MADISON — Mark Miller is looking forward to being ordained to the transitional diaconate on October 6 in Rome. God willing, both he and Deacon David Johannes will be ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 2012, in Madison.
Miller’s path to ordination has been different than most Catholic seminarians. He was raised as a Lutheran, the son of Deborah and Rev. Jeffrey Miller (his father is a Lutheran pastor). He grew up in Blanchardville; when he was 16, his family moved to Sparta.
Led to Catholic faith
While he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he began his own personal study of the Scriptures and theology. That study led him away from his Protestant roots.
He explained, “With Scripture, I found that the impression it left on me seemed closer to a Catholic reading or interpretation. As I learned more and more, many aspects of the Catholic Church seemed to make more sense as organic development of the faith.
“I experienced a very gradual moral conversion and developed an experience of prayer that opened up a new world for me,” he said. “All of these things together contributed to my being Catholic.”
He had thought about going to a Lutheran seminary. But after graduating from UW-Madison, he moved to Middleton to work. “I had a sense of where everything was leading: to the Catholic Church. I needed time to figure that out,” he said.
He enrolled in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at St. Bernard Parish in Middleton and was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2005.
Call to the priesthood
“It became clear that there was some continuity in my call to a vocation,” said Miller. “The vocation was real, but it was not what I thought it had been. I began to discern a call to the Catholic priesthood.”
Msgr. Doug Dushack, pastor at St. Bernard Parish, put him in touch with Msgr. Jim Bartylla, then diocesan vocation director. “After that, things moved pretty quickly,” recalled Miller. “I was accepted as a diocesan seminarian and began studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo., which has a Spirituality Year prior to seminary studies.
“I spent two more years in Denver. Then the bishop sent me to Rome to study for three years.”
Impact of seminary studies
Miller said his seminary studies have been wonderful. He noted that there are a variety of men in the seminary with different personalities and backgrounds, including other converts.
Miller said his time in the seminary has been helpful in learning more about the Catholic faith. “There are some similarities to the Lutheran faith,” he noted, “but there were even cultural things that I picked up in the seminary.”
The Spirituality Year in Denver had a big impact on him, especially in deepening his prayer life. He also appreciated the seminary’s immersion experience, when seminarians spend a month working away from the seminary.
He worked at a hospital and nursing home run by the Carmelites in California. “It was very rewarding. I learned a lot of what it takes to care for the sick and dying.”
Experiences in Rome
While in Rome, he has lived at the North American College and studied at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce). He finished his degree in three years and will start work on an advanced degree this fall at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the Angelicum) in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. This is a two-year program, so he will return for one more year of studies after he is ordained to the priesthood in 2012.
Studying in Rome has been a “fantastic opportunity,” said Miller. “There isn’t anything comparable to experience the universality of the Church.” While in Rome, he has worked at the Loyola-Chicago Rome campus in ministry to college students.
In the summers, he returned to the diocese, spending one summer working at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison and three summers at St. Bernard Parish in Middleton.
Miller said, “My own vocation to be a priest is very precious to me. It’s my purpose. It’s a particular way God has called me to give away my life and love.
“I’ve spent the last six years of my life preparing for it and it has been a transformative process. I’ve grown a great deal in my faith and learned a lot about myself. I really feel God’s hand through the course of my life moving me towards the priesthood.”