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"I never believed (religion) was for me," said Ricky Schroder, actor of "Silver Spoons" and "NYPD Blue" fame. "I convinced myself I didn't need it."

Andrea Bernard, like many other teenage girls in the '80s, had a crush on Ricky Schroder.

Posters of the blond star of the sitcom "Silver Spoons" hung on the walls of her childhood bedroom in Calgary, Alberta. She wrote in her diary the details of a dream when she was 12 years old wherein Schroder picked her up from school in a limousine and whisked her away from all her classmates.

"Little did I know that a few years later, we were to meet, fall in love, get married and go through all of life's ups and downs together," Bernard, now Andrea Schroder, said.

But marrying Ricky fulfilled only part of Andrea's childhood dreams. Raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she found herself attending church by herself soon after she married the then-unreligious actor in 1992. The sometimes-disparaging realities of adulthood sank in as children came and she found herself feeling isolated.

"I was staying at home with kids while Rick traveled," she said in a speech at an LDS single-adult conference in Salt Lake City in May. "I was living in another country, separate from the familiarities and support of my family in Canada. And I was going to church alone."

Although Ricky Schroder had taken the missionary discussions — once when they started dating and again after they were married — he wasn't really receptive to the church and was at times oppositional, she said.

"I never believed (religion) was for me," Ricky said while speaking at the same conference. "I convinced myself I didn't need it and everyone there was too d---- happy anyway ... They were too nice, they couldn't possibly really know me or like me like they pretended they did. ... I had this sort of paranoia that they just wanted to be friends with me because I was famous or something. I couldn't understand that they were really happy and they really did care about me."

Although it was sometimes difficult, Andrea said her solitude in spiritual matters provided her with a greater testimony of her church. Without family members around to encourage her, she took the initiative in her spiritual life.

"Rick's lack of spiritual support paced me to help strengthen my testimony and my relationship with Heavenly Father," she said.

After a few years of marriage, she went to the temple with some friends and came out with a dramatically different attitude.

"It was like I had a new set of eyes ... I was able to see all the amazing things that he is, and it didn't matter whether he was a believer or not," she said. "I appreciated him for his willingness and dedication for fatherhood, for his love for me, for his hard work, for being humble."

Not long after Andrea's change of heart, Ricky surprised his wife when after nearly eight years of marriage, he said he wanted to get baptized.

Andrea had flown to Canada, where her father was going to baptize the Schroders' oldest of four children, Holden. Ricky, who had been in New York filming the TV series "NYPD Blue," flew in the night before and said he wanted to get baptized but didn't want to make a fuss of it. "(Ricky said) 'I've been thinking about it for a long time, but I didn't want to disappoint you,"' she said.

Ricky made the decision to be baptized based "on faith that it was going to work out ... because that's all I had. I went on faith that it was true," he said. "The greatest decision I ever made — besides marrying Andrea — was to ask with faith if Jesus was the son of God, and if he was real ... and if it was all true, and if the Book of Mormon was true."

Andrea's father baptized Ricky in April 2000. He then received the priesthood and baptized Holden.

"I'll never forget seeing my dad, who is such an amazing man, take Rick out of the water and just give him the biggest hug," Andrea said. "It was truly amazing to see the conversion of someone I loved so much."

Said Ricky: "Since gaining a testimony of our church and getting baptized, I can't tell you how much my life has changed in my perspective, my relationships (with) my friends and my family, and how my talent has changed."

Ricky, who continues to act and also has written and directed in recent years, said he hasn't been the recipient of any prejudice or judgments from people in the entertainment industry concerning his religion. He said when most members find out he's Mormon, they want to know how he reconciles his faith with his profession, to which he says: "You have to separate sometimes what you do for work and what you do for your own life. They don't always go hand and hand ... You have to make a living, you have to hold a job ... Business is business, and church and religion are different than business."

One of his most profound confirmations of God's reality came years after his baptism, Ricky said. While hunting in Colorado with his father and a friend, Ricky took a shot at a buck that was facing him broadside. Just as he fired, though, the buck turned and was struck in the shoulder, then ran away.

"I felt terrible ... I looked around until it was dark," he said. "I went back to the cabin, and I prayed really hard that night, because I felt terrible that the buck was suffering. It's a sickening feeling, if it's ever happened to you."

The next day he continued his search with a prayer in his heart that he might find the animal and put it out of its misery.

"I knew that if I prayed hard enough, I was going to find that buck," he said. As the hours passed, however, and Ricky had yet to find the animal, he began to doubt.

"I was having a crisis with my faith," he said. "I thought, 'How can I not have this prayer answered?'"

As the sun began to set, and he and his father headed in for the evening, Ricky felt disheartened. "And we started walking back to the truck. And the buck stood up, from 50 feet away. And he had been sitting there, listening to me talk," he said.

"I know for a fact — I would stake my life on it —that I was led right to the buck. And that's how I knew that my prayer was answered," a visibly emotional Schroder said.

Ricky is currently filming for a movie titled "Blood Done Sign My Name," based on the true story of a Methodist preacher who desegregated his congregation in the 1970s.


E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com