I first met Dallas Gambrell in the late summer of 1998.  I was a 21-year-old sophomore living in Haggin Hall at the University of Kentucky, and Dallas was an 18-year-old freshman who lived across the hall.  Dallas was from “the rollllling hills of Manchester, Kentucky,” and I was from the muddy Ohio River Valley in the far eastern part of the state.

Dallas was an eccentric pipe smoker and a dedicated “Bible” protestant.  We lived in that undergraduate world that is full of spare time and B.S..  The fellas on my floor spent most nights sitting up and talking, and I must have been the first Catholic he ever met, because Dallas grilled me about religion.  I think I presented the Faith fairly enough.  I presented my own conversion story as both an acceptance of the ancient faith as well as a rejection of the particular form of evangelical protestantism that saturates the culture of Eastern Kentucky.  Incidentally, this form of protestantism was the form of which Mr. Gambrell happened to be an adherent.

Though both of us ended up leaving Haggin Hall after our first year, we kept in touch on that enormous campus for the rest of our time at the University.  We ended up living nearby again, he as a resident of a house held on a University lease, and I as the summer majordomo of a new, $8 million fraternity house across the street.  We spent some time together that summer (smoking our pipes and talking religion,) and Dallas graciously helped me move out the manse at the end of it.  During the move, I gave Dallas some Catholic literature.  Later that month, I left for law school.

Later, Dallas called me and told me he was going to become a Catholic, to the consternation of his family, friends, and upbringing.  I was shocked and pleased.  I gave him the name of the only good parish in the area, and prayed for him daily.  Since, he has entered the Church, married (and converted) a wonderful woman, and brought a beautiful son into the world which, for some reason, he named after himself.  He is so zealous that he once punched a fellow in the face for insulting the Pope.

To date, Dallas is my only friend who was a protestant when we met and became a Catholic in the meantime.  We are still friends, and to know him and his story is at once satisfying and humbling.

He and his family live in Iceland and teach music to little Icelandic children.  Maybe someday we will meet again to talk religion and smoke our pipes, perhaps on a porch overlooking a quite field in Kentucky.  That would be nice.  Nicer still, perhaps I will again have the holy pleasure of his company on our knees at Mass.

Advertisements