Fr. Conrad L. Kimbrough – Part I Methodist

In 12 Converts on 2015/07/03 at 12:00 AM

I am Father Conrad  L Kimbrough, the L is for Lewis.  I was born in Salisbury, NC on May 10, 1927.  I am a Priest of the Holy Roman Church, to use the proper name of the Church.

I began life in a Methodist family and I remember attending Sunday school for the first time when I was about 3 years old.  I still remember the clothes I had on.  They would look terribly strange today, but they were black velvet trousers with a white shirt with a frilly front to it. I was educated in the faith of the Methodist Church.  I remember my mother, sitting by the fireplace in our living room reading to us from stories of the Bible;  a book that fascinated me from the very beginning.  I went to that same Methodist Church for a number of years.  I remember when I was in the early years of high school saying to some of the young people that we need a picture of our Lord in front of the Sunday school class with a table in front of it with two candles.  The answer from one person that heard me was: “You are a Catholic.”  I thought that was very strange.  Years later I went back to the Sunday school room and there was the table and there were the candles and there was a picture.  But not the one that I wanted back so many years ago.  The picture that turned up on the wall was that of the Blessed Mother, not of our Lord. And I was really kind of shocked by the whole idea.

When I was about eleven years old, I decided it was time I was baptized and the teacher came around one Sunday morning and asked if there was any body in the class room that had not been baptized and wanted to be baptized, and I raised my hand and said “I would like to baptized but, I think I should ask my mother first”.   The teacher said she did not think my mother would mind.  So I consented to baptism that morning. When I got home I informed everybody that I had been baptized. I remember quite frequently I would be told “meet with your parents after Sunday school class” because, we were going to see grandmother.  My response very quickly became, you can go without me or you can wait for me, but I am going to church.  No one could very well say that I could not go to church.  So my will prevailed.

Life went on like that for quite a while. I did not mind being a Methodist.  My hair used to rise on my arms when we sang the Gloria Patri, because I thought it was a Catholic sounding hymn. I remember another time when I was in high school, when I sent in fifty cents to get a prayer book, with all the Latin titles to the prayers: the Te Deum the Venite and all the other prayers  that were traditionally in the Roman liturgy.  I took that prayer book to school with me that afternoon as it came in the morning mail. During the afternoon I remember I was busy reading the prayer book, below the desk, so the teacher could not see.  As I got a little older, I became more and more interested in the Catholic Church.  I had a good friend who had a medal and I asked him how he won it.  He said he did not win it. It was a gift.  I could not understand that because medals were won for some achievement.  He also informed me that Jesus was all man and all God.  I had always maintained that Jesus was half man and half God, but he showed me where that was impossible. His family soon moved away, so I lost that contact with the Catholic Church.  I remember he took me to the celebration that took place after the building of the new Catholic Church, which was about three blocks from my house.  He showed me a cake that was being offered in a raffle for, ten cents per ticket and I could buy a chance on the cake.  I thought to myself,  “that’s a sin.” One should not be raffling and certainly not a church making money on the raffle, so I did not bid on the cake.  The church was beautiful.  I was taken inside and shown the new building.  I had walked past the church many times. I had seen old Father William out in front of it, but I would never pass by him. I would cross to the other side of the street rather than meet him. There was something frightening in a way about priests.

I remember that I was downtown with my mother and we saw two women dressed in long black dresses with white things around their faces, and I said to my mother “who are those women”.  And she said they were Sisters. I thought she must be wrong because one was very old and the other very young.  They couldn’t possibly be sisters.  But I never argued with my mother.  So, all these events (including a girl  carrying a palm branch home from church on Palm Sunday) I thought that made very good sense. After all, it was Palm Sunday.

All of these things contributed to my leanings toward  the Holy Roman Church.

I went away to a Methodist Junior College in Brevard, NC.  I took a religion course which was required. It was conducted by a Methodist minister. He began telling us this, that and other things that was not true.  He said that I got all my religion from Paradise Lost and not from the Holy Scriptures. This I could not accept. It kept on until I couldn’t be a member of the Methodist Church, any longer.  This is not my church, I thought.  One day I decided to go with a friend to the Episcopal Church.

It was a Thursday afternoon, I recollect.   There was nothing going on in the church; it was silent but from the time I walked in the door, I said to myself:  “This is where I belong”.  I went looking for the rector thinking the rectory was next door only to find it was some distance away. I walked to his house and rang the doorbell and said: “ I would like to belong to your church”. His response was: “That is a decision you will have to make for yourself”. I asked if there was something to read – some book – to find out about the Episcopal Church. He provided me a book. And I went on my way.  Eventually I was received into the Episcopal Church.  I was conditionally baptised and was confirmed on the following Sunday.  Those two events occurred on the first of April and the 8th of April, 1945.  Then I continued in the Episcopal Church thinking it was truly Catholic.  I was given a book on my Conformation Day and I began to study it thoroughly.   I began to pray the rosary. I remember trying to find a book with the Salve Regina, which was not in the book, I was using.  I remember I met a lady that knew it by heart, so I wrote it down when she recited it for me.  I started going to confession after several difficulties getting to a priest that would hear my confession.  But, it became a regular part of my spiritual life.  I also embraced other catholic customs which were mentioned in the little Episcopal book I had been given.

