By Jimmy Patterson
MIDLAND — It is no doubt a widely held view that Catholics often fall into two categories: Cradle Catholics, or those born into the faith; and converts, who come into the church when they marry someone of the faith, often a cradle Catholic.
Not Glenn Jackson. He’s a convert, but he didn’t have a change of heart because he was getting married. He converted when he was in college. And not just any college. Jackson made the switch when he was working toward his jurisprudence degree at the Harvard Law School.
Raised in the Unitarian faith by his parents, Jackson was first exposed to Catholicism by his Grandma “Tootsie” who insisted that Mass be a regular Sunday obligation. It was through that constant, provided at the hands of loving grandparents, that his foundation for Catholic formation began.
Jackson and his wife Nyria, whom he met at Harvard Law, are the parents of two children. He received his undergraduate degree at Duke.
Mrs. Jackson was hopeful of returning to Texas, where she was raised in El Paso and neighboring Juarez. That played a role in his accepting his position as assistant U.S. Attorney in Midland. Jackson said had he not met Mrs. Jackson at Harvard he likely would’ve returned to North Carolina and sought a position with the U.S. Attorney’s office, perhaps in Charlotte.
Jackson said Harvard is not really a place conducive to the religious conversion experience, but being around others who held similar faith backgrounds was helpful.
“I had a few classmates and one of them was a former Jesuit and probably when considering pure, raw intelligence, he was the brightest in the class and a very devout Catholic.”
Jackson would attend Mass regularly, both alone and with classmates who practiced the faith.
“I just always felt myself drawn to it,” Jackson said of the faith. “I went to some of the RCIA classes. In a way, to me it just kind of blends reason and faith together really well. For a half-second or so, I even considered the priesthood. If you could be married and be a priest, I would definitely have ended up doing that.”
Jackson said at some point, once his children are grown, he would seriously consider entering the diaconate. One subject for which he insists he has no personal aspirations: politics. A classmate of both Illinois U.S. Senator and likely 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement at Harvard, Jackson twice sidestepped questions about a political future.
“The only thing I have aspirations for now is being a good father,” he said.
A lengthy conversation with him is all the evidence one needs to see that his primary interests are indeed not in public service at this time, but in his family and faith.
“I can’t stress the importance of both of those enough,” he said.
Jackson said his mother “tried to take us to the Unitarian church somewhat” yet not frequently and remembers her saying that thinking about faith was important.
“It was not much more structured than that,” he said of his early teachings.
Jackson said he couldn’t point to one particular moment where a light went on or someone spoke to him about his conversion.
“I never had a St. Paul-Road-to-Damascus moment, but I certainly felt by late college I was starting to feel a pull in a number of ways, which is not to say that I understand it all now,” Jackson said. “There was something about the church, not just the intellectual aspects of it, which were important to me, but I am one of those people who’s a rational, linear thinker, and from an intellectual standpoint Catholicism just makes a lot of sense and this is the place where I really know that my faith will be nurtured and I can grow and be where I want to be.”