Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 9 (Dad’s Story)

Phyllis Nissila

Again today I am prompted to respond to a reader’s comments within which she linked to the story of her experiences in prayer and intercession for her own relatives (mother and brother) before they passed on, although they were not Roman Catholics. Very inspiring—and encouraging. See “poetry cottage’s” comment and link in the previous post, part 8 of this series. Today I’m adding the story of my father’s conversion shortly before his death, as a kind of book-end to the story of my mother, here, and more encouragement for those of you in similar situations: https://pnissila.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/on-witnessing-to-a-roman-catholic-an-explanation-a-story-and-an-exposition/


Some years ago I wrote the story for a Christian magazine about the circumstances of my father’s conversion just days before he died, November 21, 1985. Here it is in the context of how difficult it can be to reach a Roman Catholic. But, then again, “all things are possible.”

In Dad’s case, just two things hampered us when witnessing to him in his last years. He was a very cynical man, and, unfortunately, very intelligent as well [1]. He died of pancreatic cancer after a two-year remission from an advanced stage of that disease (such a lengthy remission was unheard of back in the eighties). And he was very angry over this bad turn of events. Very.

My Christian siblings and I prayed for him and tried to witness. I say tried to, because at one point, my mother, the other hampering element, you might put it, actually told one of us to not even think of coming into the house with a Bible.

My mother at that time declared Dad was a Roman Catholic and he was just fine with God. And my mother ruled the spiritual roost with iron resolve. It would be many years before she softened. She was always present when we visited him at home and later, during his hospital stays, to discourage any non-Catholic talk or Bible sharing. Granted, those were back in our sometimes-annoying zealot days; nevertheless, we loved Dad and had a great burden for him. So we prayed—mostly for opportunity.

And then, the miracle.


When I came to the hospital to visit him during his final stay (this was ten days before his death), whereas there were always at least two or three of us (many) siblings in his room visiting and tending him, everybody was in a waiting room down the hall!

Mom included.

As I approached the waiting area, about 100 feet from Dad’s room, Mom came out of the door with a kind of puzzled look on her face. “Phyllis,” she said, “Dad (who was still alert but very tired) said he wants to see you.” He had already told me the first day he was here, when he was still hopping mad over the whole business—and with God—to “take care of your mother,” so I knew it had to be something else important. He was a man of few words.




Nobody followed me down the hall except one of my sisters who had recently become a believer.

We looked at one another and proceeded. Maybe this was our opportunity?

When we entered, Dad was laying down, morphine drip at half-bag, other IVs and tubes threading in and out of his frail, gaunt body sustaining what little was left of his life.

He turned his head slowly when we came in and smiled. “Hi, Phyll,” he said.

I gulped, mentally praying for courage and the right words to proceed. My sister and I pulled up chairs on either side of his bed, being careful of the medical equipment softly blinking and beeping.

I had an idea: ask him if he had noticed a change in each of us.

“Dad,” I began, “have you noticed a change in each of us in the last few years?” He smiled and nodded. Whereas we weren’t necessarily rebellious or trouble-causing, each of us was already experiencing and expressing the heart and life-softening changes wrought by the refining power of the Holy Spirit in our life, even in those early years of our conversions, even despite my occasional outbursts of zealotry…

“Yes,” he replied.

“Well, it’s because of the Holy Spirit and our conversion to faith in Jesus Christ…”

And there, in that busy oncology ward, people and staff coming and going—although until all was accomplished in that room, nobody else entered—Dad heard our testimonies, and he let us explain the process of salvation and pray with him.

And we told him about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, too, and prayed with him for that, as well.

I will never forget the change in the countenance of the angry, cynical man who resisted God’s call on his life for over 63 years. A kind of glow settled over him. A peaceful glow we had never seen before.

At the very moment we were finished, after about fifteen minutes, a nurse came in the room to check his IVs, and other family members returned.

Perfect timing.


During his remaining few days, even as his strength and life receded, the peace remained. Everyone noticed it. He had a few more questions for another sister who was more Bible literate. And Mom no longer hindered us from praying or singing hymns or sharing. By that time, I think Mom was, more than anything else, glad for the support and company.

Then, one more miracle of timing.

The sister who stayed over with Mom the night Dad passed into the presence of the Lord, was “taking her turn” holding his hand so Mom could take her turn trying to get a little sleep. At one point, my sister said, she felt strongly to tell Mom to take over. She felt it was “of the Lord.” She made an excuse that she had to use the restroom. And that was how Mom got to be the one to hold Dad’s hand when he passed from this life and to “feel,” she later put it, “a slight release the moment his spirit lifted” and his shallow, labored breathing ceased…

Yes, there is always hope.

Some years later when the story came out in the magazine, I gave it to Mom to read, although I was still very careful as to how and when I shared my faith with her. She didn’t say anything, but she kept the magazine.

You never know. Perhaps the story was of some comfort to her.