I went away to Berea College in Kentucky after I finished Brevard. There I would hitch hike to Mass on Sunday morning, which was strictly forbidden, but I felt like a martyr for the faith.  If I got a ride in time, I would go to the Episcopal church which was forty miles away in Lexington, If I did not get a ride that soon, then I would go to the Catholic Church which was only 12 miles away in Richmond, KY.  I became familiar with the Priest in Richmond.  I remember asking the Priest one time, if I could receive communion.   I was told I was in the right pew but the wrong church. I could not receive communion.  I could not go to confession there either. So I had to go to the Episcopal Church, for my confessions.

When I was about finished at Berea I wrote to one of the authorities in the Episcopal Church, (we did not have a Bishop,.our Bishop had retired) and asking permission to go to the seminary.  I already knew, on the advice of my parish priest, that I wanted to go to Nashotah House, which was quite Catholic.  The man I wrote to did not answer my letter.   I wrote again, and again I did not receive an answer.  Finally, I hitch hiked from Kentucky all the way back to North Carolina to see the man and he said:  “Oh, I sent you the answer to the letter, and it would be all right for you to go to Nashotah house, but I really never got the letters.  He finally filled out a form for me which I took myself and mailed to the proper authorities   I was permitted to go to Nashotah House,  but when I got a bishop, he was elected that fall.  I went to see him in Charlotte, NC. to make sure that I had his permission to attend seminary. He was not yet a bishop.   I suppose he was not in a ready position to turn me down.  When I went to see him I was early for the appointment and I was in the church  praying my rosary when in walked the bishop-elect.   He too was early;  I said to myself: “There go my chances of ever being ordained,  being caught praying a rosary.”  He, never mentioned it and life went on, and I entered the seminary.  The opening day at the seminary was the same day  he was made Bishop of Western N.C.   So I entered Nashotah House that fall, and I loved it from the start.  It was a beautiful place. We had beautiful liturgies.  The Dean of the seminary, though, did not quite totally share the Catholic view of everybody else. When I would go by the deanery I would say in a loud voice, “Personally, I love our Lady”, and the next day I would say: “Personally,  I love the Holy Father”.  And I was told I’d better shut up or I would be thrown out.  Finally, I was called into the Dean’s office, and he said: “I hope you are not just stopping off for a sandwich on your way to Rome.”  Well he was dead before I finally made the step. But at any rate, I finished seminary and was then ordained in N.C.  I went back to Wisconsin, to visit a friend of mine, one of my classmates.  And he said: “I want you meet our new bishop who was the Bishop Coajuter.  Who became the Bishop of the diocese eventually.  So I went to Stevens Point, Wisconsin to see my friend and he said we will have a cup of coffee with the Bishop and then we will be on our way.  While I was sitting there the Bishop said: “How would you like to be the Priest at Swamico?”   I told him I had not come looking for a job and he said I know, but I think you should go to Swamico.   He told me later that when he saw me coming up the walk he said: “That is the Priest that I want for Swamico, (which was a small fishing village on Green Bay)”.  My time there was rather idealic.  It was a beautiful parish, and I stayed there for a few years before I was sent to Rhinelander, Wisconsin,  where I served for four years.

Then, I was sent to Sherry where I was at a retreat house.  And then back to Rhinelander for four more years and then to Stevens Point where I served eight years.

And it was while I was there that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met and voted for the ordination of women.  I was a delegate to that convention. And I remember how upset I was.  How I really wept about the idea of the Episcopal Church falling apart.  It had been very important to me.  I loved the Church of England .I had been to visit the shrine in Walsingham several times.  I had worshiped in Westminster Abbey and to see it all just falling away bothered me terribly.  I remember one day the bishop called me and said I would have to stop complaining about the condition of the Episcopal Church to others.  I said: “I will stop complaining, but in a few months you will have my resignation”.

One day I got a letter from him, saying I understand that you are interested in becoming a Roman Catholic.  I want you to come and talk with me about it.  The next day I wrote him a letter. I went to the Catholic bishop’s house in La Crosse, Wisconsin and was received into the Church and given conditional Confirmation.  And I went to stay with an Episcopal priest friend of mine.  Then I mailed the letter saying I had become a Roman Catholic.  A few days later I received a letter from the Bishop saying: “I see I am too late”.  I really was tired of discussing — There was nothing more to be discussed.



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