Father Mike Schmitz

By Cari Ann DeLamielleure-Scott Photography by Tom Gennara | September 2018

Real happiness is a joy that cannot be taken from us

Elevate your happiness

Father Mike gives us a preview of his assembly talk

For most of us, happiness means to feel good. In the ancient world, however, it meant to be good.

“Sometimes we can imagine happiness will come when were done with our work or the challenge,” says Father Mike Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., and a speaker at the upcoming Made for Happiness Assembly.  “What we recognize is we are rarely happier than when we are in the midst of a noble pursuit. To find out what God’s plan is for one’s life and to pursue it in the midst of trials, dangers and setbacks is real happiness.”

Discovering God’s plan for his own life started when Father Mike was an adolescent. He was raised in the Catholic faith, but, like many teenagers, he found himself bored and turned off by the Church – no reason other than being Catholic didn’t mean anything to him until he had an encounter with Jesus.

He had been told not to sin and was to follow the Ten Commandments. But he didn’t have a true understanding until he was about 15, when he realized he couldn’t save himself from his wrongdoings; he needed a savior.

Two things needed: Prayer and reconciliation

Father Mike had a rosary hanging off his bedpost. He had seen his mother pray the rosary, and he knew he was supposed to pray the Our Father and Hail Mary, but he didn’t know where to start.

“I asked my religious education teacher if I could borrow a booklet on praying the rosary. With the booklet in one hand and the rosary in another, I started praying, and Mary, from the beginning, was leading me to her Son.”

At 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, which wasn’t during the designated reconciliation hours, young Mike got on his bike and rode to the nearby rectory. He knocked on the door and requested to go to confession.

“Three things were clear in my mind when I stepped off the front porch of the rectory. The first was I was grateful that God had forgiven my sins. Second, if God wanted me to be a priest, I would hear anyone’s confession whenever they asked. And the third, this girl that just walked by looks really cute. Thus began the battle of God calling me to priesthood,” he says, laughing.

A setback in his pursuit

Still unsure if God was calling him to the priesthood, Mike graduated from a Catholic college with a degree in theology. His experience was good in many ways and rough in others, he says.

His studies led him to Central America to work as a missionary teaching religion. Despite being surrounded by the faith, he didn’t understand the teachings of the Church on hot-button issues.

“It left me embarrassed about the Church, and that embarrassment led to resentment and hatred,” he says.

God had other plans for Father Mike, and he was guided to people who could answer the tough questions. “God cracked into my heart and enlightened my mind,” Father Mike explains. “He repaired me to be able to say ‘yes’ to his invitation to the priesthood.”

A ministry enveloped in happiness

Once ordained, Father Mike spent some time in a parish. For the past 13 years, though, he has been assigned as the director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and the chaplain for the University of Minnesota Duluth.

In 2007, University of Minnesota students approached Father Mike and asked him to put his homilies on podcasts and different media platforms. He started recording the homilies, and the students uploaded them to the internet. This led to people outside of the diocese inviting him to participate in different projects and conferences, including recording weekly videos for Ascension Presents, which is an evangelistic platform that provides faith-filled videos and podcasts.

The content for his videos comes from a variety of sources, including questions students ask him, current events such as immigration and things that come to mind like “When is Your Bedtime?”

“I noticed all of these students are tired, and then I reflected on myself and questioned why I can’t get to bed on time,” he says. “It led me to reflect on that in a deeper way and make a video.”

When he’s asked a question repeatedly by his students, he often tests his responses before recording the video. Sometimes they make sense; other times, his responses need adjustments.

“One of the main things that has resonated in my ministry has been the desperate need for spiritual fatherhood, and that has become – more or less – the heart of all that I do.”

What does spiritual fatherhood mean to him? Being present. Whether he’s guiding his students, working with youth ministers or reaching a bigger audience through online platforms and weekend conferences, Father Mike says God is now asking him to be present.

Made for happiness

In the post-modern world, Father Mike says we don’t necessarily have control over our happiness because, for so many of us, our happiness is based on our circumstances. He continues: “In the ancient world, happiness was deeply associated with virtue, which can be exercised and grow regardless of circumstance. If we root our happiness in circumstances, then our happiness will always be fragile. But if we root it in virtue, it will be resilient.

“A virtue is something that is, in some ways, objective,” Father Mike says. “Take justice, for example. There is a big question and debate of what justice is. Do we agree that it is good to be just? Yes, but we have to figure out what it is to be just. It’s the cart before the horse. When it comes to virtues, it is recognized, it is rooted in what is good for human flourishing.”

Because humans are free agents in this world, our happiness is not happenstance, he explains. When you bring in God’s grace and the reality of the Holy Spirit, our happiness takes on an entirely different elevation. That elevation is called joy.

What kind of joy is he referring to? “It’s not just normal joy,” he says. “It’s a joy that cannot be taken from us.”