Would Rich Mullins Have Become Catholic?

I discovered this link from the Rich Mullins Wikipedia discussion page. Some of the information here is not widely known and I think further illustrates the fact that Rich did indeed plan to enter the Catholic Church before he died.

Would Rich Mullins Have Become C

“I have to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.”
These words of Rich Mullins, a Christian musician who died in a car accident on September 19, 1997, days before he planned to join the Catholic church, will never fade in Fr. Matt McGinness’ memory.
“It’s what will always stick with me,” says Fr. McGinness.
In the Beginning...
Fr. McGinness, vocations director of the Diocese of Wichita, and Mullins became friends while Mullins attended Friends University in Wichita. Fr. McGinness says Mullins asked him to give him instructions in the faith, but Fr. McGinness told him it would be more appropriate for him to attend RCIA sessions at his local parish, Blessed Sacrament.
Five years later, Fr. McGinness says he received that call from Mullins saying that he could no longer wait to receive the Eucharist. Fr. McGinness arranged for Mullins to be received in the church in a private ceremony on September 22, but the fatal car accident irrevocably changed that plan.
Those RCIA sessions in 1992 may have been the formal education that Mullins received in the faith, but his interest reached back nearly 20 years.
“He was always interested in the Catholic Church and that never left him,” says Jim Smith, chaplain and professor at Friends University, who was a close friend of Mullins and has written his biography, An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (Broadman & Holman Publishers).
Mullins lived with Smith and his family in their attic apartment for more than two years, including the time he was attending RCIA classes.
Drawn in by the Depth of Brother Sun
Smith says when Rich was about 20 years old, he saw the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon and was “blown away.” Mullins was struck by St. Francis of Assisi’s radical trust in Christ, says Smith.
Keith Bordeaux, who worked with Mullins promoting his albums and scheduling tours, says Mullins always said that he admired St. Francis immensely, but was "too wimpy" to join the Franciscan Brotherhood. Bordeaux wrote in a statement shortly after Mullins’ death that Mullins had taken "unofficial" vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. He and his friend, Beaker, began an informal group they called the Kid Brothers of St. Frank where they mentored young musicians to live simply and to glorify God through their music.
Mullins adopted St. Francis’ instruction to preach the Gospel through example.
Although he had multiple gold records, song-of-the-year awards, and other successes, Mullins lived out his vow of poverty by taking an annual salary of the average working person (about $24,000) and giving the rest of his money away to his church and other charities.
He never married and strived to make the love of God his center. Bordeaux wrote, “(Rich Mullins) longed to know fully who he was in Christ and to increase his faith through his obedience. And he trusted St. Bonaventure when he said, ‘That heart is free that is held by no other love than the love of God.’"
Other saints like St. Patrick and Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton also influenced Mullins’ spiritual growth, Smith says.
Mitch McVicker, who quickly became friends with Mullins while they were students at Friends University, performed with Mullins and lived with him for almost three years before the car accident.
McVicker says, “For as long as I knew him, he was always talking about becoming a Catholic. He probably felt more comfortable at that kind of service (Roman Catholic Mass) than anywhere else. He was drawn to the liturgical stuff.”
Mullins first introduced himself to McVicker in a class because he thought McVicker looked like the perfect person to play “Frank” in a musical he was thinking about writing based on the life of St. Francis.
Mullins and McVicker collaborated and wrote the musical, Canticle of the Plains, that takes St. Francis’ life and transposes it into the American Old West.
Catholic Themes in Rich's Life and Work
Canticle naturally contained Catholic theology, like in the song "Oh My Lord," which are the stations of the cross. Mullins also wove Catholic images throughout his CD A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band; for example, the song “Creed” uses the Apostle’s Creed as the text for the verses. On his collection CD titled Songs, many of the photographs feature Catholic sacramentals, including a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mullins said in an interview after its release that some of his Protestant fans were upset by the images.
In a promotional video, "Pursuit of a Legacy," produced in 1994 by Reunion Records, Mullins defended veneration of Mary when he said, “I’ve often thought, you know, of people worrying with the Catholic thing of revering Mary. Maybe it’s not that they revere Mary too much, maybe it’s that all of us revere each other too little.”
McVicker and Mullins lived together in a modest trailer home on a Navajo Nation reservation near Window Rock, Arizona, at the time of Mullins’ death. They attended daily Mass frequently at the Franciscan mission church on the reservation.
Fr. McGinness says Mullins told him some of the Protestants he worked with on the reservation were uncomfortable that he attended Mass. Apparently, Mullins told them if they could provide him with a comparable daily Scripture study, he would consider it. Until then, he would continue going to Mass, Fr. McGinness says.
The Controversy
Whether Mullins would have actually gone through with his verbal commitment to join the Catholic church remains a quiet controversy among his friends.
“I think some Catholics were too quick to turn him into a poster child for Protestant conversion to Catholicism,” Smith says.
“He called me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to join the church on the Feast of St. Francis?’ but it wasn’t his personality to be that specific. He blew with the wind. He could have changed his mind that day,” says Smith.
Fr. McGinness says a lot of Mullins’ fears that he discussed with him were about losing his primarily Protestant audience.
Smith agrees and says, “Rich was well aware of the price he would have to pay if he joined the Catholic church. It would have been very difficult for his family and painful for a lot of fans.”
Smith says he thinks some ecumenical good can come from the fact Mullins died before possibly joining the Catholic church: both Protestants and Catholics can still lay claim to Mullins and his music.
“I think what Rich would be saying is appreciate each other, work as one,” says Smith.
Fr. McGinness sees Mullins’ premature death differently. He says if Mullins had converted, it would have forced his Protestant audience to make a decision.
“Some of them would have had to get over their prejudice. It would have been another fork in the road for them, just like it was for Rich,” he says.
McVicker says he thinks a big reason why Mullins delayed joining the church was simply because he had such a hectic schedule. “We would be someplace else on Easter rather than where he needed to be to join the church. The lifestyle of doing music is your schedule is set six months to a year in advance. Rich never planned (his personal life) that far in advance.”
Smith says he doubts Mullins ever would have had the certainty necessary to make the act of profession and formally join the Roman Catholic church. “The fact is he went through RCIA and didn’t do it, he never made a definitive decision,” says Smith.
“There was always something that seemed to get in the way, like he wasn’t all the way sold on it,” says McVicker. But McVicker also says, “He was right on the verge, yeah he very well could have been on the verge.”
“Rich was definitely going to enter the church,” says Fr. McGinness. He says the phone call he received from Mullins just days before the car accident leave him unshaken in his conviction that Mullins was ready to take the final steps to join the church.
Fr. McGinness says through his music Mullins was growing closer to God and seemed to be undeniably drawing closer to Jesus and his church.
“At one of Rich’s memorial services, Amy Grant said that Rich was the guilty conscience of contemporary Christian music. I think she may have meant that some musicians use it to switch over to mainstream music, pop or country, but not Rich. Rich was moving farther away from mainstream. He was becoming more deeply Christian all the time,” says Fr. McGinness.


