East Tennesseans converting to Catholicism on the rise

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- When you think about religion in East Tennessee, Catholicism probably isn't the first that pops into your mind. That could soon be changing with the Diocese of Knoxville ranked among the top in the nation for conversions.

Georgetown University actually ranked Knoxville 10th in the nation for conversions.

Father David Boettner at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville says, “When someone converts in the Catholic church, they're not just joining this church or that community, they're joining the universal church throughout the entire world.”

That's part of the reason Father David says more people are becoming attracted to the Catholic faith.

“People realize they're joining something much larger than themselves."

Pope Francis may be another reason. He captured the attention of most of the world, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but doing it in a way some have never heard before.

“He's very approachable and it's easy for people to identify with him, almost like a grandfather that they feel very close to him and he really loves them,” says Father David.

For Dave Wells, it wasn't Pope Francis who impacted his decision to convert.

"I did a lot of reading, I was a History major, I read a lot of church history, a lot of theology, that's kind of what led me to come into the Catholic church,” says Wells.

Wells grew up, like a majority of East Tennesseans in a Protestant church, and says as he got older, was looking for something deeper. In 1996, he was called to the faith.

"It's not something you can do automatically overnight, there's a lot that you have to learn"

In Tennessee where less than 10 percent of people are Catholic and 75 percent are Protestant he says he didn't give anything up.

"I just grew in my understanding of faith."

It's understanding he says he gained through the Catholic church teachings.

Father David says non-Catholics marrying Catholic spouses also has something to do with the increase in people converting to the Catholic faith. Sacred Heart Cathedral opens its doors to the public. They have mass available in Korean, Spanish and Tagalog.

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