Summary of today’s show: As the oldest seminarian studying at St. John’s Seminary, Chris Micale brings a lot of life experience to the community of men and Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor talk with him about his background, including his life in his home diocese of Burlington, Vermont, and working for Dartmouth College’s football program before entering the seminary. Chris is preparing for diaconal ordination next June 1.
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Chris Micale
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Seminarian profile: Chris Micale
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed Fr. Chris O’Connor to the show. They’re on location at St. John’s Seminary today. Scot noted that St. John’s is full of seminarians. Today’s guest is Chris Micale, who is here studying for the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont. Fr. Chris noted that the seminary includes men from around the United States and even from abroad.
Scot said most people think of Blessed John XXIII seminary as the seminary for older guys, but St. John’s also has men who have heard the call to the priesthood later in life. Fr. Chris said most of the men around in their mid-20s, but there are some older men. He said they have a two-year pre-theology program. Chris is in that program. Chris is now in his fifth year and will soon be a deacon in Burlington. Fr. Chris said the other men look at Chris like a member junior member of the faculty in how they confide in him and turn to him.
2nd segment: Scot welcomed Chris, third-year theologate and will be ordained to the diaconate in June 2013. Chris said he will be 53 years old in January. He grew up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and moved after college to Vermont, he had family there. He then worked in home health care and occupational therapy. He said he chose Vermont because it has a whole different feel than the other New England states. He loved his work with people who needed a lot of different kinds of help. It wasn’t always just physical therapy, but also a counseling component. He believes that translates well to the priesthood, in looking at the whole person.
After about 10 years, Chris decided on a whim—after visiting one of his patients who was a devout Catholic woman who gave him a college course catalog—he returned to school for a master’s degree in clinical psychology. But his aim toward clinical psychology didn’t work out, so he ended up working at Dartmouth College with the football program and the football coaches as an administrator, managing the recruiting process. He described what it was like to work with the coaches, who often were motivated separately from his overall aims. He said the challenge of learning to manage that office with all those strong personalities will help him as a priest. Chris said he worked with the admissions office, financial aid, and parents. In the Ivy League, there are academic standards that the individuals and the teams have to abide by, which was part of the challenge.
Chris said working in that program gave him a different perspective and it was a world of its own. He said one part was the diversity of young men involved in the program from all kinds of backgrounds, which is a way in which it is similar to St. John’s. Fr. Chris said that’s what makes it like a college campus in some ways. Chris added that he came to the seminary from Dartmouth. Scot asked if that’s where he heard the call to the priesthood. Chris said he did hear the call during that period at Dartmouth. He said he’d been feeling a kind of dissatisfaction. It’s not that he wasn’t well fitted for his jobs, but that it was never enough. He was always attracted to the interpersonal aspects of his jobs. But there was a deep longing as well. He’d left the Church for a few years, while not leaving the notion of God, and it was a long process back. The last community he was with outside the Church he felt a nagging that he missed the Eucharist and the liturgy. When he came back to Our Lady of the Snows in Woodstock for the first time, it was a feeling of being home and at peace. That was the process with the call to the priesthood. It felt like coming home, which isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of doubt or frustration.
Scot asked Chris how his time away from the Church formed him to love studying for the priesthood much more. Chris said it comes back to the Eucharist. He said the fellowships he was with were always kind, but they always lacked the depth the Eucharist provides. He said he was devout as a child, but during adolescence, he wandered away. Having gone away, there’s a new depth now and he appreciates it in a way he didn’t before. Chris said when he was in other Christian fellowships, he started several times to pursue becoming a minister, so he thinks that call was always there.
They discussed how his friends reacted to hearing of his entering the seminary, especially his non-Catholic friends. Chris said some were quite shocked. He said you grow into expecting that people will be shocked, especially as you realize that the Gospel itself is shocking.
Fr. Chris asked Chris what his favorite course at St. John’s has been so far. Chris said it would be one of his theology courses. After thinking a moment, he said moral theology. He said it cuts at the root of our society right now and the issues we’re dealing with, especially ethics and how Christians deal with the world we have. He said it’s important for a priest to have an understanding of how we negotiate the landscape out there. It’s both theoretical and practical. Those courses in general attract him.
3rd segment: Scot asked Chris what it’s like being significantly older than his classmates, going through this seminary experience. Chris said the perspective of his life can add to the community. What it has helped him to do first of all is realize that only God can get you through any situation. He explains to people that it’s not a graduate program. It has many levels of formation all at once. Scot said for many guys the academic part is the easy part, while the internal parts or work with spiritual director or formation director is difficult. Being older, you store up a lot of those issues in your life. He said there is some advantage in having less life experience. But the older man can also synthesize easier, can pick through things, because of their experience. He gave the example of talking with the other seminarians about the first electronic gadgets they remember. When he said color TV, one of the men said he’s their link to the past and then he realized that’s his role for them.
Scot said Chris is the face of the new St. John’s Seminary as a regional seminary, and not just for Boston. Chris said it’s very important for him to be close to his home. He said his father died right before Chris entered the seminary and to be able to be a couple of hours from home if his mother needed him was to be important. But also being a New Englander, there’s something about being able to study, especially for the priesthood, in your own part of the country. It’s quite a transition from your previous life, the benefits of being in your own local area include having something that doesn’t change. You don’t have to learn a whole new place and a new culture.
Chris said during the summers he serves in parishes in his home diocese, but he believes during his diaconate he will serve a parish in the Archdiocese of Boston. But the ability to be in the New England area is much preferred to being in another part of the country. Chris said he’s already worked in the Italian Home for Children. It was started by Franciscans many years ago during the Influenza epidemic. The home was set up as a place for orphans of mainly Italian immigrants. It now helps children with various problems that require them to be away from home for a period of time. The seminarians go in and provide a stable presence for children in a tough place. He’s also served at Sacred Heart in East Boston, doing communion calls and working with the youth group. He’s currently helping at St. Patrick’s in Natick.
Chris discussed his Sicilian heritage. He said both grandfathers came from Sicily, one before the First World War and one right after. He learned a lot from his grandfathers and they were very close. Chris said there an Italian community in Vermont, mainly stoneworkers in marble and granite. He said there are large communities in Rutland and Barre. Most of the stonemasons and sculptors came from northern Italy. Chris said he served Christ the King Parish in Rutland last year.
Fr. Chris asked what Chris would tell us about the Burlington diocese. He said it’s a smaller diocese, which is an advantage, because provides an opportunity to make a connection and provide for the Catholic faith on a personal level. He said Vermont is basically all villages and towns without metropolitan areas. It’s a different approach to the Catholic faith. It’s manageable.
Chris said in his current moment at the seminary in his fifth year, he’s starting to shift his focus outward, to apply what he’s learning now to what he will be doing after ordination. He’s thinking about how he will apply it and how it will affect the people he will serve. He said they’re focusing a little more on homiletics and speaking this year.
Chris said his favorite saint is St. Anthony of Padua. That’s his confirmation name. St. Anthony was pretty no-nonsense in his speaking and Chris hopes that he will be the same in love and charity. He’s also very close to St. Joseph. He’s the quintessential example of a priest from the father’s perspective. St. Joseph doesn’t say much but he’s a crucial figure. He also reminds him of his own father who was not verbose. He knew what he needed to do in life and did it and that’s a great role model for the priest of today as a strong presence in the family.
Chris said the day scheduled for his diaconal ordination is June 1, which was his father’s birthday. Chris said he believes it’s part of God’s compassion and encouragement for him.