Former ‘Catholic Neighbor’ takes her story national

By Monica Sawyn | For The Compass | July 3, 2014

After Compass article describes her return to church, Masi contacted by ‘Catholics Come Home’; interview to air on EWTN

STURGEON BAY — Susie Masi never expected to go national.

Susie Masi is pictured at her Sturgeon Bay home with her dog, Duke, after two days of filming for a Catholics Come Home television series to be aired on EWTN this fall. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)
Susie Masi is pictured at her Sturgeon Bay home with her dog, Duke, after two days of filming for a Catholics Come Home television series to be aired on EWTN this fall. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)

When she agreed last spring to tell her story to The Compass about her return to the Catholic Church, she had no idea her “yes” would set in motion the ripples that will spread far beyond the Diocese of Green Bay.

The April 18 Catholic Neighbor story found its way to the desk of Tom Peterson in Georgia via his Green Bay cousin, Susan Peterson Watts. Peterson is president and founder of Catholics Come Home, the organization that produces television commercials inviting nonpracticing Catholics to come back to the church. He contacted Masi about allowing her story to be filmed.

What she didn’t know until they arrived in Sturgeon Bay June 24 was that she wasn’t to be part of a simple commercial; her story will be the finale in a 13-part series of half-hour shows that premieres Thursday, Sept. 4, 9 p.m. Central time, on EWTN, the Catholic television network.

“When I found out it was to be a series, my biggest fear was that I’d be a disappointment,” the 72-year-old Masi said on the second of two days of filming. “But for the past few weeks, I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit every day to help me do a good job.”

According to Peterson, Masi was “a breath of fresh air.”

It was laughter and tears, and sharing from the heart for Susie Masi of Sturgeon Bay, pictured at Corpus Christi Church in Sturgeon Bay with Tom Peterson, president of Catholics Come Home, and videographer/director Matthew Gore. Her story, which originally appeared in The Compass last spring, is part of a new 13-episode series to be aired on EWTN. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)
It was laughter and tears, and sharing from the heart for Susie Masi of Sturgeon Bay, pictured at Corpus Christi Church in Sturgeon Bay with Tom Peterson, president of Catholics Come Home, and videographer/director Matthew Gore. Her story, which originally appeared in The Compass last spring, is part of a new 13-episode series to be aired on EWTN. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)

“She is exemplary of someone whose life and heart were changed by the Holy Spirit, turning sadness into joy,” he said during a break in the filming at Corpus Christi Church in Sturgeon Bay.

Peterson, as well as the two-man videography crew, said working with Masi has been their favorite part of putting the series together. She was the last to be interviewed. They cited her generosity and willingness to share not only her story, but also her emotions.

“She laughed, she cried, she was wonderful,” Peterson said.

Masi said the experience was much easier than she thought it would be.

“Tom Peterson made it so simple, and the camera crew was so easy to work with,” Masi said. “I found myself telling things I hadn’t shared with anyone before — but I thought, if I can help others come back, it’s worth it.”

Masi had drifted away from the church during a difficult marriage, and when she divorced, she thought she’d been excommunicated. It was when she saw a Catholics Come Home commercial involving a divorced man that she realized maybe there was a path for her to come home, after all — after spending over 20 years away.

She addressed a letter to “the pastor” of Corpus Christi, not even knowing Fr. Carl Schmitt’s name, asking to be directed to the next step. Fr. Schmitt responded immediately and set things in motion. During Lent of 2010 Masi was not only welcomed back, she was embraced by the entire Corpus Christi community.

Because Masi’s very small home made it difficult to maneuver with cameras, the bulk of the interview with Peterson was done at the home of fellow parishioners John and Cindy Hill. Other shots were taken in places where she works and volunteers — chopping salad in the parish kitchen, visiting with Fr. Schmitt in the reconciliation room, praying the rosary with a parishioner, at the Door County Dog Store where she is employed part-time. Other shots of the waterfront, the lighthouse and other Sturgeon Bay sites were used as backdrops for some of Peterson’s dialogue.

Peterson said the half-hour episodes will include stories from people like the woman who had been an atheist for 52 years, the man who was deep in a life of crime and drugs, and another who had been raised a Buddhist. All of them, like Masi, returned or became Catholic after seeing a Catholics Come Home ad.

“Our hope is that these stories will inspire current Catholics to be part of the new evangelization,” Peterson said. The programs will include a short question-and-answer section explaining ways that can be done.

Peterson, who said he was once a nominal Catholic and experienced a conversion of heart during a men’s retreat in 1998, said he simplified his life and launched this new evangelization venture.

“Life becomes an adventure when you say yes to God,” he said.

Masi echoed the same idea.

“I can’t believe all that has happened since I agreed to do that first story,” she said. “People I don’t even know have come up to me in the grocery store and said they read it. I’m doing things I never thought I’d be able to do. And I love knowing I might help someone else come back to the church.”

Peterson’s organization, with materials and ideas for evangelizing, can be found online at www.catholicscomehome.org.

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