  1. was Fr McGinness implying that Rich was, in becoming more deeply Christian, becoming more Catholic?

  2. I'm not sure what Fr. McGinnis meant exactly. If you would like to ask him yourself contact me at the link on the sidebar and I'll send you his e-mail address.

  3. I took that photo of Rich between the priests, in Wichita Kansas, after Rich played a charity concert for a marriage encounter group. That is my second son in the background. I love the photo because it has Rich, parts of the tabernacle, and the crucifix. The concert was my absolute honor because I brought my grand piano from home and Rich played the concert on that piano. After the concert, Rich joined into the marriage encounter circle, as we sang whatever song it is they sing. The circle was huge. Rich said he had never felt that loved in his life. Four days later would be his last Christmas on earth. About him becoming Catholic, after many months I finally went up to Father Matt and asked him, "I heard Rich was planning to receive his first Holy Communion the weekend he got killed [on the way to Wichita for a charity concert] ... Father, is that true? Enquiring minds want to know." Father Matt said, "well almost. He wasn't going to be quite ready this weekend, but we were estimating maybe 2-3 weeks until he was ready."
    The priests in the photo are Father Busch, who was our pastor at the time, and Father Bernard Gorges, founder of Totus Tuus. Father Busch had never heard of Rich, but on request from me and my wife he let them come during the busy time of christmas week, and loved Rich. That was important because they were supposed to have the concert in this big fancy church but the pastor there reneged at the last minute, citing too much of a hassle. Ah, I figure there was no room at the inn. ;) My wife lamented to Father Busch it was too bad that Rich didn't quite get to become Catholic. Father Busch looked straight into her eyes and said, "Julie, he was Catholic."
    -I'm glad you like the photo. -Alan from Wichita, KS

