Story of a Deathbed conversion

This comes from an article in the “National Catholic Register,” “Deathbed Victories: 3 Accounts of How Grace Conquers Sin, Even in Life’s Final Moments,” November 2, 2019

Dorothy took her ex-husband in at the end of his life because he had no one else. “I can’t believe that your mom would do that!” Edward had told his daughter.

“Dad, that’s not just mom,” she said. “That’s the love of Christ working through her.” Carolyn was 39 by then. Mother and daughter had prayed for Edward’s conversion for decades. “I learned the lesson of forgiveness and mercy when I saw my mom being merciful to my dad over and over,” she explained. Her mother brought a hospital bed into her bedroom to care for him. Carolyn and her siblings lived nearby and helped.

“Dad, we have not really talked about this, but we know you are going to die soon,” Carolyn said one day. “Are you ready? Do you know what’s going to happen when you die?”

“Yes, I’m going to go to hell.”

“Dad, are you okay with that?”

“No,” he said in a deeply sad voice.

“Dad, I’ve [basically] spent my entire life without you; I do not want to spend all of eternity without you, too. There’s no need for that. All you have to do is ask God to forgive you. Be humble, and go to confession.”

“Well, honey, I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” he finally said.

A priest was called in. He came into the bedroom and closed the door. Carolyn considered that her father’s soul now hung in the balance between heaven and hell. “I have no power. I have to submit fully to God,” she thought as she lay face down on the dining room floor with her arms extended out in the shape of a cross. In that moment, she experienced a profound glimpse of hell: a dark, terrible place without hope.

“Jesus, have mercy!” she cried and prayed. “I claim his soul for Christ!” She kept praying until the priest opened the door and invited her and her mother in to pray.

“A new person was there,” Carolyn said. “The look on his face was beautiful, like an innocent child. I was convinced that my dad was right with God.” She told him, “Dad, for the first time, you are truly my brother in Christ!” Carolyn added, “We prayed with him, and he was able to receive Communion three or four times before he died a few days later.” He passed away right after Dorothy finished praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet at his bedside. “We knew the race was won and the struggle was over,” Carolyn said. “It was the most amazing experience of my life.”


The deathbed conversion in Brideshead Revisited is based on a similar situation witnessed by Evelyn Waugh.
I’ve witnessed something similar myself. God is good!


Death bed conversions go clear back to the early Church (although that was “helped” by the fact that in the early Church, it was understood that baptism forgave sins, but Confession was considered a one time sacrament - changed by Irish monks).

It is not something anyone in their right mind would suggest - waiting until the last moment. Not everyone has the opportunity to die slowly while contemplating “what is next”, and change their minds and get their act in order.

God is good! But one should not “tempt” God, either.


I’m always suspicious of deathbed conversions, not because they don’t happen (they do); but that they’re rarely verifiable. The person can’t speak for himself or herself.

Why do you say that? The conversion occurs prior to death.
Once dead, t’s a bit late to be converting.


Person A dies. Person B falsely claims that person A had a deathbed conversion. Person A can not speak for himself to say that person B is lying.

Bearing false witness would be wrong.
However the inability to verify with physical evidence does not mean that no conversion took place.
On a personal level, I’m grateful to have been gifted with what I witnessed. On a higher level, it was always between God and the person who was dying. if I were not there, It would have been just as real.

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Very true, and yet it does happen sometimes with regards to deathbed confessions. One of the people mentioned in that article I linked to had an interview with Anderson Cooper when he had cancer:
COOPER : In a moment of doubt… there might be a moment when you want to hedge your bets.

HITCHENS : If that comes, it will be when I am very ill; when I am half demented, either by drugs or by pain. I won’t have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor later on, because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumors. I can’t say that the entity, that by then wouldn’t be me, wouldn’t do such a pathetic thing. But I can tell you that… not when I’m lucid, no. I can be quite sure of that.

This is true. No one can say what goes on in one’s heart, but it’s extremely poor form to say with any certainty such a deathbed conversion occurs if the claimant wasn’t with the dying person or the dying person didn’t state as such to the witness(es) – with neither of these disqualifications in your case. But if someone were to claim that a person who didn’t explicitly claim they did not convert on their death could very well have converted to Christianity on their deathbed we must also equally state that people – including Christians – may very well have converted to Islam or some other religion on their deathbeds.

Your word could is important as we think about this situation. I agree that, absent witnessing, we may well fall back on conjecture. Christian conjecture, I would anticipate to be hopeful.
We may not know what is going through a person’s mind in those last moments and we pray for others, as we pray for ourselves for the grace of final perseverance.
In accordance with this, we might also pray for the deceased in the hopes that that person is in purgatory Which would have him or her heaven bound in God’s good time.
It is considered an act of charity.
I see from your profile that you are an atheist and hope that, while you might not relate to some of what I have shared, we can have caring and charity in common.
My best wishes to you.

Don’t be unbelieving, but believe!

Only a few are deathbed conversions, but since we live our lives in “this body of death” (Romans 7:24) in a sense all conversions are deathbed conversions.

Sometimes I wonder if Charles Darwin experienced a deathbed conversion. God is merciful.

Ask a priest–they see them quite a bit.

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I don’t doubt for a second that some people convert in different ways including to and from Catholicism. And a portion of those conversions occur as one approaches death. The problem is accepting these second and thirdhand accounts when many times these reports are made by people who have no problem whatsoever bearing false witness so long as it services their particular faith.

The link I gave included some of the more prominent examples of people outright lying claiming conversions that did not occur, poisoning the well where it’s hard not to be doubtful of unsubstantiated deathbed conversions.

There’s a kind of narrative among some religious that the convictions of the non-religious will fold like a cheap tent when faced with a crisis, and a few of them are willing to tell boldfaced lies to advance that narrative. This can be seen in made-up stories about deathbed conversion or hurtful canards that “there are no atheists in foxholes”. Again, some conversions do occur; but considering how often people will lie and dishonor the legacy of the deceased I feel safe in being skeptical when there is nothing more than hearsay from one source on the matter.

Read the link I posted upthread. It specifically sites a false claim of a deathbed conversion by Charles Darwin that was refuted by his daughter (who was actually at his deathbed unlike the source claiming a conversion occurred).

And these rumors persist because some people really want it to be true to confirm what they believe is the true faith. We need to stop spreading these lies. It would be just as hurtful to spread a rumor that someone like Mother Teresa gave up her faith in her dying hours.

My father had a deathbed conversion when He was still able to speak, and still had good, lucid moments when he wasn’t in that half-dream state dying people go into. Our priest heard his confession, profession of faith, etc. Maybe a week later, he stopped talking to anyone, and two weeks after that, he died.


Since cynicism appears to rule, and my lifetime is very limited, I shall waste neither yours, nor my time.

I get the feeling you’re just posting that because you want to challenge anyone having a positive view of religion. Well I have a negative view of irreligion, it’s not a fantasy, when you actually see it happen you know.

it’s just pointless comments that add nothing to the conversation by someone who wants to arbitrarily be skeptical.

I respectfully disagree - I think Mike has a point worth making.

I’m dubious of some (not all) such deathbed conversion stories, particularly that of Dutch Schultz: at least one other source suggested he “came to Catholicism” as a way to cozy up to the Italian mafia. Certainly he didn’t seem to live any differently after he supposedly found Jesus, although his last few hours were what they were.

We just never really know of the truth or efficacy of some of these conversions.
I’m sure they happen; how often, I have no idea.

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Ultimately, these conversions, like all of ours, are in the hands of someone with a lot better judgement than ours.
I’m falling back on Padre Pio: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

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