immediately fell in love with Fr. Gilbaugh’s style of preaching and powerful homilies.  One night we had him over to dinner to talk more about the specifics of the Catholic Church.  I basically sat him down and said, “Why should I join the Catholic Church?”  He gave a compelling argument speaking to the fact that there are so many different churches now, that there must be an original one.  He explained that the Catholic Church was the original church of the Apostles founded by Jesus Christ Himself, and that Peter was the rock of the Church and his apostolic succession goes all the way to the current Pope.

When I was young and grew up Lutheran, I didn’t really think about it a lot; I just practiced what I was raised. I am sure that that is how most people are when they are born into a certain denomination.  As I had gotten older and started to ask more questions, what Fr. Gilbaugh said really struck true.  After that dinner, we talked about going through RCIA and I was eventually confirmed in the Catholic Church around 2010.

I understand that you are always inviting others back to the Church, especially at work.  

I try a little bit here and there. There was one guy at work that I would always invite back to the Church.  Eventually his sister had a baby and wanted him to be a godfather, but he had to have a note from a priest saying he was in good standing with the Church.  Because of that, he came back to Mass and went to confession, but I don’t really know how much I had to do with that.

I talk to a lot of people and I’m not bashful about bringing up the faith.  Somehow or another, I’ll always slip in some little comment about the Catholic faith depending on what feedback I get.  For example, there was a a financial adviser who came by door-to-door and we started talking.  It turns out that this guy was born and raised Catholic too, but not going to Church. “Oh,” I said, “you are one of my starving Catholic friends!” Every time I’d talk with him, we’d talk about the Church some more; we talked at least as much of religion as we did about investments.  I don’t think he has come back to the Church yet, but the seed is planted.

I am constantly inviting everyone I know who is Catholic and who has fallen away from the Church, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever really brought them back.  Maybe I’m a wannabe evangelist, but not a very successful one.

Mother Teresa said, “God calls us to be faithful, not successful” so you are on the right track! God calls us to invite people back into the faith; He does the work in changing their hearts.  And inviting people is really what you helped do with the Catholics Come Home program.  What did that entail?

We did a television media campaign as well as a billboard, both from Catholics Come Home.  For the media campaign, I went to the Catholics Come Home website and sent them an email inquiring about having our parish do a campaign. They usually only work with dioceses, but I told them that our diocese is not in a position to do anything because it is going through bankruptcy.  I said, “Our parish has a little bit of money and we’d sure like to do something with Catholics Come Home.”

I didn’t hear back from that email so I followed up with a phone call and I ended up getting the founder, Tom Peterson, because everybody else was out.  I got his attention and he apologized that I hadn’t heard back.  He was nice about it, but he basically told me that they couldn’t do it.  He said that since they have limited amount of resources and can only work with a small number of clients, they work with dioceses to make the largest impact.  I let Fr. Gilbaugh know, and Fr. Gilbaugh called him back and managed to talk him into it!

After that, Catholics Come Home put together a program based on our budget which was somewhere around $20,000. They came up with a draft advertisement schedule and then had a conference call with us to discuss it.  We went over the spreadsheet that they had outlining it all and made some changes since our coverage area ends up being both Butte and Bozeman.  For example, Channel 7 is a real Bozeman channel so it needed to be on the schedule as well since it is the channel you watch to get the local news.

We ended up getting all of the local channels with an intelligent mix of times.  For example, it included both the 5:30 and 10:00 evening news slots. Once we got a schedule and a price, Father wrote them a check and they were set to air.  The ads ran two weeks during Advent and one week in Christmas.  All that it really took was a little bit of negotiation and the hardest thing was convincing Catholics Come Home to work with a parish instead of a diocese.

As far as the billboard, Catholics Come Home does the artwork and operates the website that they want people to go to.  All I did was call around to billboard companies and ask about billboards.  I found one in a high traffic area and we rented it for two months.  We chose two months since with the upfront cost of installing the artwork, it made more sense to do more than just December.

I know someone who saw the billboard and he had no idea that St. John Vianney parish had anything to do with putting that up. He figured it was some sort of national organization that was putting up those billboards. Obviously people saw it, but it is hard to say what its specific impact was since we had the TV campaign going on the same time.

All the commercials are available on the Catholics Come Home website under Evangomercials and I first saw them when Father Gilbaugh invited the parish to an evangelization meeting a couple years ago.  He played a few of the evangomercials and they were pretty darn good.  They inspired me and I thought, “Wow! This is a good thing” so I signed up to help with the Catholics Come Home committee for our parish.

If you would have seen those commercials before you were Catholic, how do you think they would have impacted you?

Even if I hadn’t of met Maria, I still would have been a little disenchanted with the Lutheran church. I wasn’t even going to church locally any more and was just going when I would visit my folks. The first commercial I saw talked about the things that the Catholic Church had done like starting the university system, the hospitals, and all these good things that I really wasn’t aware of.  If I was looking for somewhere to go and I saw that commercial, I would have gone to that website and given it a serious look.  I might have gone to a Catholic Mass and just sat through it.  I think that the more I would have learned, the more I would have embraced it. I would say that there is a pretty good chance that even if I had not met Maria that I would have ended up in the Catholic Church anyways. Once I put my mind to finding a church and to going back to church, the Lutheran church just wouldn’t have done it for me; these commercials could have helped me find the Catholic Church.

Thank you Paul!