Michael Rizzo is an educated man.
Born in Staten Island, New York, he received his undergraduate degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. Thereafter, he pursued advanced education and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1984.
Rizzo eventually got married in 1985 and repositioned to Oregon to raise a family and likewise embarked a successful career in law, banking, and finance. He named his son John.
His brilliance and sophistication cemented several top senior executive positions in the last 25 years including the management of major business units, legal affairs, compliance, and operations. Among others, he became the General Counsel and Chief-Operating-Officer of Aleks Corporation, the Executive Vice-President of US Bank, and the President and CEO of US Bank Corp Equip Finance Group.
Rizzo prospered in handling approximately $4.5 billion in assets, hundreds of thousands of contracts and customers, and close to a thousand employees.
He breathed prominence until his wife died unexpectedly in February 2012.
As a widower in grief, he curved in deep prayer asking God what to do.
Looking forward, Rizzo will be ordained as a priest in 2019 at the age of 59.
He entered the Orange County Diocese Affiliate, Mount Angel Abbey Seminary in Oregon at the age of 54.
The Priestly Discernment Process
“I wanted to give myself to God completely,” said Rizzo.
Upon the death of his wife, Rizzo grasped the love of God and sought to offer his life sacrificing for God.
Like any lawyer, he investigated the idea of becoming a priest yet uncertain if it was even possible.
Rizzo resorted to an active prayerful life to ascertain if priesthood was what he was destined to do.
Veronica Ayson works at the St Peter Channel’s Spiritual Exercise Program and she explained that participants of the spiritual exercises usually develop a greater love for Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Scriptures; which results to an intense prayer life and closer examination of conscience.
“Clearly, Rizzo experienced a motion from the Holy Spirit, an invitation. He responded generously by taking time away from his normal activities and dedicating that time exclusively listening to God — in order to allow God the time and space to show what he should do,” said Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D,
Bartunek authored several books and he is active with online retreats at RC Spirituality and Q&As about the spiritual life at RC Spiritual Direction. He received his BA from Stanford University in 1990 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010.
He also provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and he has contributed religious commentaries on NBC, CNN, FOX, EWTN, and the BBC.
According to Bartunek, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola invites the participants to meditate and reflect deeply on some of the major truths of the faith. He added that the goal is to arrive at deeper convictions and greater clarity regarding one’s relationship with God.
“God needs to reveal ourselves to ourselves in order for us to be in a position to truly hear his voice in our hearts. The Spiritual Exercises, therefore, are often used when someone is seeking to discern their calling in life,“ said Bartunek.
In an article of Edward McCormack, Ph.D., he wrote that before the Exercises, a participant may have related to Jesus as a distant acquaintance; but thereafter, the Exercises help him hear and respond to Christ’s call at each moment in his life.
Ultimately, Rizzo completed the program five times, each time sinking deeper to the embrace of God. He immersed totally and received the gift of spiritual consolation.
“It was a very powerful experience. It felt so perfect. It felt so right. I felt strongly connected with God, I felt so peaceful and I felt so complete in my decision to be a priest,” Rizzo professed sincerely.
Orange County Opens Door to Older Seminarians
Rizzo received the call while residing at Orange County, Southern Calif.
Coincidentally, Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange County just opened his doors to accepting older men discerning the priesthood provided they are residents of the Diocese.
This new initiative paved the way for Rizzo.
“I didn’t even know that Orange County is open to accepting older men like myself,” said Rizzo.
The Diocese found him to be a viable candidate.
His maturity, advanced education, life experiences, wisdom, and love to serve God all signified good candidacy for priesthood.
“He also has a lot to offer in terms of his approach to business and management, and he can help bring the church forward with his acquired skills and expertise from the modern world,” said Moneypenny.
His son John Rizzo, now in his college years, initially said, “Dad you will be bored.”
Soon after, he turned supportive realizing his father’s spiritual service will benefit many people of God.
Rizzo applied in the fall of 2013 and received acceptance in the spring of 2014.
He is now finishing his second semester taking philosophy courses and will soon begin his list of Theology classes.
Because of his past credentials, he can be ordained as a priest in just five to six years.
The Formation Years
Like all seminarians, older or of traditional age, Rizzo undergoes the same stages of priestly formation.
Fr. Ron Hicks from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the former Dean of Formation at the Mundelein Seminary explained that all seminaries in America must follow faithfully the book issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): The Program for Priestly Formation (PPF) Fifth Edition.
Below is the video courtesy of Mundelein Seminary, Illinois, where Hicks explained the four stages of priestly formation:
Life in the Seminary
Meanwhile, Rizzo enjoys his seminarian life. He states that people must realize that a seminarian life is a joyful life and a [fairly] normal life. He claims that his fellow seminarians are inspiring. Inside the seminary, Rizzo experiences a great sense of brotherhood, peace, and holiness.
Rizzo looks to that day of his ordination and it excites him daily.
“I can’t wait to be a priest,
“I will be a priest as many years as the Lord gives me,
“I don’t have as many years to give as the younger guys, but I will give the ones I am capable of giving as much as I can, and that is for sure,” ends Rizzo with a heartfelt sincerity.
Rizzo advises older men who contemplates priesthood to first, say yes to the invitation, and allow God to do the rest, just like what he did.
Rizzo trusted his priesthood completely to God — like a sleeping lamb in a dungeon of hungry lions.
Nowadays, the Catholic Church needs more men like Michael Rizzo, who listen to the invitation of God and discern the call to enter the vocation of priesthood, after having a successful career in the secular world.