Erica and Elijah Gantt with their pastor, Fr. Tom Buckman, at the convalidation of their marriage on March 13, 2023, at St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green. COURTESY OF GANTT FAMILY
Purchasing a ‘beautiful rosary’ led former Buddhist monk to the Catholic Church
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
For a long time, the only constant thing in Elijah Gantt’s life was his Buddhist spirituality.
He never dreamed he would be where he is today: a Catholic, whose wife just joined the Church at this past Easter Vigil at St. Mary Parish in Franklin, Ky.
“We’ve been on cloud nine,” Elijah said in a recent interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic, during which he and his wife, Erica Gantt, shared their journey.
After a turbulent childhood and young adulthood – in which he endured routine abuse, the loss of his mother in a car accident, bad experiences with a “prosperity gospel” church, and the breakdown of his first marriage – Elijah said he embraced Buddhism.
“I was angry at what I thought God was,” he said.
He said the Buddha taught that dukkha – often translated to “pain” or “suffering” – must be ended. Elijah did not see how Christians could worship a God up in heaven who permitted suffering to happen on earth.
He entered into Buddhism so deeply that he was even ordained a Buddhist monk for 15 years. Though he claimed to be agnostic, he said he continued to be angry at God.
One day, he was skimming Facebook Marketplace and came across a rosary for sale. Though he “hated all things Christianity” he thought “this is beautiful” – so he bought it.
Later, he came across a crucifix for sale, and bought that to hang decoratively on his wall. Eventually he even bought an image of the Virgin Mary to artistically accompany his crucifix.
One night, when he was alone in his home and emotionally spiraling, Elijah looked at the crucifix “on the wall with (Jesus’s) hands all splayed out.”
“Looking at the crucifix, suddenly the word came to mind – dukkha: suffering,” he said. “And all of a sudden, I understood suffering. This was the God of heaven. And he had suffered.”
Elijah said that in that moment, he understood how suffering could exist in a world created by a loving God – because God himself had become man and suffered alongside the rest of humanity.
From that point, he began studying and asking questions about Catholicism. With the help of Fr. Jim Costigan, CPM, a Fathers of Mercy priest who had studied Eastern spirituality, Elijah was able to get many of his questions answered.
Fr. Costigan encouraged him to connect with a parish, and soon after Elijah found himself attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at St. Mary’s in Franklin.
He joined the Church – but eventually started to drift away and did not attend Mass regularly.
And then one day, Elijah met Erica.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “I even told him on our first date that I’d marry him!”
Erica had also had negative experiences with religion and experienced an abusive first marriage and divorce, and at the time considered herself atheist.
The two were married in a Methodist church and began raising their children together, but Elijah started to feel drawn back to the Catholic Church.
Knowing that faith was important to Elijah, Erica “started questioning, being curious.”
Plus, “it felt like the journey we’d been through to reach each other was something divine,” she said. Intrigued, Erica started attending Mass with Elijah, and bringing her children along.
At first, it felt “weird bringing the children to church, it was awkward for them, but as we kept going, Eli would speak about what was happening,” she said. “My son even called it ‘beautiful.’”
“The people in the church were nice, and kind, and friendly,” Erica added. “I didn’t know Catholics would be this nice and welcoming. I started to enjoy going and understanding more.”
Erica began attending RCIA classes and was impressed that “I was inexperienced with religion but wasn’t meant to feel that way.”
St. Mary’s pastor, Fr. Tom Buckman, explained that since the two had been married before, they would need to pursue annulments in order to be married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. With guidance from Fr. Buckman and the diocesan tribunal, they received declarations of invalidity for their first marriages.
On March 13, 2023, the two had their marriage convalidated in the eyes of the Catholic Church and on April 8, Erica became Catholic at St. Mary’s Easter Vigil liturgy.
“I love belonging and seeing how beautiful Catholicism is,” she told the WKC.
Elijah has given every member of their family a rosary of their own, and as a family they regularly pray the St. Michael prayer together.
“It took me a while – but it’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done for my family,” said Erica.
Reflecting on his journey – from anger at God, to purchasing a rosary, to becoming Catholic and finding the love of his life – Elijah is overjoyed to finally be at home in the Church.
“People tell me it was Mary who led me there,” he said.
Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.