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Turn to Jesus (Article)

More of Peter than of Paul
Fr. Michael Thomas Mitchell

Fr.  Michael Thomas Mitchell
Fr. Michael Thomas Mitchell
Visiting a mosque is not a common place for receiving a call to the priesthood. It happened to me God took advantage of a family vacation to Istanbul in the summer of 1990 to plant a seed that would later grow into my priestly vocation.

On the Path of St. Paul

While my family lived in southern Turkey for two years, we enjoyed many excursions around the country. That summer, our guide books brought us hopping from one Christian ruins site to another, following the footsteps of St. Paul right up to Istanbul.

I will always remember the day we visited Hagia Sophia, one of the principal churches of Istanbul. It was one of the great Christian churches, or so I thought.

Entering into Hagia Sophia, we made our way under the dome. There, standing under the dome, a confusion of sorts came over me. Absent were crucifixes, candles, incense, holy water fonts, all the trappings of a good Catholic church. All along the walls and inside the domes were Arabic writings. There were curtains covering over frescos and scaffolding in many places that bespoke of a long construction project. It had a very Muslim feel to it.

“This is a strange looking church,” I remember thinking to myself. Standing there however, it was dawning on me that Hagia Sophia was not a church anymore. It was a mosque, just like the other mosques we had visited throughout Turkey. A closer reading of the guide book and a few questions to my parents confirmed that while originally it was a Catholic church, eventually throughout the twists and turns of history it had become a mosque.

I remember feeling sad about the Church “losing” a church, especially such a beautiful one like Hagia Sophia. My thoughts were not about historic battles, east-west power struggles, or cultural revolutions. Rather, God led my thoughts deeper. I felt a desire to do something to help the Church, to avoid “losing” other churches in the future. You could say it was a defining moment in my Catholic identity. I realized for the first time that not everyone was Catholic, that the Church still had a lot of work to do. I wanted to help the Church. Later on, that very real desire to help the Church at the age of ten eventually transformed itself into a real calling. God was inviting me to do something for the Church, and that “something” was the priesthood.

Finding the Path of St. Peter

I believe that when God calls someone to a religious vocation there are two basic ways of calling. One is the “St. Paul vocation,” in which the Lord makes his will very clear through external signs and interior graces. Like Paul being knocked to the ground in a burst of light, these calls are sudden and sharp. Then there is the “St. Peter vocation,” more progressive and subtle, repeated invitation from the Lord that only become clear after a time. As in Peter’s case, the Lord’s invitation to follow him and love him is repeated and strengthened day by day. When God calls someone in the “St. Paul style” there is usually no doubt about the call; the road ahead is very clear. When it is a “St. Peter calling,” it is less clear: an interior motion to take a step or two forward, but everything beyond that lies in mystery.

In my journey toward the priesthood, there is definitely more of St. Peter than of St. Paul. The episode in the mosque was just the first of many “callings.” Many other elements of my childhood and adolescence helped the seeds of a vocation grow. Being raised in a large Catholic family, being an altar boy, occasionally praying the Rosary in family, Catholic schooling, and many good priests along the way were all many other “invitations” from the Lord to follow him in the priesthood. Without them I would not be where I am today.

If I ever become a Priest…

I must mention the special influence that Blessed John Paul II played in my vocation. Growing up with a great pope like John Paul was a blessing. Seeing him travel the world and preach Christ with passion made him one of my heroes. Most importantly, he made the idea of being a priest something very attractive. For me, the ideal priest had to be like him: on fire for his faith, in love with the Church, dynamic, open minded, joyful, approachable, and deeply prayerful. “If ever I were to be a priest,” I said to myself, “I would be like him.”

My first encounter with the Legionaries of Christ was in 1996. My older brother, Jason, had visited
Fr.  Michael Thomas Mitchell
Fr. Michael Mitchell during a homily at the General Directorate in Rome.
the seminary that year and surprised us all by deciding to enter the novitiate in the fall. I had never seen him so convinced about anything before. He turned away scholarships to college, said good-bye to his girlfriend, and sold his car. That definitely had an impact on me, although I never told him that.

I went a few times to visit him in the seminary, and I saw in those priests the same qualities I admired in Blessed John Paul II. I knew then that if I were ever to become a priest, it would be a Legionary priest.

As my senior year of high school approached, I began to make plans. They were the normal plans of any young man at that age. I had greatly admired my father for his service in the Air Force, and I felt very much attracted to the discipline of military life. At the same time, I always enjoyed helping people and wanted to be a doctor. These two ideas led me naturally to really consider applying for the Air Force officer’s school. However, God wished to add a slight twist to my plan.

Eventually, a recurring thought that came to me during my senior year of high school prompted me to knock on the door of the seminary. While I had every desire to head off to college and do my own thing, I kept hearing in my heart again and again another invitation. This time, it was a light from the Holy Spirit. The thought in my heart was that the Lord was calling me to give up my life so that others could have life. It meant forsaking a family of my own and a career, to become his priest. As a priest I would help others by giving them the Bread of Life, and I would bring his mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. As a priest, I would live for others and not for myself, so that as an instrument of Christ, others could have eternal life.

Today God has shown me the “twist” he had in mind. I never entered the military, nor did I become a medical doctor. Yet in a spiritual way I have done both. As a priest I am a doctor of souls. As a religious, I belong to Christ’s Legion. Divine “twists” are amazing and beautiful!

Since entering the seminary, I have lived a real adventure. I have studied abroad in Spain and in Rome. My time in Rome has allowed me to get to know Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI up close. I feel I have been very blessed. My Legionary brothers are great men, and I am proud to be numbered among them. I hope these first years as a priest will be as exciting and close to the Lord as my years as a seminarian. 


FR MICHAEL THOMAS MITCHELL was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 27, 1980. He is the second of 10 children; his older brother is also a Legionary of Christ priest. In 1998, he entered Immaculate Conception Apostolic school in Center Harbor, New Hampshire. In 1999 he entered the novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut. He studied humanities for two years in Salamanca, Spain. In Rome he completed a master’s degree in philosophy at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College, graduating Summa cum Laude. He was part of the formation team Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Colfax, California. He worked for two years in the territorial and general secretariats of the Legion of Christ in Rome, and for the last two years he has been a member of the formation team at the Legionaries’ headquarters in Rome. Presently, he works as a vocational director and youth minister in Chicago, Illinois.

Los testimonios vocacionales de los legionarios de Cristo que recibieron la ordenación sacerdotal en el año 2011 han sido publicados en el libro "Dios lo da todo".



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