Blog author: rsirico
by on Saturday, April 21, 2012

One common thought many people have about conversion is that a  person who has undergone the experience is wholly different before and after. Surely this is true in the order of grace, in that a man goes from darkness into light, from sin into being made cleansed. Yet, the personality remains the same even if it becomes reordered and redirected, sometimes astonishingly so.  Such was the case with Peter, and with Paul, with Augustine and more contemporaneously, with my good friend Chuck Colson who slipped into eternity Saturday, April 21, at 3:12 p.m.

Chuck Colson

I first came to know about Chuck Colson in the same way millions of others did: in the role he played as one of the “Watergate Seven” and described as President Nixon’s  ”hard man,” willing to get done what needed to be done.  Shortly after the events surrounding the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, I heard of his conversion to the Christian faith and read his now classic journey in “Born Again.” Never did I think I would come to meet this man, much less to eventually count him as a colleague and good personal friend.

After Kris Mauren and I founded the Acton Institute 1990, I invited Chuck to come to Grand Rapids. He addressed our second annual dinner (the  first dinner speaker was William F. Buckley, Jr. who died in 2008).  I became instant friends with Chuck and with his lovely wife Patty. In taking the podium that evening in downtown Grand Rapids, Chuck expressed his amazement in words that I would hear him use many times over the years. He said that when he received my invitation he was intrigued by the idea of a Catholic priest starting up an institution in the midst of the Protestant Reformed “Vatican” of West Michigan. Some years later I had the great pleasure of inviting Chuck and Patty to visit the real Vatican and speak at a Church-sponsored conference there and meet Pope John Paul II.

Over the years Chuck and I shared many platforms and press conferences, vacations and dinners, and worked closely in causes near and dear to each of our hearts. One of the most memorable was to help with the launch of the Manhattan Declaration in defense of Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.

Others will write extensive biographies of Chuck Colson delineating his numerous accomplishments, and deservedly so. I simply would like to express my admiration for a man whose witness to the reality of Jesus Christ and his redemptive power was an inspiration for me to be a better priest and a better Christian. The authenticity of Chuck Colson’s conversion and the integrity of his life were evident to any honest observer. One fact stands out, to my mind, namely that notwithstanding the profundity of Chuck’s spiritual transformation, the core of who he was remained and was purified and redirected. Chuck became God’s “hard man,” seeing to it that things got done that needed doing. Prison Fellowship is evidence of that, as is Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and the Manhattan Declaration – and the numerous other activities Chuck initiated, inspired or so generously supported over the years.

At one event Chuck began his remarks with some words he borrowed from the author of Amazing Grace, John Newton: “… I am a great sinner and Christ is a great savior.” And now, may that loving Savior receive into his eternal embrace the soul of that sinner he so cleansed and redeemed with so great a love. The world is a better place, and I am a better person, for the life of Chuck Colson.

For more information, visit Acton Institute’s resource page on Chuck Colson.


  • JohnE

    Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon
    him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God,
    rest in peace. Amen.

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  • Brian Kelly

    One wonders if Father Sirico ever asked Mr. Coulson to become a Catholic. And how could Mr. Coulson’s sins, of refusing to believe in sacramental confession, for one example, be forgiven after his baptism without his believing in the one true Faith. Confession? What does it matter, if you can be saved while denying it. The Eucharist? You can be saved while denying it. Devotion to Mary? You can be saved while refusing to pray an Ave. Authority? What does it matter? You can be saved by refusing to believe in Christ’s hierarchical Church. Writers on every conservative Catholic website are putting the man in heaven immediately after death. So much for the ex cathedra doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church.” This is a grave sin against charity. What scandal! To Catholics and Protestants! Pray for Mr. Coulson, yes. We can pray he accepted the true Faith in his final moments. Otherwise he is could not have been saved. 

    • Fr. Robert Sirico

      Naturally my pastoral conversations with people are not something I describe publicly. Having said that, you are sadly lacking in an understanding of the Catechism of the Catholic Church along with other Magisterial teachings if you so so blithely dismiss Mr. Colson’s (your spelling is as inattentive as your theology) relationship with Christ. Our Evangelical readers will have to understand that this is evidence that the Catholic Church must also deal with our own form of extremist fundamentalists, for which I offer my apologies. Mr. Kelly is invited not to post again on this website.

      Fr. Robert Sirico

    • Roger McKinney

       In the early days of the Reformation, reformers kept the peace among each other the the saying “Unity in essentials; diversity in nonessentials; charity in all things.”

      Catholics and evangelicals can cooperate using the same formula. The essentials are very few in number.

  • PaulLemmen

    After my time in prison (not during, after so that my decision wasn’t out of escapism or manipulation) I repented of my sins. Being chastised by my sinful actions, I took the long road to returning to the Church, informing my confessor, prior to my confession, of the types of Mortal Sins I had committed so that he could apply to his Ordinary for the proper faculties necessary to absolve my sins, then making a full and complete, very heartfelt confession. That is a return to the embrace of Mother Church and I strive everyday to live a life of a believer, depending on the Grace imparted by frequent attendance to the Sacrament of Confession as well as attendance at Mass and reception of the Eucharist while in a state of Grace.
    A Christocentric life is the Catholic life, the Christian life and Christ, through His Sacraments, draws us unto Himself.
    Please pray for me, pray that I continue the Catholic life as a follower and believer in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer!

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