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10 Famous Catholics 7 - 10

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973)
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, was born in South Africa in 1892, but after his father died four years later, he and his mother and younger brother, Hilary, moved to England. There, his aunt and mother converted to Catholicism, which annoyed both sides of the family. Ronald (as he was known then) and his brother, however, embraced the Roman Catholic religion. A contemporary and close friend of C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Screwtape Letters, Tolkien learned to use fantasy writing to strategically but subtly convey Catholic values while retaining imagination and excitement in his works.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936)
Born in London in 1874, G. K. Chesterton was baptized in the Church of England. Surprisingly, he wrote many of his famous Father Brown mysteries before joining the Roman Catholic Church in 1922. Those mysteries tell of a quiet, unassuming priest who solves mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, or Hercule Poirot. Ironically, this author didn’t learn to read until he was 8 years old, but he would eventually be a prolific and scholarly author of 17 nonfiction books, 9 fiction books, and numerous essays and poems. His book Orthodoxy remains a classic for Catholic apologists — people who defend Catholicism through the use of logic, reason, and debate — and for literary critics alike.

Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
Dorothy Day converted to Catholicism in 1927. A writer and social activist, she hobnobbed with the literary and social elite prior to her conversion. Dorothy wrote for several socialist and progressive publications in the 1910s and 1920s. She had an affair, an abortion, and a child out of wedlock before giving herself over to Jesus and converting to the Catholic Church. She became Catholic through an encounter with a Sister of Charity, who helped baptize both her and her daughter.

She founded the Catholic Worker movement along with former Christian Brother, Peter Maurin. Day edited and wrote in the Catholic Worker, a newspaper that promoted the social teachings of the Catholic Church, and refuted the Communist paper, the Daily Worker. She was a die-hard pacifist, which made her unpopular during World War II. Many individual Catholics and Catholic institutions (schools, hospitals, and so on) banned her newspaper. Dorothy Day tangled with Cardinal Spellman of New York when he tried to break the gravedigger strike of 1949 by sending seminarians as replacements, or scabs (the incident is described in detail in a 1998 Fordham Urban Law Journal article by David L. Gregory).

She lived a radical view of the Gospel in showing concern and commitment to the poor, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized. Most of all, however, she was a woman of deep faith and conviction as well as service to those in need. Day has the title of Servant of God, which is the first step in possible beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church.

Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR (1933–2014)
Born Peter Groeschel in Jersey City, New Jersey, he was the oldest of six children. He entered the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in 1951 and took the name Benedict. In 1959 he was ordained a priest and later earned a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University. Father Benedict served as chaplain to emotionally disturbed children and taught at several Catholic universities and seminaries, including Fordham and Saint Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie. He also founded Trinity Retreat Center, used by many priests. Author of many books on spirituality, Groeschel also hosted numerous television series for EWTN (Catholic TV network).

Groeschel and seven other Capuchins formed a new religious community called the Congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR) in 1987. They wanted to return to the original charism of the Capuchin Franciscans and work with the poorest of the poor. Being good friends and colleagues with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Benedict attracted many men to this new order.

A frequent guest on Mother Angelica’s live show on EWTN, Father Groeschel became a poplar retreat master, preacher, spiritual director, and conference speaker across the U.S. His psychology training enabled him to evaluate, counsel, and provide recommendations to clergy with various mental health issues. In 2004 he was injured during a visit to Florida in a car accident while crossing the street. Five years later, he suffered a minor stroke. Those and other health issues led to his death on October 3, 2014.


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