by Nerina du Plessis

The story of my conversion to Catholicism was accompanied by many blessings along the way – those which I call ‘gifts from God’ that facilitated the conversion process. I was brought up in the Dutch Reformed Church and didn’t know much about Catholicism, except that they “worshipped Mary” and had statues in their Church. I never really bothered about church, although I knew something was missing in my life. I had tried a few different churches but none of them felt “right”. I had, on occasion, attended a Catholic Mass.

Each time, precisely the same thing happened to me. A feeling of calmness and peace came over me every time I entered a Catholic Church. Somebody said to me it had to be the Holy Spirit, and I dismissed this thought. But I have to admit it never happened in any other church.

Time went by and while browsing the internet one day, I visited the website of a local Catholic Church. This resulted in my making an appointment with priest. He was very patient and answered all my questions and suggested I attend as many Masses as possible and invited me to send him emails with any questions I wish to have answered. He also suggested I get a book for my own use to record questions and things I wondered about. I called it ‘My Journey’.

After attending a few masses, and each time feeling that same calmness and peace, I enrolled in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Unfortunately I felt that I had to withdraw after sometime, as I was going through a divorce. It didn’t seem appropriate at that stage to continue because my (then) husband was definitely not going to babysit my daughter once a week while I attended ‘Catholic School’.

Later, I joined the next RCIA course and it felt really great to be back. My Journey book travelled with me to every session. I remember very clearly that on some days I mailed the co-ordinator, Le Roux, up to 5 times asking questions. He was very patiently explained things until I was completely satisfied with the answer. He has an extensive knowledge of the Catholic Church, beliefs and practices. Although I was alone, in the sense of being the only member of a Dutch Reformed family wishing to explore the Catholic possibility and my friends and family often not understanding this, the essence of RCIA is that you are not alone on your journey. It is an environment filled with support and advice. I was fascinated by all the different views regarding Catholicism. As an adult, one understands things differently and one does not unquestioningly accept the information and facts provided to you.

I had the best sponsor one could ever pray for in Ethné Stevens. She was always ready to assist and help in any way possible. She has always had, and still has, amazing stories of her experiences in and around the Church, unlimited knowledge of Church history and nobody could explain the concept of sainthood as well as she does. This was the First Gift I received from God, for which I am extremely grateful.

At the end of October 2014, I woke up one morning with an overwhelming urge to help people – I have no idea how this happened overnight – strange but true.  The urge inside me was so powerful, that I actually thought I was dreaming for a moment. That was my Second Gift from God.

Immediately all kinds of ideas went through my head as to how I could help – knitting scarves for the poor and cooking soup – none of which I had done before. I decided to take a look on the Church’s website and the first thing that caught my eye was the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After meeting with one of the facilitators, I was amazed to hear about all the activities in and around the Society. These people truly put their whole hearts into their calling. Before the end of the meeting, I was convinced that this was the place for me. I have to admit that I doubted whether I would be able to make a real difference because I was just Nerina. Could I really mean something to someone? And, the answer I have found, is a definite YES!

Now, the Society is playing an irreplaceable role in my life. After becoming a Vincentian about 6 months ago, I have learned a great deal about others and their circumstances, but I have also learned a great deal about myself, the strength inside me and my abilities to assist those in need. I discovered that a prayer is all that is needed, together with faith and hope. As we Vincentians say: “Serve in Hope”.

When attending Mass, I cannot wait to peek into the Saint Vincent de Paul basket, just to see what our needy people will be receiving in their food parcels, so generously donated by the parishioners, for which we are very grateful. The same goes for all the clothing so abundantly given by the parishioners. One of the most wonderful feelings in the whole world is to be able to give a set of clothes to somebody dressed in rags, and to see the joy on their faces. I have always known that poverty is all around us, but now at the Society, it has become a hard and cold reality to me. You as a Vincentian need to do the best you possibly can, and the rest you have to leave in God’s hands and simply keep on praying.

It is humanly impossible to help everyone with all their problems, and you have to learn to deal with that fact. As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one”. It is amazing to me that my conversion to Catholicism became such a gift which led me to receiving more gifts – particularly, living in generosity and hope which has given me a newfound purpose.


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About the Author

Nerina du Plessis

I have been living in Cape Town for almost 14 years now and this definitely became home. I have studied BA (Political Science) and I have been working as a legal PA for the last 6 years. I love reading, watching a good movie and spending time with my 8 year old daughter. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has a special  place in my heart and I’ll always be a Vincentian. Becoming Catholic is the best thing that has ever happened to me ….