Jill and James Sherk converted separately to Catholicism,
though both came by way of a methodical approach, combined
with a final leap of faith.
Jill was raised by her grandmother and aunt in southern China
and had little exposure to spirituality until she joined her
parents in New York City in 1994, at age 11. Jill's father
was skeptical about Christianity, but her mother had a
conversion to evangelical Christianity in 1998.
"It snowballed quickly," Jill said. "Within maybe a couple
months, she'd gone through kind of a weird alignment of
happenstances that prepped her psychology for receiving
It didn't end well. Jill's mother committed suicide just a
few months after her conversion, and her father blamed
"Independent of this, I became a secular atheist," Jill said.
"Because of my dad's narrative, I was also very angry with
Christianity in particular."
Jill immediately identified with secular humanism - a
philosophy that emphasizes the responsibility of people to
lead ethical lives, independent of religious beliefs - after
learning about it in a high school history class.
"Humanism was what was good about life. But the teenage anger
part came out through my atheism," Jill said. "I would go to
Protestant churches and pick fights" by starting arguments at
"I was just so angry and I didn't keep it a secret from
anybody that 'Christians killed my mom,' " she said.
James, who moved to Michigan from Canada in the mid-1990s,
had his own questions. Raised a Lutheran, he first
encountered devout Catholics at Hillsdale College, a liberal
arts college in Michigan.
"It wasn't something I had much interest in engaging with at
the time," James said. "It was something that stuck in the
back of my head."
Focused on completing his master's degree in economics at the
University of Rochester, James said he had little time to
think about Catholic beliefs until he moved to Washington in
2006. He began to read about the church's teachings on human
sexuality - specifically, St. John Paul II's Theology of
the Body and Love and Responsibility. After
finding out that all major Protestant denominations did not
allow use of contraception until the 20th century, James
began to seriously consider the church's teaching on
"That was the first time I had to take seriously the claims
the church makes about the papacy," James said. If the church
did not change its teachings on contraception despite strong
pressure to do so, it just might be right about papal
infallibility, he thought.
James spent a year and a half reading about the early
Christian church and found that "it looks an awful lot more
like the Catholic Church than any Protestant church." After
entering RCIA at St. Joseph's Church on Capitol Hill, he came
into the church during Easter Vigil services in 2009.
Two years earlier, Jill had undergone her own conversion. A
friend invited her to a Baptist church, and what the teacher
there had to say struck Jill as "intuitively true." She began
to speak regularly with him about Christian teachings, while
the example of another woman at the church, Laura,
"dismantled my guard," she said.
"I tried my old antics on her, bashing her religion, bashing
the God she loves - and she just turned the other cheek and
wept with me," Jill said.
After opening her heart to the idea that there might be a
God, Jill made no assumptions about what form "the divine"
might take. As she sought to understand if the divine is
knowable, personal, immanent and monistic, she dismissed
ideologies such as pantheism, polytheism, Daoism, dualism and
"I wanted to know the truth. I didn't want to be emotional
about it," said Jill, who earned her bachelor's degree at
By the end of one year, Jill had decided she was a monotheist
and began to read about Christianity, Islam and Judaism. She
finally realized the next step wasn't a logical deduction,
but a leap of faith - to Christianity. Like James, she
eventually became fascinated by the early church fathers and
recognized the Catholic Church within their writings.
The couple met in 2014, and after a whirlwind romance, were
married at SS. Phillip and James Church in Baltimore April
25, 2015. On their honeymoon, they traveled to Rome to have
their marriage blessed by Pope Francis. James and Jill are
expecting a daughter in January: Chiara Caeli, "light of
Now parishioners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Lake Ridge,
they consider it a blessing to have arrived at the same
church through their own separate paths.