Perhaps more than that…

I trust I will see her and Dad again one day and maybe discuss the whole business.

Or maybe not, as we rest forever in the presence of extraordinary grace and get on with the business of eternity.

In the meantime, however, back to work.

(Did I mention I come from a large family?)


[1] UPDATE: this is not to imply that intelligence and faith are mutually exclusive. Rather, intelligence, like any other human gift or achievement, can more easily, I think, cause those who possess a great amount of it–and who are yet to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and the riches of God’s wisdom–to come up with more ways to explain away faith in God and/or relegate such faith to the lesser intelligent. Think of how Christians are generally characterized in secular media and films, and in popular culture. Add a hefty dose of cynicism such as Dad possessed, and the mix can be almost lethal, spiritually speaking.

This entry was posted in Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, Witnessing to Roman Catholics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 9 (Dad’s Story)

  1. He knew his too. Thank you Cathy.


  2. Phyllis, thank you so much for sharing the beautiful salvation story of your father. Something only the Lord can weave the circumstances of one’s life and those around them to fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Thank you also for the mention. God bless. He is so good. We must never give up hope.


  3. Cathy says:

    Sorry, for, the Typing Errors….I am Legally Blind!


  4. Cathy says:

    You must feel, so fulfilled, knowing your parents left this world, Knowing .The Truth!
    I had a different Experience. My RC father died of Esphageal Cancer, after years of Surgeries, Radiation Implants, and Chemotherapy.
    He had many Catholic Priests , visit him with Communion and Absolution, and Last Rites. The most baffling, was the Brown Scapular Of Mt Carmel( Fast Track to Heaven through Purgatory!)
    None, of his Family or Friends, we’re Born Again, In Christ Christians…Not One!!!
    At his Final Moments, I took the imitative , to hold his hand, and recite the Lords Prayer, ad my sisters chimed in, very coppy and we forgot the verses, a kind of a mish mash of Prayer!
    Why Oh Why, did none of know the Lords path to Salvation?
    Everyday, I have regrets, that I could Not Tell him, it is by Christ Alone are we Saved!
    Maybe, in Gods Infinite Mercy, he took him, up to Heaven!
    You see my Father, wore a Christ medal and had Statues and Rosaries around his bed.
    Pure Mysticism, spproved by the Pope!
    When, I knew, I was Saved by, the Blood of Christ:
    Threw away all Holy Waters and Oils.
    Dis-guarded my ancient Ougi Board.
    Took down statues of Jesus and Painting of Mary Idolatry!)

    Now, I a Free!!!
    Who the Son sets free, is FREE Indeed!!!

    Basically, a person must Wait and Pray, for their LOST Ones!
    Maybe, they can see, by your actions, that Coversion, to Christ Alonr, is the Only Way To SALVATION!
    The Truth, The Life, and The Way!


    • May the Lord’s peace flood over you any time you start wondering any ‘what ifs’ regarding your father’s passing. May you be comforted by knowing that the Lord knew your heart then and He knows it now. God bless.


      • Cathy says:

        Thank you for the words, of encouragement,
        It is all up, to the Lord, whether, my Dad, was redeemed!
        At the End of his life, he was very sorry, for his sins. I know he never went to, Confession, receiving Absolution, from a Priest…..Until The End. He only followed the Catholic Missil ( I thought, that was, the Bible!) Yes, the Lord knows, my Heart, and I have been imputed, with His Righteousness! Hallelujah


    • pnissila says:


      I agree with “poetry cottage’s” responses.

      God works His saving grace in myriad ways in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. We just may not know until eternity what part of what we do or who we are as Christians may have influenced someone else to consider Christ.

      Sometimes it’s a message delivered “head on,” so to speak, about sin and guilt and the need for a Savior. Other times, God reaches us through people ministering to us in practical ways in a time of need or despair or even anger. Or maybe we just see a change in someone who has come to Christ and we want that for ourselves, too.

      My oldest daughter tells me that when she was five years old (I came to Christ when she was 1), she had seen a big change in me (from being a lot more cranky than I’d like to admit!) to becoming softer and kinder. She says she knew it had to do with Jesus in my life (I was by then meeting weekly with friends for Bible studies and conducting our kids’ Bible studies from time to time, and just immersing myself in my new-found faith). And that, she says, is what inspired her to ask Him into her heart then. I didn’t know this until she was grown. Her decision also influenced her younger sister’s decision.

      This still touches me deeply and humbles me and fills me with gratitude. What I do remember is turning to the Lord at that time to bring my attitudes and skills into closer alignment with His ways and His Word and the many, many good ideas and lessons I gleaned from listening to good teaching on child rearing from the Christian perspective.

      Of course there will be those in our lives who hear but don’t respond. That we know of. 😉

      Fortunately, there will come that day when our doubts and fears–and tears–will be no more. God also provides this for those of us who might remain unsure about our loved ones until we pass over, too.



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