By Christopher Orlet, The Messenger
July 23, 2020 — Bishop Michael McGovern, installed as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, on July 22, is an alumnus of both Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago and Loyola University Chicago. He says that Catholic schools were one of his vocation influences.
“Looking back over the years, I would say that there were three key ‘influencers’ of my vocation as a priest: my family, my parish and Catholic schools,” he says.
“My parents wanted my siblings and me to have a good foundation in our Catholic faith,” Bishop McGovern recalls. “My parents were both teachers. They believed in education and sacrificed to send the eight of us to parochial school, Catholic high school, and most of us attended a Catholic college.”
Christ the King Parish in Chicago had a huge influence on Bishop McGovern’s vocation to the priesthood.
“The parish was at the center of our community, and I spent many hours there in church on Sunday, as an altar boy and as a student for eight years in Christ the King School,” he says. “I became a lector while a high school student. Usually I read at the seven o’clock Mass on Sunday, which helped me develop a deeper appreciation for the Scriptures and the liturgy.”
Bishop McGovern says he thoroughly enjoyed attending high school at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago from 1978-1982.
“My father and my brothers also attended the Jesuit school,” he says. “While much of the education took place in the classroom, you also learned quite a bit from the friends you made.”
He also learned about the city of Chicago by commuting two hours every day on the bus or the train.
“Those four years were an important time of growth academically, socially, and spiritually,” he says.
Two key things happened in high school that strengthened his vocation: Attending Mass frequently before the school day began, and the beginning of spiritual direction.
“In those days, St. Ignatius had a Mass at 7:40 a.m. in the school chapel before classes began,” he recalls. “The morning commute on public transportation was swift enough that I arrived at school early every day, so I could either sit in the cafeteria or go to Mass.”
He decided to go to Mass and for four years he was present in the chapel Monday through Friday throughout the school year.
The second key development occurred when Fr. Robert Thul, SJ, a Jesuit priest who taught math, invited him to consider beginning spiritual direction.
“Using a beginner’s prayer book, I would meet every couple weeks with Fr. Thul and we would talk about prayer,” he says. “The idea of becoming a priest, a seed planted in my early years, began to grow more thanks to frequent participation at Mass and spiritual direction in high school.”
After high school, Bishop McGovern attended Loyola University, where be began to read the Catholic classics.
“Father David Hassel, SJ, introduced me to the Confessions of St. Augustine, and Fr. Robert Harvanek, SJ, opened my mind to St. Thomas Aquinas.” [Source: Diocese of Belleville]