By Dominique Johnson
It’s almost been a year since Nathan Block came into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, an experience he describes as life-changing.
Block experienced a hard childhood. His mother was a drug addict, and he was put in the foster care system at a young age, where he experienced both physical and mental abuse.
In hopes of finding stability in his life, Block joined the Army out of high school. However, the violence he was introduced to in Iraq “kept that pain and trauma going.” When he returned from his second deployment in Iraq, he turned to drugs looking for an escape.
To get on the right path, Block left Minnesota for Juneau, Alaska. “I moved to Juneau thinking I could get away from it all,” Block explained, “but the drugs in this community are just as bad as Minneapolis.” Block soon found himself homeless and later serving time in jail for robbing a jewelry store.
Block was released on good behavior and then enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), where he would meet his RCIA sponsor Daniel Piscoya. Block said that when they first met, there were many debates between him and Piscoya. “Intellectually, we butted heads. I was post-modern and he was a Catholic apologist,” Block shared. In the beginning, they didn’t see eye to eye, and looking back at the early debates they had Block said, “We were trying to solve the same issues, such as homelessness.”
Piscoya and Block graduated from UAS with their undergraduate degrees in the same class and Block thought they would go their separate ways. However, that summer, while Block was preparing to begin his graduate program at UAS, he found himself unable to make his rent payment. Piscoya heard about the Block’s situation and assisted him so he would have housing through the summer.
When Block asked why Piscoya helped him, he responded, “This is what God tells me to do.” It was at that moment that Block began rethinking Christian teachings. He thought, “If Daniel’s God wants him to be generous, maybe I should learn more about him.”
Block began to open up to Piscoya and let him know that he was struggling with depression. So, Piscoya brought Block to church with him.
“It was the first time I had been in a Catholic Church and I went in with the intention of learning,” Block shared. He added that when he heard Father Mike Galbraith’s homily that day, “I was blown away” and “all the philosophy I had studied prior to this moment actually made sense in the totality of the history of Christ.”
After more conversations about the Church with Piscoya, Block was curious about the next steps to learning more about Catholicism. Piscoya then told him about going through the RCIA program to take the steps towards baptism.
Block said the most significant impact going through the RCIA process was having Piscoya’s guidance. Coming from a life where his mindset was survival, “The fact that someone wanted to sit down with me and go through this, I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around that.”
Last April, Block joined the Church at the Easter Vigil. He shared how the experience of full immersion baptism was life-changing. “When I first put my foot in that water, I had goosebumps going up my body,” and “the Holy Spirit was there. I could feel the transition from old Nate to being one hundred percent humbled down and accepting Christ as my teacher,” Block said.
Before his baptism, Block explained that he had associated people touching his shoulder with abuse from his childhood, but as Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M. held his shoulder to guide him under the water, “I didn’t have that feeling. It was as if all the trauma in my life had completely washed away with that water.”
From the pinnacle of baptism to today, Block says he is continuing to learn more about the Catholic faith using resources from Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Institute. Like other Catholics, he has his struggles. He has found comfort in the sacrament of confession, knowing that when he fails, there is a place to receive forgiveness.
He shared that when the feelings of anxiety and anger pop up, praying the rosary has been his weapon to combat those feelings. “It is because of the rosary that I can be on these extreme lows and then find peace,” he said. As Block pulled his rosary from his backpack, he said, “I think the rosary, in this last year, has been my saving grace.”
Block will graduate from UAS this spring with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He says he looks forward to attending the Easter Vigil this year to witness others who have made their journey to the Catholic Church.