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Former Buddhist drawn to Church through beauty of Catholic Mass

The following story appeared in the April 28 Idaho Catholic Register.

Bishop Peter Christensen baptizes Stan Hoffman during the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise. Hoffman is just one of hundreds who were baptized or Confirmed or both during Easter Vigil celebrations throughout the Diocese of Boise. (Courtesy photo/Darin Cooper)


Editor’s note: As has been our Easter Season tradition, this issue of the Idaho Catholic Register profiles in our series, “He Left the 99 to Rescue Me,” a number of converts who received the Easter sacraments this year.


BOISE – Stan Hoffman’s journey into the Catholic faith

is not the typical Protestant-to-Catholic or unbeliever-to-believer saga. Few are the converts to Catholicism who come from a Jewish tradition by way of Buddhism.

Born in upstate New York, Hoffman’s family moved when he was 5 to Los Angeles,

where his father was a radio journalist and broadcaster. He was born into a Conservative Jewish family. (Judaism consists of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox traditions, the latter the most conservative). Hoffman’s family was moderately observant in their faith. As a boy, Hoffman experienced his Bar-mitzvah at the traditional age of 13. Following his Bar-mitzvah, he attended confirmation classes, but his teachers were unable to answer many of his questions. From a young age, he was curious, ardently searching for truth and studying many of the world’s religions.

By the time he enrolled in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Hoffman had decided that Buddhism afforded him the most sensible path forward. Both the contemplative and practical aspects of Buddhism fulfilled his spiritual needs, especially Tibetan Buddhism, the form he practiced for 15 years because of its balance of ritual and contemplation.

At Michigan, Hoffman earned a bachelor’s degree in music composition, a master’s in ethnomusicology (the study of music in its social and cultural contexts) and was pursuing a Ph.D. when circumstances prompted him to make a detour.

His studies in Buddhism led him to a teacher who had established a center in Boulder, Colo. Dropping his doctoral studies, Hoffman moved to Boulder to study under his newly found mentor. The mentor had established several Buddhist meditation centers in cities throughout the country, and after several years Hoffman was offered the chance to move to Seattle to become the teacher-in-residence there. There he met and married his wife, Gael.

He eventually took a position as a technical writer in the software industry but continued to fulfill many responsibilities as a Buddhist teacher. After his own teacher died, the Buddhist community experienced dissention and division, leading Hoffman and his wife to seek guidance and teaching from other Buddhist lineages, including Zen. This eventually led to a move to Portland. In God’s providence, God was using the move to Portland to draw Hoffman closer to the Catholic Church.

At that time, COVID-related issues caused division within his Buddhist community in Portland, as it did in many faith traditions. Buddhism values free inquiry and respect for diverse worldviews, but Hoffman increasingly found that he could not talk openly with his Buddhist friends about the pandemic and other related issues without being shut down. Eventually, the fallout from COVID expanded to other socially divisive areas. According to Hoffman, critical race theory was incorporated into Buddhist teaching centers, and gender ideology further led to a breakdown of his community. “We used to toss ideas around, disagree with one another, enjoying the free play of different views. But no longer.” Hoffman’s Buddhist mentors were unable to resolve these tensions and to provide a way forward through the massive cultural shift. At the same time, conditions in Portland were deteriorating, and the Hoffmans no longer felt at home there. Another change seemed in order.

After years in Seattle and Portland, the Hoffmans wanted to stay in the Pacific Northwest, making Boise an attractive choice. Settling in Boise, they discovered that churches had reopened in the later stages of the pandemic, while Buddhist centers had not. “We found the people here kind and respectful. It seemed to be the natural result of an obviously Christian culture. We decided to visit a church.”

They began with mainline Protestant churches, hoping to find tenets of old-school liberalism that had characterized their spiritual journey to this point. What they found was the same form of cultural accommodation that had prompted them to leave Portland. This led to their attending churches in the Evangelical tradition, but worship in those faith communities did not connect deeply with them.

As the Lenten season began in 2022, disappointment with experiences in Protestant churches led Stan and Gael, a cradle Catholic who had been away from the Church for many years, to attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise.

The beauty of the Mass and the reverent way it was celebrated moved Hoffman deeply. His familiarity with sacred music enabled him to appreciate fully the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. “The priest elevated the host: time stopped—all thought suspended. For a moment there was nothing but God—true, beautiful, infinitely good. Gael and I knew we were home.”

Hoffman immediately knew that he wanted to begin OCIA (the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults), but the classes didn’t begin for several months. In the interim, he and Gael attended Mass regularly, participated in Catholic Bible studies and began reading Catholic authors and apologists. The journey through OCIA gave Hoffman time to further explore and understand the vastness of the Catholic faith and to prepare for his reception into the Church at the Easter Vigil. “My liberal education taught me to value relativism. But I sensed that not all views, philosophies, or moral systems were equally valid. The Church embodies clarity and courage to stand for objective truth in refreshing opposition to current trends.”

Paramount among that truth for Hoffman is receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. “On the one hand, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. On the other hand, it is the most significant thing.”

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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