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Published: Saturday, 5/31/2008

2 men follow God's call to ministry

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Deacons John Miller, left, and Eric Culler in Rosary Cathedral, where they will be ordained as priests today by Bishop Leonard Blair. Deacons John Miller, left, and Eric Culler in Rosary Cathedral, where they will be ordained as priests today by Bishop Leonard Blair.
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Two men who felt God's call on their lives will be ordained Catholic priests today by Bishop Leonard Blair at Rosary Cathedral.

John Miller, 35, of Marywood, Ohio, and Eric Culler, 28, of Lexington, Ohio, are both graduates of the Pontifical College Josephinum Seminary in Columbus and spent one year as interns serving a parish in the Toledo diocese. They both were ordained last fall as transitional decons, a required step for all priests according to canon law.

For Mr. Miller, the priesthood is a second career.

He quit his job as a chemical engineer for the Dutch firm Akzo Nobel after 4 1/2 years to enter the seminary.

"I was very happy with what I was doing. My plans for life were clicking along," Mr. Miller said before an ordination rehearsal Thursday in the Toledo cathedral.

"The perception is, 'Oh, you don't like what you're doing so you joined the priesthood.' It wasn't like that for me. I was very happy."

A native of Marywood, a rural village in Seneca County between Attica and Bellevue, Mr. Miller said he got to know many priests personally during his high school and college years when he did lawn and maintenance work at Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue.

He said several priests suggested that he consider the priesthood, but he was too focused on his studies in high school to seriously consider the seminary.

Mr. Miller first attended Heidelberg University before enrolling at Ohio University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering.

He was hired by Akzo Nobel, a Dutch chemical firm, to design machinery that makes chemicals, primarily flame retardants.

Mr. Miller was living in southeastern Ohio and working at the firm's plant across the Ohio River in West Virginia.

"It was a pretty dangerous place," he said. "It's ironic, but you start with hazardous, toxic, explosive chemicals and make flame retardants out of them."

Despite his successful career, Mr. Miller felt unfulfilled. He sought God's guidance and through prayer, patience, and trust in the Lord, felt after 4 1/2 years as an engineer that he should quit his job and enter the seminary.

He served his internship at St. Patrick of Heatherdowns in Toledo during the 2005-06 school year.

Having grown up on a farm, Mr. Miller said his favorite pastime is just being outdoors.

"Anything that gets me out there, that's my hobby," he said. "Sawing wood, harvesting crops, putting up fences and I like sports. Not golf, though. I need more action, something that gets my blood pumping."

Mr. Culler hails from Lexington, Ohio, which is 120 miles southeast of Toledo and the farthest point from Toledo in the diocese.

He said he thought about the priesthood as a child, but felt the calling become more intense during his high school years.

He graduated from the University of Dayton with degrees in philosophy and German, and after much prayer and reflection decided to go into the ministry.

"For me the two desires the Lord gave me that led me to the priesthood was a desire to serve people in the deepest needs of their lives - we can suffer a lot but if we have hope in our hearts and faith in God and trust in him, then the worst suffering can be bearable, actually it can be a source of joy," he said.

"And the other desire was to have an adventure, to be on a sort of adventure, a quest, where you didn't know what the outcome would be and the stakes were high," Mr. Culler said.

"There's a mystical element involved, something mysterious, the great mystery of life, and so a priest is an intermediary between heaven and Earth. He is interceding for the people to God and he's bringing God's blessings to the people."

Mr. Culler served his internship at Immaculate Conception Church in Bellevue during the 2005-06 school year.

His hobbies include reading, writing fiction and poetry, baking bread, and running and lifting weights for exercise. "And an occasional video game," he added.

Both priest candidates said the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church did not deter them from their calling, but served to inspire them to focus even more on holiness.

"For me, the thing to remember is that Christ is the one who is our guide," Mr. Culler said. "We know that we are all sinners, that there's a weakness in all of us, but the priest is called to strive always to overcome that. [The crisis] caused me to double my efforts at pursuing holiness and following the Lord."

Mr. Miller said that when the scandal erupted in 2002, it made him examine again the reasons why he was in the seminary.

"If God is still calling me to the priesthood, then in spite of what I see out there, when I see things I didn't like, certainly disappointing things and circumstances, I have to look to myself and draw closer to Christ," he said. "We all deal with temptations and I say, 'Lord, help me, let me not go astray from you, help me to be faithful, to be a good witness to people.'•"

Members of Mr. Culler's home parish, Resurrection Catholic Church in Lexington, have rented a charter bus to attend today's ordination service. Mr. Miller also will have a large contingent of family and friends at the service.

"I think between Eric and I, we should fill the cathedral," Mr. Miller said with smile.

The Toledo diocese now has 23 seminarians studying for the priesthood, said the Rev. Ronald Schock, director of the office of vocations.

The ordination service begins at 11 a.m. today in Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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