By Gabriella Patti
DETROIT — Father Matthew Maxwell, MC, made history Nov. 21 when he knelt before Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit and was ordained a priest for the Miles Christi religious order.
Miles Christi — Latin for “soldier of Christ” — was founded in Argentina in December 1994, and arrived in the United States in 2000, invited by Cardinal Adam J. Maida to set up a religious house in South Lyon. The relatively young community specializes in spiritual direction and retreats and is dedicated to the sanctification of the laity, particularly young men and women.
Despite 20 years in the United States, the religious community had never before ordained an American — until Father Maxwell.
The 34-year-old California native became the first U.S.-born man to be ordained for Miles Christi — a particular honor for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Archbishop Vigneron said.
Most of Miles Christi’s priests are in Argentina, but the order also has a presence in Michigan, California, Rome and Mexico. While the order is still relatively small and young — Miles Christi has a little more than 50 members worldwide, including priests, brothers, novices and postulants — Father Maxwell’s ordination after nearly 10 years of priestly formation marks a huge milestone.
“He is the first priest recruit of our work in the States,” Father John Ezratty, MC, superior of the Michigan chapter of Miles Christi, told Detroit Catholic. “It is kind of the beginning of a long history. Up until now, we have been working with a lot of men, but the fact that a person born in the States is now becoming a priest is a big milestone, and we hope and pray he will be the first of many to come.”
Father Maxwell grew up in San Diego, one of seven children. When he was 10 years old, his family began to practice their Catholic faith more seriously.
“We started going to Mass every day, and that contact with seeing priests, with daily Mass, really started moving me to spend lots of time in prayer,” Father Maxwell said. “I was able to read the lives of the saints, which was a huge inspiration. That is where the idea (to become a priest) started getting planted.”
Father Maxwell continued to discern, even making a trip to see the Miles Christi house in Michigan, but by the time he graduated high school, he wasn’t ready to take the next step. He went to Thomas Aquinas College in southern California, graduating in 2008 with a degree in Liberal Arts.
It was during this time when Father Maxwell’s parents invited him to a welcome party for some new priests in the San Diego area, including a few Miles Christi priests whom he had met years earlier.
In 2011, Father Maxwell officially decided to enter the order, feeling drawn to the Miles Christi charisms and by the fact that its members seemed like normal, holy men, filled with joy no matter what they were doing.
Following his ordination, Father Maxwell will remain in the Detroit area to carry out his new ministry, offering spiritual direction, organizing formation groups and playing a “small role” in the formation of first-year seminarians at the Miles Christi house in South Lyon.
Father Maxwell said he is excited by the potential that his ordination might open the door to more Miles Christi vocations in the United States.
He might be the first, but he is not planning to be the last, he said.
A version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 24, 2020, edition of Detroit Catholic, the digital news service of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, and has been reprinted with permission.