  4. Oh, by the way, I'm Alan Siegman, a former engineer living in Wichita, KS. I'm really glad you were able to make use out of my photo. I was really pleased when it came up as the first google images search on "rich mullins catholic." Before the concert, Rich tested the piano and warmed up a little by playing part of a Beethovan sonata.

  5. This is Alan again. I just ran across something I thought you might like. I didn't realize this, but the guy who did web pages for Rich wrote a review of the marriage encounter concert at All Saints where the photo was taken to distribute to one of the mailing lists Rich authorized. You can read the review here: http://www.kidbrothers.net/rmml/rmml101.html

    Thank you for reading my post.

    Peace and joy,

  6. Alan,
    I'm honored to hear from you! Thanks so much for your input and please continue to pass on anything you find relevant to Rich's journey into the Catholic Church.

  7. Thank you for the kind words. I can tell you what he said among Catholics, at the marriage encounter concert, between songs. You know how he likes to talk. Anyway, at one point he said he really thinks he would like to be Catholic, but he feels too chicken. He said something to the effect that if he became Catholic, he might be expected to actually do something. (At a different public concert downtown Wichita with 4000 in the audience, mostly Protestants, he once said right there before Screen Door, that in the faith v works department the Catholics have it all over the Protestants.) Then he told the story of the smelly, obnoxious hitchhiker he once picked up, then finally lied to and said it was his exit, then drove really far so the hitchhiker wouldn't see him get back on the road. That was his introduction to "Screen Door." I'll let you know if I remember anything else. Oh yeah, he was pretty blatant about his devotion to Mary. One of his album covers shows Mary on it, but so far I can't find it on google images. :/ -Alan

  8. "He said something to the effect that if he became Catholic he might be expected to actually do something.'

    In that statement alone (tongue in cheek though it may have been) Rich was saying so much about his understanding of what it means to be truly Catholic. My own reason for leaving Protestantism for Catholicism is the other side of the same issue Rich alluded to here.

    My thinking at the time went something like this: If as a Protestant, ALL of my "good works are as filthy rags," what is the reason for doing anything? True as Catholics we believe that only our GRACE INFUSED actions have any kind of efficacy for salvation. Yet the possibility is always there. This thought alone gave me hope and a reason to live when I ran out of reasons. The idea that all our sorrows, sufferings, joys and yes good works when offered to God can be part of the tapestry of Salvation quickly propelled me into the Catholic Church.

    Truly Rich's journey was inspired by some of these thoughts as well. As you said, he began to see the ridiculousness of faith without works when writing
    "Screen Door."

  9. Debra, Rich has changed me, as a musician, a man, and a partner for my wife. Two people who love me very much were very attracted to Rich. First it was my wife, who told me she had found peace during turmoil watching this man I'd never heard of. Later, on the day of the concert, I watched my pastor go from grouchy skeptic to being totally magnetically attracted to Rich after just a few words out of Rich's mouth. What that does to my male instinct is to try to "steal" whatever Rich has that I might not already have, so of course I can be my wife's "one stop source" for all of her admiration. So by being very sensitive to my wife, she has helped me learn how to act in a way that exemplifies what she loved about him. As a guy, I could see the beauty in his spirit, and tried to make myself a conduit for beauty I maybe wouldn't have known about had Julie and Fr. Busch not pointed it out to me. Kind of like the Borg in Star Trek; anything I think is useful will be assimilated. :P
    Rich was a bit troubled by the fact that there were gazillions of people who knew the lyrics to his songs, but not the words in the bible. Rich was constantly interested in pointing people to God, not calling attention to himself.


