In the 40 years of his priesthood, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, 69, has held a remarkable number of important positions in the Catholic Church. He was president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston and worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. In 2003, Pope St. John Paul II appointed him secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education and vice president of the Pontifical Work of Priestly Vocations.
Archbishop Miller has written several books — including The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools. He was instrumental in founding Canada’s second Legatus chapter, which is now in development. He spoke to Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How did you discern a call to the priesthood?
I grew up in the 1950s. At the end of elementary school, probably around the eighth grade, I sort of sensed that this is what the Lord wanted me to do in my life. There was no sudden light. There was no great conversion. I was 19 when I entered the seminary and religious life. When I hear the testimonies of young guys today, they tend to have far more interesting stories than mine.
What are the main challenges facing the Church in Canada?
One of the major challenges that seems to come to the fore all the time is the need to foster evangelization in the sense of bringing people to a personal encounter with and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Without a personal encounter with Jesus, people get disoriented, disillusioned and ultimately look upon the Church merely as an institution and not as a place of meeting Jesus. We experienced a great decline in the last 50 years, particularly in terms of participation at Mass. Although it’s leveled off, it’s probably half of what it was 50 years ago.
We also face a culture which is, particularly on the West Coast, fairly secular. Many people seem to pursue what they regard as “the good life” without much reference to God. They don’t seem to yearn for God, at least not very evidently, and that’s a huge problem.
We also have specific problems regarding the possible legalization of assisted suicide — as well as freedom of conscience and the narrowing of religious freedom’s meaning to being simply freedom of worship. That is sort of a privatized personal understanding that would exclude religion from the public square.
How important is Catholic education to the Church’s mission to evangelize?
It’s vital and crucial. It’s never been more important as an aid, as a help to parents, who are of course the primary and first educators of their children, but they need assistance. There’s no other place that can really match Catholic schools in the public realm as a place of preparation and dialogue between faith and culture.
You were a chaplain of Legatus’ Houston Chapter, correct?
Yes. My predecessor was the founding chaplain of the chapter. He saw it as crucial to helping the business community in their lives as Catholic professionals. I had come from Rome at that point and was not familiar with Legatus, but I quickly saw its value, and became the associate chaplain almost immediately. I liked the Houston Chapter very much.
What value do you see Legatus having in the life of the Church?
It seems to me that business leaders have a key role in the social, economic and political life of any community. Legatus helps them live out being Catholic precisely in their commitments as business leaders.
One can live a very pious life, but sometimes connecting it all can be difficult. Legatus provides a forum to help people tie these things together. It’s not always easy to be a Catholic professional. All kinds of difficult questions come up, and I have found Legatus to be a forum in which those issues are raised, discussed, reflected and prayed upon.
BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.