I was born May 24, 1944 in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and was baptized Catholic the
following month. However, I was not reared by my parents, but by an aunt and uncle,
who lived not too far away in Carencro, Louisiana. They took me in at the age of nine
months old. They were nominal Catholics, so the only Catholic upbringing I had was
what many Catholics get--Catechism class once a week and Mass attendance on
Sunday. And that was only possible because my father made sure that I got there. But
my aunt and uncle never attended. We never prayed as a family. And we didn't even
own a Bible.
At the age of 14 (in early 1958), we were contacted by Jehovah's Witnesses, who not
only gave us a Bible, but began a study with us. In the long run I discovered that I
had studied more of what the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society said the Bible said
than actually studying the Bible itself without man written aids to help me understand
it. At any rate, the Witnesses managed to thoroughly confuse me and I remained so
until I left them in 1966.
In the memorable year of 1958, Jehovah's Witnesses were going to have their big
international convention in New York City at Yankee Stadium and the people studying
with us were going. They wanted me to attend, but my aunt and uncle couldn't afford it
and my father was not about to give me the money to pay for the trip. As a matter of
fact, both my sister and father tried to dissuade me from studying with Jehovah's
Witnesses altogether, but I would not listen. Daddy even took me to speak to the local
priest, but I would not listen to him either. But my uncle and cousins all favored the
study, so I sided with them.
Also, in 1958 my cousin's wife, who was the one who got us involved in Jehovah's
Witnesses in the first place, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She required surgery,
but refused a blood transfusion and died. Of course, everyone in my neighborhood
was upset, some stating that this requirement of Jehovah's Witness belief should be
declared murder. We, however, felt if she was willing to die because of her faith, there
must be something to it. We knew no Catholics willing to die for what they believed.
Later, I began to question this refusal based on Acts 15:28-29. After all, how could the
apostles and elders be condemning a medical practice they had never even heard of?
You couldn't abstain from something that didn't exist yet. They were speaking of
something going on while they were yet alive and I came to the conclusion that this
had to do with a dietary law forbidding the eating of blood and blood foods. Blood, in a
transfusion, is not digested. It goes directly into the vein; it is not nutritional, nor food,
but carries oxygen and was unknown to the writer of the Book of Acts.
We continued our study and by the end of 1958 at a circuit assembly in Sulphur,
Louisiana, I, along with some other relatives were baptized Jehovah's Witnesses.
I was the only Jehovah's Witness in the whole school. Moreover, there were a total of
only six Protestants. Everyone else was Catholic. I got into many debates. But there
was only one Catholic, who not only knew his faith, but did some research on
Jehovah's Witnesses, who proved a challenge to me. He once gave to me a pamphlet
by Fathers Rumble and Carty entitled "The Incredible Creed of the Jehovah's
Witnesses," which I read, resulting in more doubts and confusion.
My refusal to stand for the national anthem or recite the pledge of allegiance raised a
few eyebrows and I had to go before the principal to explain the Jehovah's Witness
reason for this refusal. He did not pursue the issue any further.
In 1962 I graduated from high school; worked for awhile as a bag boy at National Food
Store in Lafayette, Louisiana. Did some pioneering in Lafayette and later Opelousas in
an attempt to get a ministerial status from the draft board, but managed only to get a
conscientious objector status, after being investigated by the F.B.I.
In the interim, I attended a District Assembly (I think it was in Houston, Texas), where
some people were outside handing tracts. I knew we were not supposed to read
literature from opposers and apostates(the Watchtower Society warned us not to), but I
was curious. I took them and read them; one was defending the Trinity and the other
the Resurrection (not re-creation) of Jesus. More seeds of doubt were planted.
If I were to single out the most significant factor that helped me find my way out of the
Jehovah's Witnesses, I would have to credit history. It is claimed by the Watchtower
Society that there has been a long line of Witnesses that extend all the way back to
Abel. The Old and New Testaments clearly identify those regarded as Witnesses. But
who were the ones after the so-called apostasy instituted by Constantine in the fourth
century? Were they the Arians, Albigensians, Anabaptists, Waldenses, Mennonites,
Hutterites, Amish, the Reformers, the Calvinists? Some of these may have agreed with
the Watchtower on a couple of points (no Trinity and no participation in war), but some
of the others believed in the immortality of the soul, hell-fire; some even believed in the
Trinity, infant baptism, church holidays and feasts). None of them believed in
everything Jehovah's Witnesses believe today. Just to call them Jehovah's Witnesses
doesn't make them so. And were they alive today, would they agree that they were
More problematic was the fact that Jesus came and established his church (Matt.
16:18), promising that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Also, in Matt.
