Called out of Darkness

My Conversion Story

by Meagan Montanari, Class of ’22

By human standards, it’s a miracle that I am alive today, much less thriving as a student at Christendom College at the age of 33. My life is a testament to the fact that God’s light can be born into the darkest of human experiences, even as Jesus was born in the humility of a cave in Bethlehem.

Like many kids, I grew up in a loving family with two wonderful parents, both college- educated, but neither particularly religious. Organized religion seemed like a novelty or something esoteric as I was growing up. I never really gave it much thought.

Meagan’s mugshot

My problems started in high school when I began hanging out with the “bad kids” and getting into drugs and alcohol. You can’t overstate how important good friends are for young people! My parents saw what was coming back then and tried to prevent my downfall, but I rebelled.

I changed schools and struggled with a dark depression that would carry me down stream for many years of my life. The first time I attempted suicide, I was 13 years old and in a tormented place.  Only the grace of God kept me from taking my own life.

I continued down this road to multiple felony convictions as well as jail time. When I look at my mug shot from that time when I was consumed with so much self-hate, I can see immense pain in my hollow eyes. I engaged in occult practices, was promiscuous, and became addicted to pornography. But the more I tried to fill the empty space inside, the emptier I became. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, even though I would have vehemently denied it.

As the years went on, the consequences of my drug use became more severe. The first time I tried heroin, I overdosed.

I woke up strapped to a gurney in the ER, with a horrible pain in my chest after the paramedics revived me. I learned later, a friend happened to come to my apartment and saw my lifeless body through the open blinds. She broke in through the window and quickly called 911.  To this day, I have no idea how long my brain was without oxygen, and yet I have absolutely no cognitive issues. By His mercy, God preserved my life and my faculties. He was with me, even though I didn’t believe He existed.

Most people in my life finally conceded that I was beyond remorse and possibly even rescue. One night, during my years of active drug addiction, I believe I had a vision of demons surrounding me in my room. They were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and completely still, staring at me as I lay in bed. The pure hatred they had for me could be plainly seen on their faces. I got the impression that the message was like, “We can’t get you now, but you’re already ours. One day, you will die and then we will not be held back anymore, and we will come for you. We are patient.”  I will never forget that night, and I can still see the room as I write this.

Moving around the country, homeless at times, I was trying to find that perfect city, where all my problems would magically go away. It was the same story for years, on what seemed to be a perpetual cycle of pain and misery. It’s hard to really describe the intensity of the physical, mental, and spiritual pain of this time. It was a living hell and I never thought I would escape it.

Then, when I was 24, I received a phone call from my mother that would set me on the path to meet God.  She began praying for me and held out hope that one day I would be healed, but she was at the point of giving up. God, in His wisdom, knew that my mom needed something direct and supernatural to reach her. When I answered the phone, she said these words that I will never forget:

“It’s all real, Meagan. It’s all real!”

“What’s real mom?” I asked.

She replied, “Jesus, Angels, Heaven…it’s ALL REAL!”

She told me how she was driving down a busy road in the middle of the day when she saw a blinding light that nearly scared her to death. She pulled over on the side of the road and from the light came a voice that was neither male nor female. It said clearly to her, “Don’t worry about Meagan, Meagan is going to be Okay.” Then, repeated three times, “Pentecost, Pentecost, Pentecost” and disappeared.

When I heard these words from my mom, I instantly believed that God was real. I know now, from a theological perspective, that God gave me the supernatural gift of faith on that day. You see, my mother was the most level-headed person you could ever meet. Everyone who knew her would agree. She was not even very religious at the time. God knew that I would believe her and chose to use her to impart His grace to me.

I had never heard the word “Pentecost” before and neither had my mom. So, I immediately Googled the definition and read it to her over the phone. This was the beginning of my journey. Just as God sent His Son, the Incarnate Word, in to the gloom of this world, so also he sent his Word into my life that day and called me out of darkness.

Soon after, I was baptized in a Protestant denomination and given a Bible, but I still continued in drug addiction and the ways of my former life. I knew that Jesus was real, but I didn’t experience Him yet. I had “accepted Him as my Lord and Savior” like I was told to do, but felt no intimacy. Looking back, I know I needed the Eucharist. The demons in my life were massive and I was so small. Even though I wanted to, I didn’t have the power to stop them.

About this time, I discovered that I was pregnant. And still, my addiction took me back to the darkest depths of homelessness and the daily use of heroin. I couldn’t stop and, again, I was headed straight for death. The utter desolation and despair I experienced is something that I will never forget.

I called to God from the darkness, “Show me where you are! If you don’t, I can’t live anymore!” I thought of suicide again, but God answered me just in time.

Desolate, I walked into a church service and asked for help. They gave me a list of local homeless shelters and The Missionaries of Charity home for pregnant women was the first on the list. I called and Mother Superior said that I should come now. I went right away.

Every day at 3 p.m. one of the nuns rang the bell in the hallway so we could pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet with the sisters. I would spend extra time with them, asking them questions. They were so intriguing to me. I knew about their intense vow of poverty and was struck by their unshakable joy! They radiated happiness and love. I wondered how you could have “nothing,” materially speaking, and be so happy! When they spoke about Jesus, I could tell they were talking about someone they knew intimately. Yes, I instinctively knew that this was real.

God had crushed my pride enough through being homeless, allowing me to see the truth of the faith when it was finally before me, in the white and blue sari of Saint Mother Teresa’s sisters.

Oh, how immense is His Divine Mercy for us! Through praying the Chaplet and the witness of His sisters, Jesus softened my heart and made me aware of His life inside His Church.

