MADISON — Patty Schneier’s mission to spread the word about her conversion came about with a dream.
One morning, she said, she woke with the conviction that she had to record her witness. If anything happened to her, she would still be able to share the message of her journey with her daughter, she said.
So she called her sister and the two sat down in her sister’s kitchen and recorded her story onto a cassette tape using her sister’s karaoke machine. By the end of her story, she recalled, her sister was in tears.
They saved three copies — one to be sent to the Apostles of the Interior life, whose parish mission series at her parish in Florissant, Mo., was the impetus for her life-changing journey; one to be sent to Christopher West, whose book The Good News About Sex and Marriage had been a crucial part of her and her husband’s conversion; and the other to save for their daughter, who Schneier didn’t want to make the same mistakes she did.
For a year, nothing happened.
And then a call came from Sr. Rafaella Cavallin of the Apostles of the Interior Life, who asked to share the tape with two other people. One of them called Schneier a few days later, asking her to speak before a conference in Vandalia, Ill. With that speaking engagement her mission was born.
Since that time, Schneier has spoken to groups around the United States and in Canada about her conversion from what she called a “cafeteria Catholic” — one who picked and chose among the teachings of the Church, especially on the topic of sexuality and marriage — to a Catholic who embraced all of the Church’s teachings.
She has shared the gritty and often self-deprecating details of her journey to enlightenment with thousands of people, priests and laypersons alike, in the hopes that her story will point them in the right direction.
Schneier’s talk at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison at the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture April 23 was the cap to the series’ focus this year on the 40th anniversary of the life-affirming papal encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. The relatively short document written by Pope Paul VI has had a long-reaching impact on generations of Catholics in its challenge of the cultural acceptance of contraception and other birth control policies.
But Humanae Vitae, which built upon the historical teachings of the Church on human sexuality, has also been a struggle for many Catholics, including Schneier. She confessed in her talk that she was among those who had thought the Church’s objection to birth control to be “unrealistic,” that the Church should change and get with the times, and that it should “butt out on this issue — it’s a personal, private decision in my marriage,” she recalled.
But through a prayer time focused on the daily readings, a prayer time she had begun as a result of a parish mission series she attended, she was confronted again and again by the Church’s teachings on sexuality and by her rejection of them.
At one point, she said she realized “I had a dilemma here — and it’s a dilemma every Catholic parent has that dissents from the Catholic Church — what do I tell my son?” she said. Would she tell him “do as I say, not as I do,” or would she fly in the face of Church teaching?
At her challenge to God to “prove it,” she began a journey that began with denial, anger, and “pitching a fit” she said could have rivaled her four-year-old son’s, and led to a joyful acceptance of the beauty of God’s life-affirming plan.
Through amazing circumstances — daily readings that spoke directly to her problem, a reflection guidebook that showed up in her mailbox one day as a “free trial offer,” and a homily from her pastor that had her breaking down in tears — she accepted the Church’s teachings, went to Confession, and renewed her marriage with her husband.
What had amazed them most, she said, was that they hadn’t heard the message before.
“Why were we so shocked God had good news — good news about sex and marriage?” she repeated, pointing to the title of Christopher West’s book. She and her husband loved the pope, she said. She had always been obedient, was a cantor at her parish, volunteered, and attended Bible studies. But the world had ignored the pope’s teachings — Catholics around the world ignored him.
“Why? Because we didn’t care to look,” she said. “It was much easier and much more comfortable to say I was following my own conscience and leave it at that.”
The problem now is that her generation wants to pass on the message about human sexuality with younger generations, but they don’t have the right message to share.
“We want to pass on the baton, but we don’t even have the right baton in our hands,” she said.
In her talks, Schneier explains in her often passionate way that the teachings of the Theology of the Body can help marriages be renewed and made more full, faithful, and fruitful, just as hers was. This message resonates with her listeners, she said, “because I’m willing to share and be very vulnerable and to openly share my struggles, my pride and stubbornness in refusing to look at this for 13 years in my marriage.
“People are striving for truth,” she said. “I witness this hunger. I witness tears of repentance, tears of joy as well. The conversions, the e-mails, the letters from families; the joy of witnessing that — there’s something inside my heart that comes alive.”
For more information on Patty Schneier and the St Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series, see the box.
The St. Thérèse of Lisieux lectures are held semiannually and offer Catholics an opportunity to learn more about their faith and how they can live more authentically the charity St. Thérèse came to understand as her vocation. The next lecture is expected to take place in the fall.