‘It was because of a promise’
Gerald Broadwater of Granite City shares his conversion story
By ANDREW HANSEN
GRANITE CITY — At 74-years-old, Gerald Broadwater’s conversion story to the Catholic faith involves a car accident that should have killed him and a promise to his wife that will bring a tear to your eye.
Growing up in Granite City, Broadwater’s parents did not attend church of any kind, and they did not take him to church either. He does remember, however, neighbors who were a strong Catholic family that planted a Catholic seed in him that would not take root for more than a half a century.
Gerald married his wife, Viv, in 1966 in a Methodist church at the age of 18, but after that, going to church was maybe once a year for the two of them. Fast forward to having two children, Machele and Bret, and Broadwater says, “Finally, once our children and grandchildren were baptized Catholic, Viv and I attended St. Elizabeth (in Granite City) many times throughout the years.”
But attending Mass did not make them Catholic. They both remained unbaptized. Decades went by. Broadwater then retired from the Edwardsville School District as a custodian. Then everything in his life changed in 2020. What happened ultimately led him to become Catholic in 2021, receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy Communion. Now a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Parish in Granite City, Broadwater shared his conversion story with Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen and spoke about how his wife made all the difference.
You grew up a non-Catholic, but you had neighbors who were. What do you remember about the Catholic faith as a young person?
Growing up, we were neighbors with a very strong Catholic family, William and Louise Mank, and those neighbors were my only exposure to Catholicism when I was young. The Manks had seven children, and one of them, Virgil, even became a monsignor. I can remember vividly a time when the Manks took me to Mass at St. Joseph in Granite City. I remember the Mass being in Latin, and I also remember being intrigued by the clothing worn by the priests and nuns. I was honestly in awe of the mystery of it all! I also recall the Mank family going through some extremely hard times throughout the years. It was their genuine trust in God and dedication to their Catholic faith that guided them through those very difficult times, and that really stuck with me. Truly, a wonderful Catholic family.
In 2020, your wife of more than 54 years died. Her conversion story to the Catholic faith alone is inspiring. But it did not end with her. What happened?
My faith changed drastically after Viv’s death. Just nine months later, I was initiated into the Catholic Church — fulfilling a promise that I had made to her a few months before her death.
You see, Viv had longed for years to be Catholic — we both had — but for various reasons, it just hadn’t happened. And then in February of 2020, after being told by her hospice nurse that she had only weeks left to live, Viv let us know her heartfelt desire to become a Catholic and to receive the sacraments before the day God would call her home. With that, our daughter flew into action, and thanks be to God, on March 7, 2020, just 16 weeks before her passing, Viv received the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation, and first holy Communion from Father Zachary Edgar in our home. But that wasn’t all that happened that day. Just after Father Edgar initiated her into the Church, Viv asked me to promise her just one last thing — that after her death, that I too would be baptized into the Catholic Church so that we would one day be in Heaven together! I promised my beautiful wife that day that I would do just that — and I did!
You became Catholic in April of last year at the Easter Vigil. How has the Catholic faith helped you grieve better and remain close to your wife?
I’m attending Mass every week at St. Elizabeth, and I’m praying more than ever before! While I miss my wife with every ounce of my being, because of my newly found faith, I am at such incredible peace.
Was there anything about the teachings of our faith that you struggled with and if so, how did you overcome that?
Not really. Our journey to the Church honestly began about 32 years ago when our daughter was married in the Church. Not long after that, our son married into a Catholic family as well. Soon, grandchildren were arriving, and because of their baptisms, confirmations, and attending St. Elizabeth School, we found ourselves at St. Elizabeth Parish many times throughout the years. And then once both of our children were baptized in the Church — more than 20 years ago — they began discussing with us the Church’s teachings, answering any questions that we had along the way, and all the while, hoping and praying that Viv and I would someday be led home into the Catholic Church.
Is there a saint you fell in love with, asking him or her for their intercession and if so, which saint and why?
I was drawn to St. Brendan the Navigator for two reasons: We share an Irish heritage and have both sailed the seas. St. Brendan was in search of the land of promise, and I served our country in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. I felt a real connection to him.
On the day you became Catholic, you were baptized, and you received confirmation and first holy Communion. What was that day like?
It was a wonderful day! I felt so very blessed to have my children, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and several of my grandchildren present to see their 73-year-old father and grandfather being baptized, receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, and fulfilling a promise that I had made to their mother and grandmother.
What do you love most about our faith?
The Eucharist and the saints in Heaven!
When you look back over your journey to our faith, what stands out?
When I was 15, I was involved in a serious automobile accident. I went through the windshield of that car — ending up on the hood — requiring more than 100 stitches in my head and the top portion of an ear being severed. I also suffered a dislocated knee, hip, broken collarbone, and broken jaw. The day after surgery, my doctor came in and told me that I should have died in that accident, but that God had saved me for a reason.
I lived with that all my life, wondering just what that reason was. It wasn’t until my faith journey that I finally came to realize that I was put on this Earth to be married to the love of my life for 54 years, to father two of the most beautiful children on this Earth, to be a grandfather to nine precious grandchildren, and to ultimately be granted the privilege to be Viv’s caregiver in the final months, weeks, and days of her life, and to love her, cry with her, and hold her throughout her sufferings and anxieties — up until the very moment she took her final breath. That was the reason God spared my life all those years ago.
It was because of a promise that I made to my wife in the final months of her life, that I became a member of the Catholic Church, the church instituted by Jesus Christ! I am thankful to Him for every single second that He allowed me to be with Viv, and I am thankful to Him for bringing me to where I am today.