Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2003
A sailor's voyage to Jesus
Marian Centre director left 'dead end world'
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Patrick Stewart, director of the inner city Marian Centre, was raised a Catholic but says he became a Christian only in 1986, the year he accepted Jesus and left his career as an officer with the United States Navy.
"I accepted Jesus on Dec. 31, 1986, at 11 o'clock in the evening. I was 33," the 49-year-old Stewart told a crowd of 120 at a charismatic prayer breakfast April 12.
Stewart also considered becoming a priest but the Lord had other plans for him. In 1990 he joined Madonna House, a lay apostolate for men and women who dedicate their lives to serving others and the Lord. After serving in the apostolate's training centre in Combermere, Ont., and a pastoral centre in England, Stewart came to Edmonton's Marian Centre in 1997, becoming its director in March 2002.
Stewart was born in Germany, the son of a U.S. Navy officer who later became a successful businessman. He, along with five brothers and sisters, was raised in North Carolina.
"As a small child I was always fascinated by God," Stewart said. "I sort of yearned for God."
But he said trying to be holy in a "chaotic" home filled with verbal, and sometimes physical, violence was rather difficult. His father was a "controlled alcoholic" and his mother a strong woman who had trouble with her temper.
Due to family upheaval and changing of schools, Stewart was what he called "a kind of a neurotic little kid" who grew into a sickly, scared young man.
He was sent to boarding school, something he resented at first. "We were from a fairly wealthy family that went to the country club, had a maid, had people cut the grass for us, a privileged life. But the nice things were only outside. You have all the nice things on the outside but you are terrorized, miserable and scared."
In the end, boarding school turned out to be good for him. "It got me away from home, it got me away from a dead-end world that I was part of."
From boarding school Stewart jumped to the University of North Carolina "and for four years I was the lousiest student because I didn't study," he said.
After that, he began his Navy career travelling all over the world, Japan being his first assignment. His superiors and others would tell him about the nightlife awaiting him in every port and the prostitutes he would meet. "I was a bit stunned but that's the way the world was."
On a trip to Barcelona, Spain, he visited the monasteries and realized he was itching for God. "Oh, my heart burnt there for holiness, for goodness," he said. "That's what I wanted. My whole life that's what I wanted." He said he had joined the Navy just to please his dad.
Stewart was in several relationships with women over the years. One with a San Diego woman lasted seven years and led him to acquire property such as a condominium, a sports car and two acres of land so he could build a huge house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
"I had everything," he said. "I was a very successful Navy officer, much to my surprise." Every time he though he would get fired, he got medals and promotions instead. He was a lieutenant commander the last two years of his Navy career.
On the outside, his life wasn't much different from other Navy people, filled with "drugs, sex, and rock and roll."
But his parents knew his life was a wreck and prayed for him. "Despite the problems in their lives, my parents were really people of faith," he said. "They visited Fatima and had their own conversion, a major conversion that changed their lives." His dad went back to Fatima 15 times before he died.
"And my father had probably 5,000 nuns and priests and missionaries praying for me all over the world. He was a wealthy man, a generous man; he gave money and would say, 'Here is some money, pray for my son.'" Prayer works, Stewart said, urging his audience to pray for their children.
In 1985 Stewart decided to get out of the Navy. "It was really a miserable life. I never wanted to be a Navy officer. I really wanted to be an artist."
His relationship with the San Diego woman wasn't going well either. "I was unhappy, my spirit was dying. I was a prime candidate for salvation."
He went home for Christmas in 1986, where he met Father Phillip, a friend of the family. The priest changed his life. Stewart accepted Jesus and now wanted to be a priest, or so he thought.
After leaving the Navy a year later, Stewart went back to North Carolina and enrolled in a university philosophy program. Soon he got involved with the diocesan formation program. Then he talked to the bishop about becoming a priest.
But then he met people who had spent time at Madonna House in Combermere, Ont., and fell in love with their approach to life. "I wanted this, whatever it was."
He soon decided to spend a year in Combermere. "My parents thought I was crazy, my spiritual director thought I was crazy. Why do you want to go there? Be a priest. Be a priest. But I knew I had to go and I did go."
Before visiting Combermere, Stewart went to Fatima with his parents. "That was really providential because I fell in love with Our Lady in a new and different way," he related.
He loved Combermere. "I loved the family. I love this thing of men and women living together, I loved throwing hay bales into wagons, milking cows - things that I had never done before in my life."
Still, Stewart didn't think being a member of Madonna House was his vocation. So he went back to North Carolina to be a priest and was accepted in the diocese's formation program.
"But my group of friends (in the formation program) were drinkers and card players. They were nice people, good people; they went to church, they prayed, they were priests," he recalled. "(Staying there) would have been bad for me."
During a retreat at the university he was kicked in the stomach. His back went out, he lost his breath, he thought he was going to faint. And then he saw a vision of life in Combermere. "There I was working in the gardens, one shower a week," he recalled. He didn't know what to do. The diocese was sending him to a seminary in Rome.
He related his dilemma to his spiritual director, who urged him to give it six months. He did. But things didn't change. During prayers one day he said, "How can I do this? I already made a commitment to this diocese." The Lord said to him, "You go where I want you to go and I'll take care of all the things you worry so much about."
Two weeks later, Stewart was in Madonna House. "My parents were distraught, my bishop was mad, my friends were mad but I went," he said. At Madonna House he had an opportunity to heal from 37 years of resentment.
Stewart has been at the Marian Centre for five years, "continuing my healing work" and "sharing my own brokenness."