by Bob Hart
SHAWNEE — Susan Wilson’s journey of faith has had many twists and turns, but it has led her to a destination she first envisioned decades ago.
“I thought about Catholicism many times in my young adulthood,” Wilson said, “but something else always got in the way.”
Born 62 years ago in San Francisco to a Jewish father who had fled Nazi Germany and a non-churchgoing Christian mother, Wilson was raised, as she puts it, “not in any faith.”
As a young woman, she became interested in Scripture and, upon reading Mt 11:28 — “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” — recalled feeling “like Jesus was right there in the room with me.”
Baptized at the age of 30 into the fundamentalist Church of Christ, Wilson soon saw her church undergo a major split, after which she felt “welcomed” into the Church of the Nazarene. She even felt God calling her to Nazarene Bible College, where she would learn to read the Scriptures in their early Greek translations.
Her immersion in the Nazarene Church led to her ordination as a minister and, for one year, she pastored a small church in her native California. Wilson said the experience was rewarding, but something still wasn’t quite right. She moved with her children to Kansas City, where the Church of the Nazarene is based, for more education.
In Kansas City, she met Victor Wilson, a fellow Nazarene minister, currently chaplain at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park. They were married in 2000 in the chapel of the Nazarene Seminary. Through her husband, she became interested in pursuing a career as a chaplain herself.
While doing her clinical residency program at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, she discovered that the position of director of pastoral care had come open. She applied and got the job. Since 2006, she has supervised three other on-call chaplains and four volunteers in tending to the spiritual needs of patients.
“It’s a wonderful match for me,” she said of the position. “I get to meet so many people from different ethnic and faith backgrounds. Through training and with God, I am able to connect with them right where they are, in their place of pain.”
About a third of her patients are Catholic, and the time spent with them strengthened the growing call she felt to convert.
“I’ve found them to be sweet-spirited, tenderhearted people,” she said.
In God’s time
In 2008, Wilson experienced a serious, five-month illness. It marked a major turning point in her life. She read Mother Teresa’s book “Come Be My Light” and was struck by what she describes as Mother Teresa’s “vulnerability.”
“Her willingness to wait, in God’s time, to begin her order . . . it spoke to me,” she explained.
“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how much time I have left,’ because life could end tomorrow. And certainly those of us in my profession are acutely aware of that fact,” she said. “But I felt the Lord very close to me during that time, and I knew I needed to make the best of the time I have before I die.”
She cut back to 32 hours a week at the hospital in order to take part in a training program for spiritual directors with the Benedictine Sisters in Atchison.
And she began investigating the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. The latter came with some reservations and fears.
“In order for me to be a Catholic, I would need to have my first marriage annulled,” she said, “and I didn’t know how the church would view the marriage. I also feared I might lose my job, because they had hired an ordained minister, and I would no longer be that.”
Happily, Wilson’s employer was supportive of both her four-day workweek and her conversion. The church annulled her first marriage, which she said, “without going into details, was a bad situation.”
The RCIA program at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee has been everything she’d hoped, she said.
“We are accepted right where each of us is. There is no such thing as a dumb question,” she added. “It’s a wonderful program.”
Walks with the Lord
As she prepared to be welcomed into the Catholic Church this weekend, Wilson was reflective.
“It took me a long time to be ordained as a Nazarene clergy person,” she said. “I have thought and prayed about this a lot, because it is a privilege for a woman — or a man — to be given such a position. So it is not lightly that I say, ‘no thanks’ to that. I know that I want to receive the real body and blood of Christ, and if I have to let goof some of the trappings in order to do that, I am willing.
“My starting place with the Catholic Church is as a layperson. That’s the reality. For me, clinging to the ordination would be almost a slap in the face of Jesus, when I’m being offered Jesus himself.”
And what of her soon-to-be mixed marriage?
“My husband’s walk with the Lord is more meaningful to him with the Church of the Nazarene,” she said simply. “But let me tell you this: When I started becoming more and more interested in the Catholic Church, Victor got us a statue of the Virgin Mary that’s in front of our house, because she was so important to me.
“That’s not something your average Nazarene minister would do!”