Mission To Highlight The Bible And Former Protestant Pastor’s Conversion to Catholicism


By Tony DeGol

Theodore Roosevelt once said a thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.

The Bible gave one professor the education of a lifetime, and he is sharing that remarkable journey with the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown.

Saint Benedict Parish in Johnstown is sponsoring its annual mission March 31-April 2 at 7:00 p.m. each night.

The featured presenter, Doctor John Bergsma, was a Protestant pastor for four years before joining the Catholic Church in 2001.

“He told me that he joined the Church because his studies and his investigation of in-depth Sacred Scripture led him directly to the Church because he saw the common roots and the common threads of the Catholic faith in Sacred Scripture,” noted Deacon Michael Russo, who is in diaconal service at Saint Benedict and the organizer of the mission.

The more daunting one finds the Bible, the more beneficial this mission could be.

“What Doctor Bergsma is going to do is walk us through some of the major books of the Bible and show us that it is something that is really open to us and easy for us to dig into and hear the Word of God speaking to us,” explained Deacon Russo, who also serves as Director of the Permanent Diaconate and Director of Lay Ecclesial Ministry and Adult Enrichment for the diocese.

Bergsma, a Full Professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, earned a doctorate in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. He specializes in the Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Through his studies, Bergsma became drawn to the Catholic faith.

“God opened up the window of Sacred Scripture to him and let him see the roots and tenants of the Church are here, and that led him closer and closer to the Church,” the deacon added.

On the first night of the mission, Sunday, March 31, Bergsma will recall how he discovered one Scripture passage after another supporting Catholic teaching, which ultimately led to his conversion.

An overview of Scripture and how it all climaxes with Jesus’ self-gift in the Eucharist and at the Cross is the focus of the second night, Monday, April 1.

The mission will conclude on Tuesday, April 2 with Bergsma presenting an overview of the major books of the New Testament and showing how it teaches the truth of the Catholic faith.

The annual Saint Benedict mission, open to everyone in the diocese, typically attracts large crowds each night.

Deacon Russo believes our busy and confusing world is leading more people to seek comfort by “unpacking” Sacred Scripture.

“This is the Word of God written in the words of man,” he said. “He’s speaking to us. He’s revealing himself to us. A whole new world opens to us when we put ourselves into the Scripture, and we realize Jesus is telling these parables to us and asking us to apply them to our lives. I find that that is causing a tremendous amount of interest.”