For David Block, becoming Catholic meant he could fully share in his faith with his wife
At 73, David Block should be basking in his retirement years. He has two grown sons, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way. He’s run a successful business. You’d think he’d be lounging in his ridgetop home in Woodland enjoying the view of the Lewis River Valley below.
But although his grandkids hadn’t just been by, a recent visit to his home found crumbs left by a young eater on the dining room table and a highchair nearby. A box of crayons sat on the kitchen counter. Block himself sported a small, forgotten heart sticker on the front of his long-sleeved shirt and a slap bracelet on his wrist, both bestowed on him by a little girl.
He apologized if things seemed a little chaotic. He and his wife, Juliann McCarthy, are in the early stages of becoming foster parents to two young kids.
“We believe God put these two children in our lives,” Block said. “And we just love them to pieces.”
It’s just one way the couple has seen the Holy Spirit guide them over the years in their marriage and faith journeys.
Block was raised in a Lutheran church and then other nondenominational Christian faiths. He was involved in Youth for Christ, an evangelical youth ministry, as a teen and grew up grounded in Scripture. He can cite chapter and verse.
Ask him what Bible passage is particularly important to him and he recites John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
“He believes in the living word. It’s not a dead thing to him,” said Father Raphael Mkuzi, parochial vicar of St. Philip Parish in Woodland, where Block and McCarthy are parishioners. “He told me he sees the Gospels as Jesus speaking now.”
Block is very inquisitive about the church in general, Father Mkuzi said, and the two will regularly talk Scripture. As a newer Catholic, received into the church in 2013, Block often reads the Bible and does further online and catechism research on the Catholic understanding of it.
Block has long loved learning. His college degree is in elementary education, and he taught for a year before the Vietnam War led him to join the Navy Reserves and become a Marine Corps officer. After three years in the service, he got out and went into sales for IBM.
Block became a stockbroker, then owned a successful gold broker business before he decided to retire and move to Woodland to be closer to his kids and grandkids.
Now he’s come full circle to his teaching origins, substituting in the Woodland School District for the enjoyment of it.
“I have a real good relationship with the kids,” he said.
“He’s a really good teacher,” said his wife, who is a school psychologist.
Block also teaches faith formation classes to teens at St. Philip. Plus he’s an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and serves on the parish finance council and as a greeter. McCarthy is the parish RCIA coordinator and just finished up a term as parish council chair.
David Block serves as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at St. Philip Parish in Woodland. He’s known as a gregarious, involved member of the parish. Photo: Stephen Brashear
A long road
But joining the Catholic Church was not an immediate or easy thing for Block. He first began considering Catholicism after meeting McCarthy, who is a lifelong Catholic. Block’s first marriage had ended in divorce.
He and McCarthy talked about the role of religion in their lives early on in their relationship.
“Dave was not as open to the Catholic faith when we first met as he later became,” McCarthy said. “It was clear he didn’t want to be a Catholic, and I didn’t feel like it was my role to force him into that. But I also didn’t want to stop being a Catholic.”
After they got married in 1992, and for most of their marriage, they would go to two services each Sunday, one Catholic and one Protestant. Block liked the Catholic parish they attended.
He also remembers having good conversations with McCarthy’s mother about the Catholic faith. She gave him Scott Hahn’s conversion memoir Rome Sweet Home to read. But he had hang-ups about Catholicism he couldn’t fully get past.
The pair had moved to Phoenix for work in 1992, and did well in their careers. But their marriage struggled for various reasons, and the two divorced after seven years.
Over the next decade, they kept in touch on and off. A series of events they now term “miracles” kept reconnecting them: McCarthy’s car being broken into, Block having eye surgery, McCarthy being hospitalized after a car accident. Each incident brought them together, even though Block had started dating another woman and was preparing to propose.
Finally, on a full moon evening, McCarthy came over to Block’s home and they sat outside and talked about getting back together.
“It was after talking to her, I was just laying there one night — and it was really the Holy Spirit, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it — that just said, ‘If you do get married to this other lady, it’s just not going to be right.’”
After that, things fell into place. Block had already bought his Woodland home. McCarthy easily sold her home in Phoenix and got out of her work contract to move back with him. They remarried on July 29, 2012.
“Juliann coming to me and the Lord talking to me,” Block recalls, all seemed preordained. “Believe me, you know when the Holy Spirit is talking to you.”
“Whether it’s financial or spiritual, the whole thing, God has really directed my life even when I was making silly decisions.”
Father Jerry Woodman poses with David Block and Juliann McCarthy on Feb. 14, 2014, the day that Block and McCarthy had their marriage convalidated at St. Philip Parish in Woodland. Photo: Courtesy Juliann McCarthy
Block wasn’t going to hold back anything in this second chance at marriage with McCarthy. If their two different faiths had been a stumbling block before, they weren’t going to be this time around. Block was ready to become Catholic.
He went through the RCIA process and joined the church at Easter 2013. After going through the annulment process for his first marriage, Block and McCarthy had their marriage convalidated, or blessed, in the Catholic Church on Valentine’s Day 2014.
Receiving Communion is very important to Block, and now as a Catholic he can do that at Mass, where he sees a higher reverence for the body and blood of Jesus Christ. “We’re really sharing the Lord and what he did for us,” he said. “Not being able to do that before just wasn’t right.”
“We get to live together in our faith, and I think that … solidifies us and helps us get through any difficulties that we have,” McCarthy said. “Having Dave be my partner in life and in the church has opened up the church for me.”
The two are happily involved in their small, close-knit parish at St. Philip.
“St. Philip’s is a pretty special community, just very accepting and very loving,” McCarthy said. “Our ability to be in that community with our friends and working together in our faith has strengthened us.”
Block fits right in.
“David is very effusive,” said Father Jerry Woodman, St. Philip’s former pastor, who now leads its Hispanic ministry. “He is one of our best greeters. And he’s a hugger.”
“Even the most standoffish person, he can somehow get through. He’s just one of those ‘really glad to see you’ people.”
Father Woodman recalls how Block has challenged older kids at the parish to recite Scripture verses by heart, offering them a small financial incentive if they can.
Because Block had such an active faith as a child and teen, he feels it’s essential to help provide that for young members of the church today. That’s why he’s gotten into teaching faith formation classes.
From his Protestant-raised perspective, Block wishes Catholics had “a more personal relationship with Jesus,” dove deeper into the Bible, and embraced spontaneous prayer more. But he thinks that in essence, the differences between Catholics and Protestants come down to “a big misunderstanding.”
“Protestants and Catholics are not that far away. They really aren’t,” he said. “I think we’re all believers.”
Block and McCarthy believe God guided them back together, and to take in the two small children they are fostering.
“To me it’s an expression that they live the message, that they live the Gospel — it’s a testimony of their faith,” Father Mkuzi said of their being foster parents.
“We are open to them staying here for as long as they need us,” McCarthy said. “As long as they need us, this is their home.”
Northwest Catholic - April 2018