I took one of the sisters aside and exclaimed, “You have something that I do not have but I desperately want. Please, tell me about the Catholic Church.”

The sister told me simply, “Well, Peter was the first Pope,” that the Catholic Church was the same Church that Jesus established, and more. She told me about R.C.I.A. I could take to learn more. Without hesitation I asked, “When can I start?!”

After coming face to face with my poverty in regard to my drug addiction, I reached out to the sisters for help. They made it possible for me to go into a drug addiction recovery program. I went through R.C.I.A. inside the program thanks to my wonderful godmother who brought the classes to me where I lived.

Thanks be to God, I was accepted into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2015!

At my first Confession, it took me a while to go over all the years of my life, all the horrible sins. I read all three pages, front and back, to my priest. Sobbing, unable to look Father in the eyes, Jesus gave me the courage to complete it. I felt that the only way He remembered me was the way I was after Confession. Now I understood why Jesus instituted this sacrament: I truly was a new creation walking out of that room.

As Christ was born into my soul in the sacraments, so also I gave birth to my baby boy, Judah, about this time. The Mass reading on the day I took him from the hospital to the recovery program was, “Weep no more, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed.”

I graduated with glowing reports from the addiction recovery program about the same time. And I was reunited with my parents after so many years. My life was beginning to change.

After receiving the Eucharist for the first time, I started to notice that I was changing internally: spiritually, intellectually, and morally.  I started to think and feel differently. I quit smoking after 15 years, was able to stop taking antidepressants, and lost 80 pounds all within a relatively short time. And the thought of my previous sins became repugnant to me!

Nothing can compare to the love that I was feeling from God through the Eucharist. I started thinking more about others than myself. I began to not only follow all the teachings of the Church, but to fall deeply in love with them. Jesus became the object of my desire and the true love of my life. Without Him, physically present in Holy Communion, I could not have conquered these demons that had tormented me all my life. In Him, I found what I had always been longing for!

After becoming Catholic, I continued to passionately study the faith. I couldn’t get enough of the Catechism and the Scriptures. Coming from a life of so much relativism and moral ambiguity, the Catholic Church gave me the respite in the truth that my weary soul so desperately needed.

Through reading the lives of the saints, I came to realize that I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, in the words of Saint Paul. I kept reading because I dearly wanted to learn everything the Church teaches.

Having experienced life without God, the desire to share the truths of the faith began steadily to grow in me.

Despite much reading, I wasn’t able to satisfy my desire to learn about the faith on my own. Ultimately, I knew I needed a formal Catholic education to fully learn the faith, so I could in turn share it with others.

Meagan became active in pro-life work.

My zeal led me to join a street evangelization ministry to introduce others to Christ and His Church. I also became active in 40 Days for Life, praying and sharing my story with women going into abortion clinics. Quite often, people have opened up to me about their struggles and asked me questions about the Catholic faith. Through all of this, I could see God using me to draw others to Himself and to the sacraments, gradually revealing to me a calling to teach the faith.

When talking to people, I always say, “If you knew me before, and know me now, you could come to no conclusion other than the Eucharist is real. Everything the Roman Catholic Church proclaims must be true.”

Looking back, the contrast with my former life is astounding. I have such a deep appreciation for things that so many people take for granted: a shower every day, food to eat, a bed to sleep in, clean clothes to wear, and safety away from the rain and cold.

Most of all, I am thankful for my love and knowledge of Jesus. My sufferings now have meaning united to the cross of Christ. And I now possess the joy that I first hungered for in the Missionaries of Charity.

Earlier this year, three years since my conversion, I was so excited to be accepted as a student at Christendom College! Having looked at many colleges, at the end of the day I knew Christendom was the only place I wanted to go. Christendom’s faithful Catholic education and its stance against taking federal funding sold me from day one. By this Christmas, I will have just completed my first semester.

What an amazing experience it has been so far! I am thankful to study the faith I love so dearly from highly knowledgeable and faithfully Catholic professors. Christendom is giving me the opportunity to build the foundation I lacked for so many years. I could not be here without the generous support that donors give to the college. Please know how immensely grateful I am!

After graduating, I plan to pursue graduate studies in theology to eventually become a professor, so I can follow my calling to teach the Catholic faith to a new generation of young people.

Meagan and Judah

Jesus saved me through His Church. Now, I want nothing more than to serve Him in His body, the Catholic Church, by spreading the truth to others. I want to be like the leper who came back to thank Him in the Gospel. I am also like the servant who was forgiven the much higher debt by the master, and in turn burns with love for Him.

I know the truth, because my transformation can’t be explained away.

My calling to bring others to Christ became apparent when, after witnessing the transformation in my life, my father went back to Confession after being away from the Church for 40 years!

And, after so many years of helping me try many different treatments with little success, my mom became convinced that the sacraments of the Church were real and true. I was overjoyed to sponsor her as she was accepted into the Church this past Easter. She took the Confirmation name Monica as was so fitting, for surely “it was impossible that a [daughter] of so many tears should perish.”

Once she witnessed the fullness of my transformation, she said to me, “I want what you have.” I knew exactly how she felt. The ripple effect of grace has started and I am yearning to draw more souls to Him!

Sincerely in Christ,

P.S. God called me out of my dark life, which I thought was impossible to change, and filled me with hope through the grace of a powerful conversion. This Christmas, will you please help my fellow Christendom students and me share the new life found in Christ with the world? Thank you for whatever you are able to give to support us! Please know we are praying for everyone who makes our Christendom College education possible.

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