Elise Amez-Droz’s journey to the Catholic Church began in a place well known for religious fervor, but not exactly known for Catholicism: Salt Lake City, Utah.
While at a conference in Salt Lake City, Amez-Droz, 24, met someone who was converting to Catholicism, which surprised her, she said. A native of Switzerland, Amez-Droz said the only Catholics she knew in her home country were not very devout.
“I was shocked that, clearly, he loved Christ, and I could see it,” she said. “But it just puzzled me that he was joining what I thought was a dead faith.”
Amez-Droz was raised an Evangelical Christian, and said that in her youth she had no thoughts of leaving her childhood faith.
But in gradute school, she struggled.
“I started really wondering about the purpose of life. It was a really rough time for me," said Amez-Droz. She started to feel as though her life was suddenly without purpose, she said.
In Salt Lake City, she decided to join her new friend for Mass - the first Catholic Mass she had ever attended.
“My first thought was 'well, it's not as heretical as I thought it was [going to be],’” she said.
She kept in touch with her friend, and asked him questions about converting and why he was becoming Catholic. After she moved to Washington, DC, she made many Catholic friends, and noticed “how good all these people were,” and that they practiced virtue, “without having an incentive to do it.”
She initially found their virtue “annoying,” and was “really struggling” with how nice her new friends seemed to be.
Still, she decided to learn more about the Catholic faith. In 2018, she entered RCIA. But before committing to an RCIA program, she checked out RCIA at several different parishes in the Washington, DC area.
“I was like, ‘this is a long process. I’m signing up for something that’s going to last seven, eight months,’” she said, describing her relatively unusual approach to RCIA.
“I wanted to make sure I could connect well with the leader of it and that I was going to be learning the true doctrine of the Church,” she added.
After a few weeks, she narrowed it down to two parishes, before deciding on St. Peter’s in Washington, DC. She said she was intrigued by the Dominican friars who taught RCIA at the parish.
Amez-Droz also appreciated the approach the parish took to RCIA, which was to include past participants who had already been received into the Church.
"I knew every Tuesday night that there would be a group of people who were going to be there every time," said Amez-Droz. "That really made a big difference for me, because it showed me that people were still learning and they wanted to do that journey with us."
Still, even though she had put in that much effort to find the right RCIA fit, Amez-Droz still was not entirely sold on entering the Church until just a few months before Easter Vigil.
She told CNA that she was convinced after a period of intense study and reading.
“It became more clear to me that I could never go back to my Protestant faith, just having read too much history,” she said. She also was particularly taken by Augustine’s “Confessions,” and she was intrigued by “The Benedict Option.”
“I thought [The Benedict Option] was really interesting. I think it really warmed me up to tradition, considering what community life looks like,” she said. Another huge influence on her conversion was Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body For Beginners.”
“That theology made so much sense,” she said. “I was like, this is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard, and it’s from a pope. So that’s what made me think.”
One of the biggest ideological hurdles for Amez-Droz was accepting the authority of the Church. Once she did, however, it was relatively smooth sailing from there.
"As a convert, it comes down to 'do I accept the authority of the Church?' If I do, then everything else is true,” she said, and one must embrace the Church’s teachings.
Amez-Droz chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her confirmation saint, after first learning about her at a retreat.
She told CNA that she appreciated that St. Therese “emphasizes being great by being small,” and that she admired her humility. She also found it interesting that St. Therese died at age 24, the same age Amez-Droz would be when she entered the Church.
Additionally, Amez-Droz spoke French as her first language, the same as St. Therese.
The Eucharist was another major factor for Amez-Droz, and was the reason she decided to stick with Catholicism even amid the “summer of scandal” that plagued the Church.
She also said that she appreciated that the Catholics she knew were open and willing to discuss the scandals, particularly those concerning former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.
"It helped me understand how Catholics were taking it,” said Amez-Droz. “It's true that every time I would hear 'but where else would we go? The Eucharist is only in this Church,’ and I thought that was true."
She explained that the scandals themselves did not impact her decision to join the Church, but did help her discern where to attend RCIA.
"I don't expect the Church to be perfect going forward, either. Ultimately, it didn't really affect my decision,” she said.
“I think the biggest impact it had for me was choosing an RCIA, because I wanted to make sure the priest wasn't involved with scandals himself."
Amez-Droz received the Eucharist for the first time on April 21, 2019 at the Easter Vigil.
She almost immediately broke down in tears.
She explained to CNA that she had spent the day with her best friend, and watched “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, she said, made her feel as though she was “totally not worthy” of receiving communion.
“At the Easter Vigil, I was really happy and I was super-excited to get confirmed, but when it came to communion, it was like ‘this is what it's all about,’” she said.
“I was just overwhelmed that I could share in God’s very person in such a close way, even though I’m totally unworthy,” she said.
While she has only been a confirmed Catholic for a few weeks, Amez-Droz told CNA that she feels entirely supported by her parish, and that she is fond of the structure provided by Mass, and the requirement that Catholics attend Mass each Sunday.
“There’s so many ways that Christ exposes himself to you in life. It’s not like you finding him, it’s like ‘this is part of your schedule,”” she said.
“It’s making me a lot closer to God.”
This story is part of "The New Catholics Project," a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith. Look for additional profiles to come.