  10. So, why is it important to show that Rich Mullins intended to join the Roman Catholic denomination?


  11. Hello James,
    Blessings to you! Our goals in writing this blog are many and we trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us over time. One of our goals is to have a forum to discuss the spirituality of Rich Mullins especially as it relates to our Catholic faith. In doing so we hope to honor Rich Mullins as a person and discover more the depths of His relationship with God.

    You refer to the Catholic Church in two ways that are incomplete when you call her “Roman” and a “denomination.” The Roman rite (although the largest) is only one of the rites of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. There is a great diversity within the unity of the Catholic Church. All of these rites are different ways of expressing worship and prayer to our Lord. These rites are not however denominations in the Protestant sense.
    Jesus founded one church. Rich Mullins understands that now. As people read about his spirituality, it is our hope that they will be drawn into or back to (in the case of fallen away Catholics) the Catholic Church. In this way, the blog would help to be an answer to Jesus prayer that we “may all be one.”

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent resource for understanding what the Catholic Church teaches:

    "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time."277 Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me."278 The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.279 (CCC 820)

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  13. For some reason, I know not what or why but I stumbled onto this blog today and upon reading the comments, I thought
    I'd share a wee bit of my journey, In late 1997 knowing absolutely nothing about Rich's spiritual journey or struggle with his decision to become Catholic (large C), I wrote the poem "Sacrament" about a week after I first got the news that Rich had been killed. I had no idea what I was talking about,,, the words just seemed to form themselves on the page well watered with my tears. How I came to know about Rich's death as well as his life is too large and too strange a tale to tell and I don't want to bore you with the gory details but I will tell you that I started on the catholic road (small c) when I was 19 and saw Brother Sun and Sister Moon in 1974. I fell in love with Francis and Clare and I wanted to be a little sister of Clare so I spent most of my life unofficially being a Protestant Franciscan. That movie shaped my life like no other. I was engaged to be married at 18 and bought a pattern for a wedding dress that looked exactly like a nun's habit. Well actually, it was a cross between a monastic robe and a habit but it's overtones were very very Catholic. I was just so drawn to it. Of course I did not get married.
    In 1995 after longing to do so for some time, I started attending Mass. It took me 10 years to get off the fence and finally go to RCIA and get confirmed. My reasons for taking so long to commit were not unlike Rich's. My family (both Paternal and Maternal) is from the Deep South. Mississippi specifically a state which is by and large very Protestant and very Republican. I am the sole Catholic in my family and the decision to go all the way was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. A good friend of mine said after my confirmation "you have always been Catholic". Apparently so. I made my confirmation Easter of 2005.I suppose my point in all this is that Rich's music, popularity and pressure unknown to most of the rest of us kept him from doing what he had longed to do for so long in life but in death, he was and he is finally free.
    I know with unshakeable certainty that had Rich not flown from his chariot, he would have celebrated his first Sacrament and been confirmed into the Catholic church. The following are from the poem Sacrament I wrote somewhere around September 25, 1997.


    Sacrament I take now broken

    Body and the blood of love

    Saint and Sinner now united

    Standing in the wings above...

    Nightly vigil guardian standing

    On God’s altar freely poured

    Life so fresh and undemanding

    Dancing with the Risen Lord

    One true heart on earth did linger

    Fleeing with the light of day

    Chariot went up without me

    at last Elijah Flew away....

    Thanks for listening -
    Peace to you - Peace of Christ to you

    Quiet was the hour of the rose in time of yore\

    The ringing of the chapel bells well hidden as before

    Bitter were the tears that time has washed ashore...

    W. B. Yeats

  14. Hi Deborah,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

    RMP Properties

  15. Rich spent the last 3 weeks of his life at my parent's house. He told us he was becoming Catholic. My mom asked if Rich would worship Mary now. He dryly and sarcastically responded, "Yes".

  16. Beautiful poem. Thank you. And thanks for your story. I'm the only Catholic in my family too. A hard time of loneliness and frustration in that status is what brought me to think about Rich Mullins' conversion again.... and I found this site. Taken all together, people's thoughts and the details about Rich himself are helping me for the first time in days to put my feelings in perspective. It's easy to forget what a suffering soul he was, but at least he knew to let his creativity run free, and he found friends to share the journey.

