TRAVERSE CITY — For 27 years, Jerry Micketti did what priests do.
He said Mass. Presided over weddings and baptisms. Ministered to the grieving. Gave last rites to the dying. Listened when parishioners needed to talk.
And then, he stopped.
In 2011, Micketti left the priesthood after coming to the realization the year before that he didn’t want to do it anymore. It wasn’t an easy decision, coming after several years of soul searching, meetings with the bishop and taking some time off to think it all through.
In the end, he said, it was the only decision he could make.
“I never doubted my faith in God,” said Micketti, now 64, who was pastor at Christ the King in Acme when he left. “That’s never been an issue.
“It was just, I’ve got too many questions, and I don’t have enough answers. I did my homework, and I just realized I couldn’t honestly do it anymore. That’s when I knew it was time to quit.”
Growing up in Rogers City, Micketti said he was probably in grade school when the notion of becoming a priest first crossed his mind.
After graduating from high school, he went to college and came out just in time to expect to be drafted for the Vietnam war. Instead of waiting, he enlisted in the Navy, spending six years in the service — though by that time it was a peacetime Navy and he didn’t have to face combat.
After being discharged, he decided to attend seminary. When it came time to be ordained, he just kept going.
“At the time, I could honestly say this is really what I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “When kids used to ask me (why he became a priest), I usually gave them the answer Pope John Paul II used to give, and that is, ‘It’s what God intended me to do.’ And I still believe that’s why I was there.
“When I went through the ordination, I was going to be a priest until the day I died. I knew that.”
Micketti’s first post was as associate pastor at a church in Alpena. After a little more than a year there, he transferred to Immaculate Conception in Traverse City.
Three years later, he became pastor at St. Mary’s in Grayling. It was off to Posen following Grayling, and then back to Traverse City and St. Patrick’s, where he spent 12 years as pastor. In 2004, he moved over to Christ the King.
Questioning the Calling
Several years into his work at Christ the King, Micketti began to realize that his heart wasn’t in the priesthood as it had been. The administrative and management aspects of the work were beginning to wear. He found that he was no longer comfortable with the special status and deference often accorded priests. It can be isolating as well as an obstacle to genuine human interaction, he said.
“There’s that mystique of the office,” he said. “Some of it is respect for the office of the priest. Ministers and rabbis, I’m sure, go through the same thing.
“Some like it — I can’t speak for others, I can only speak for myself … but I found it to be a hindrance for relating person to person. It’s ‘what does father have to say’ rather than ‘What do I have to say.’ There’s a big difference.”
There were few he could talk to about his internal struggles. One of them was the bishop, with whom he had several conversations. Micketti attended a retreat where his decision was solidified. After returning, he mapped out a time frame to leave.
“The son of one of the local professionals here told me that when his dad realized he could no longer be effective in what he was doing, it was time to quit,” Micketti said. “And I felt I’d reached the same point. In my eyes, I was no longer effective. It was time.”
So then what? The church had paid all of his bills and provided housing for 27 years. Back in 2004, Micketti had started college classes to earn a master’s degree in counseling, and he planned to pursue that as a career.
“The challenge was, how am I going to survive?” he said. “Here I am in my early 60s making a major career change and falling back on what? Nothing.”
It was in God’s hands, he said. Fortunately, he was able to work out housing arrangements and file for Social Security. He rented a little office at Grand Traverse Commons and now sees clients there.
“I’m still working with people,” he said. “I’m still listening, and I felt that was the one contribution I could bring no matter what I was doing.
“All those years of experience with a variety of circumstances people have gone through — that part hasn’t changed. What has changed is how I look at it differently. Prayer is still a part of it, but it’s not the overall part.”
About seven months ago, Micketti got married.
“That was another thing,” he said. “The loneliness of that life was just getting to be very overwhelming. Now there’s someone I can talk with who doesn’t see me as ‘Oh, yeah, you’re the priest.’”
His mother and siblings accepted his decision. Former parishioners and colleagues have also been supportive, he said.
“People were accepting,” he said. “There’s a goodness in people.”
Steady in Faith
Micketti continues to attend weekly Mass — a member of the congregation now instead of at the altar. He sometimes thinks of homilies he would give or how he might have crafted one he hears in church differently, but lets it go. That’s not his job anymore.
“I thought it could be difficult, but it has turned out to be a positive experience,” he said.
Yet, when he gets a call on his cell phone, the ring tone is church bells. And while he is no longer at the pulpit, he believes he still preaches — in a different way.
“Preaching for me has become something that I live — not necessarily words that are said,” he said. “I do agree with the bit of wisdom that supposedly St. Francis of Assisi said … ‘Preach always, use words only if necessary.’
“Jesus’ most effective preaching was not his words, it was his life.”
Micketti doesn’t see himself becoming active in other ways in the church in the near future, however.
“I’m just basically winding down from a very active life,” he said. “At this point, I want to be someone who sits in the pews.”