28:18-20 Jesus promised to be with the Church always. And yet we were asked to
believe that the church, which began apostatizing after the death of the apostles, had
fully done so by the time of Constantine in the fourth century and that we must wait
until Charles Taze Russell came along in 1879 to restore it. It just didn't make sense to
me. I could see people falling away from the Church, but not the whole Church falling
away from Christ. After all, didn't Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide it?
(See John 14:25 and John 16:13)
The Watchtower was asking me to believe that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit had
failed in their mission and yet a man, Russell, did not. And I was also supposed to
believe that God gave mankind the Bible, yet from the fourth century until Russell, no
one could understand it properly. Such a huge gap! Why, therefore, did God not wait
until the latter 1800s to give us the Church and the Bible? Wouldn't that be a more
logical thing for him to have done? No, there was no gap. Ephesians 3:21 proves that
the Church did not apostatize, did not pass away.
The final straw for me came in 1966. I had entered Bethel (the world headquarters of
Jehovah's Witnesses) in Brooklyn, New York in 1965. I wasn't there very long, only
about six months all total. And everything seemed to happen during that period: a
water shortage, a number of strikes, the first blackout and a blizzard. The blackout
caused quite a stir at Bethel (the fear of the unknown--were we about to be attacked?)
Some members remembered blackouts during World War II. Was this a precursor to
Armageddon-the end of the world? Of course, the famous question afterwards was
"Where were you when the lights went out?" Personally, I was in the Bethel Library
and couldn't see a thing until someone came up with a flashlight to lead us out. What a
pretty sight it was outdoors, however. The only light that shone was the full
moon--God's created light. I still remember it as if it were yesterday. Also, I recall
attending an "impromptu" assembly at Yankee Stadium because some missionary
who had recently been released from Chinese prison was scheduled to speak.
While there I performed menial tasks, including window cleaning, which I despised. I
have a fear of heights, so you can imagine what I felt--even if it was cleaning from the
inside, one had to climb on the window's ledge, although strapped. Another "fun" job
was being on the receiving end of the hot dishes coming out of the dish washer.
Also, at Bethel, I came across some "evil slave" or "apostate" literature (in all
places--their library). I had doubts all along, but this just solidified them. When I began
to openly express my doubts, someone reported it to the higher-ups and I was called
"on the carpet." Numerous questions were asked. I told of my discovery of the "evil
slave" material and the Bethel Servant nearly hit the ceiling. He wanted to know why I
was reading that. In turn, I asked him why it was there in the first place. He said for
reference only and that if I had been spending my time reading more of the Watchtower
literature, this would have never happened. He said I sounded more like a Catholic
than a Jehovah's Witness and begged me not to return to the Church. He also wanted
to assign two brothers to study with me; he felt I needed to start
from scratch. But I didn't want anything more of it. I made up my mind to leave; no
more studies. I just packed my bags; told no one; left my key on the front lobby desk,
walked out and returned to Louisiana.
The Watchtower Society wasted no time contacting my local congregation, the
Lafayette, Louisiana West Unit. I refused to appear before a judicial committee and was
promptly disfellowshipped for apostasy because I returned to the Catholic Church,
from whence I came. Nor did they waste time in notifying the local draft board, but it did
not rescind my conscientious objector classification. But that did not shake my
resolve, although it meant my aunt and uncle and cousins and Jehovah's Witness
friends would no longer have anything to do with me (I was shunned).
Just prior to my return, my sister told me that she had made a Novena to Our Lady of
Perpetual Help, for my return to the Church. She attributes my coming home as an
answer to her prayers. So, I found needed support from my sister and father. Plus, I
made new friends.
For the sake of brevity, let us fast forward to what I do today. Reading the Bible one
night, I ran across the classic passage in Matthew 25:35 and 44-46 admonishing
believers to feed the hungry. Sometimes you can read things and it never really
registers. And then sometimes you say, "Oh my goodness--has this really been there
all along? I've seen it, but it never jumped out at me before." At the time I had a car, a
home and a job as a tour guide at a historic village in Lafayette, Louisiana. I chucked it
all in 1989, after meeting the director of Good News Ministries at a Catholic School for
Lay Evangelists in Pensacola, Florida. Being single, it was not too hard to do. He said,
"Come and see." Two weeks later, I was working in the Soup Kitchen in Tallahassee,
Florida. Today, I manage it.
After fixing food all morning, I spend my afternoons volunteering at the State Library of
Florida. I'm also active in Prison Fellowship and Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church,
where I am a Lector and do adoration and other church activities. I also am a Secular
Franciscan. So, here we are, thirty-eight years later, and I'm still Catholic. No more
doubts. No more confusion. Just peace and contentment and a sense of being and
doing what I'm supposed to.
|A Fallen Away Catholic Comes Home by Claude Kenneson