Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy (A Book Review)

Father Donald H. Calloway, MIC, has written an autobiographical book about his conversion from a drug-addicted teenager with a criminal record to a well-spoken priest responsible for helping to form young men for the priesthood. He now travels quite extensively bringing the moving and inspiring story of “No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy” far and wide.

This book has an important message for a wide audience, both worldly and religious, but I will tell about reading it from a mother’s perspective. Father Calloway and I don’t have much in common except for being born in 1972 and loving the beach. I don’t as a general rule read autobiographies, books by priests, or conversion stories, and yet this narrative had me from page one.

Father Calloway introduces himself as a priest with an important testimony about the Divine Mercy and the radical changes it has brought into his own life. Then he dives into the midst of his teenage drama as he is being caught by the military police in Japan. He is a migrant military-child-brat who loves surfing, girls, and drugs; he will steal without compunction to get what he wants. The story is unbelievably captivating. As I read this I was thinking to myself that here is this now-very-educated, spiritual, and well-spoken man telling this story, relating the thoughts of his younger self that was so ignorant, worldly, and unsocial; and I was wondering how on earth this was possible.

As he relates the details of his upbringing, it is obvious that the constant uprooting from place to place and step-father to step-father has a great deal to do with his rebellion from his parents. Yet he never blames his mother for the hard decisions she had to make, and gives her credit for always taking him back with open loving arms, and patiently waiting for him to come back both to her and to God. He compares her to Saint Monica, who prayed endlessly for her son Augustine; he was a great sinner who eventually became one of the most esteemed of the Church’s scholarly saints. His mother’s present husband he compares to Joseph, who quietly and loyally supported Mary and Jesus.

About three-fifths through, after reading how he went from one rock bottom to another and wondering how low he has to go before he changes, the reader is hit by the same “Divine two-by-four” that hit Father Calloway in the head. One night he stays in his parents’ home alone and reads a book about Mary that they had in their bookshelves. He reads all night and then in the morning tells his mother he needs to speak to a Catholic priest. Seeing the extraordinary event that has happened to him, she tells him to RUN to the military priest. When he goes to Mass he miraculously understands the mystery of the Eucharist and that day is converted.

When I read this part, I was sitting on the beach watching my three-year-old play on the playground, surrounded by other moms and children. The way his conversion happens is so beautiful and amazing it was all I could do to not freak everybody out by crying right there. He makes it clear how a Catholic conversion through Mary and Jesus is fundamentally different from what is understood as the Evangelical-defined “born-again” experience. From that point, Father Calloway details the journey from his calling to the priesthood to where he is now.

The whole story was so compelling and insightful. I would recommend it to any teen or adult.

For more information see the author's website at

Father Calloway sent me this book in exchange for my honest review.


Loren Christie said...

This book sounds amazing.To every human being there is more than meets the eye. I can't remember where I heard that, but I always think of it, especially in my work involving teens.

Leticia said...

Great review, Elizabeth. I just finished it myself and I am glad I didn't read it on the beach; my child could have disappeared without me looking up from the book. Yes, I cried too!