  17. How strange to find this site. I saw Rich Mullins in concert in Hawaii in the early 90's. I've always found his songs moving and somewhat mystical. Before reading this page I had no idea Rich Mullins was drawn towards Catholicism. I did not grow up in any church and ended up a believer but on the Protestant side of things, yet always drawn to the liturgy and teaching of the Catholic church. Recently I struck up a friendship with a Catholic man who was a lawyer and a judge and attending seminary to become a priest. We had quick conversations at the bookstore I worked at. I told him of little things that had always happened to draw me to the Catholic Church but how I somehow never quite made it there. Before moving to the other side of the country I said goodbye to the man and he told me I was a Catholic, I just didn't know it. Now, years and years of floundering around, my spiritual home nowhere, I chance upon Rich Mullins while looking for something entirely different on the internet and remembered his songs and listened to them all day and then this page. It is not an accident. And finding out that Rich Mullins was drawn towards Catholicism does not actually surprise me because the part of me that likes Rich's songs so much, is also the part of me that appreciates the Catholic church. It is the part of me that seeks quiet devotion and stands in awe of God and his creation and the amazing-ness of nature and the respect for those gone before us, like Mary and St. Francis of Assisi and St. Peter. And the reverence for these saints does not take away from God, but adds to my worship of Him. Thanks for this page, this contemplation of spirituality.

  18. I'm so happy you found this blog Renee. Please free to e-mail me at the link on the left if you would like to correspond about conversion from Protestant to Catholic. Wednesday is my ten year anniversary of being Catholic and I have never regretted it. The Catholic faith is filled with beauty and truth. God bless you on your journey of faith.

  19. Awesome song writer, awesome singer, awesome man of Jesus! I am a forever fan of Rich!

  20. I just came across this site after watching the movie Ragamuffin. Growing up in Phoenix Arizona, and being Roman Catholic, I often heard stories of him visiting st. Timothy's Catholic parish in Mesa Arizona, where Lifeteen got its start. After reading this blog I believe it to be true. Even though the movie portrayed his life very sad at moments, it also revealed a glorious message. Rich was able to truly discern Gods will for his life and he went to all costs to see it through. Our days on this earth are limited so like he said, make sure you live. I will always be a Rich Mullins fan. God is good~all the time. All the time~God is good.

  21. 2 days ago Breakpoint.org did a commentary entitled "Ragamuffin."
    After reading it, I watched the 'Ragamuffin' Official Trailer on youtube and reviewed a lot about Rich. Long story short: Rich is an inspiration to me.
    Thank you for this blog site.

  22. i THINK Rich's story has something to teach us.He had struggles like many of us for example with faith/religion, habits etc but i think we tend to forget the CORE issue at hand...Do we love God?,Do we meditate on His word(Joshua 1:8)?,How far are we willing to go for His son's sake(obedience)? What's our relationship with His son Jesus Christ?... i think James 1:27 says something. Thank you. God bless us all.

  23. I enjoyed reading your blog. There will never be another Rich - so much of CCM is cloying, trite, and essentially unlistenable, but his sound and his utter authenticity draws the listener in and holds them there. I was a huge fan in college, but hadn't listened to him in many years, but after watching 'Ragamuffin' with my husband a few weeks ago I've been on a watching/listening binge, watching as many concerts and live clips on youtube as I can fit into my busy days, finding myself in tears at times at what the world has lost. There is no doubt he was journeying to Rome. I'm an Eastern Orthodox convert from Protestantism, so I know what that kind of journey is like and how difficult it can be and while he and I reached some different conclusions, I have so much admiration and love for him. I'm sad that he struggled so much only to have it all cut short, but I trust in God's goodness and mercy. Thanks for letting me share.

  24. Rich's example, as I've read on the internet, has had an influence on me. I am currently taking RCIA classes and will become catholic in a year or so.

    Knowing that he had taken the RCIA classes and was about to take the plunge in being confirmed made this protest's journey a little easier.

    I understand he had many pressures that I'll never have and I wish he would have lived long enough to become confirmed. But I must think as those around him do, the he was definitely a catholic when he died. In fact, I consider myself a catholic at this point as well.

    1. Welcome Home Brian! As former protesters, we fully understand your journey. May you be filled with consolation this Holy Week and as you enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. We will keep you in our prayers.