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
|Fr. Michael Thomas Mitchell|
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
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.
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.
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
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
My first encounter with the Legionaries of
Christ was in 1996. My older brother, Jason, had visited
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.
|Fr. Michael Mitchell during a homily at the General Directorate in Rome. |
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
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
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.
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".