By Michael Vitarelli
I am a cradle Catholic, which basically means I was born into a Catholic family, received all of my Catholic sacraments as a child, and went to church every Sunday — at least up until the time my parents stopped forcing me to go.
That was when I was about 15 years old, and going to church was one of the last things I wanted to do. I was always a very insecure and anxious kid, and when I tried to make up for my lack of self-confidence, I tended to fall into bad decision making. I had lots of different groups of friends in high school and had no problem doing whatever that particular group was getting into that night. I thought that would make me happy, but it did not.
Then I decided that I needed a girlfriend; this would definitely make me happy because that’s what you’re supposed to do in high school, date. So, I dated, and when I graduated, by the skin of teeth, I kept dating. Within eight months of graduating high school, my girlfriend was pregnant, nine months later my daughter Alix was born, and a year later we married.
Alix’s mother and I struggled for six years, and at the age of 26, I found myself divorced, and living with my parents, only seeing my daughter half the time. Now I was really searching for some type of happiness in my life — I didn’t really understand yet what it meant to be a father. What I did understand was that I had a live-in babysitter that allowed me to go out almost every night after I put my daughter to bed, and I did.
My search for happiness was going to be found in a bar somewhere, I just knew it. After three years of drinking and experimenting with drugs, I came to the cold hard truth that this was not the answer. I started to get this nudge to settle down, get married, and really make a home for my daughter.
When I started dating Meredith, I instantly lost the urge to be in bars anymore; there is definitely something about a person so filled with joy and happiness that makes you not want to be anywhere else but with them. This was it, I had to be around someone who is already happy so I can be happy also. Meredith and I got married, had two daughters, Anna and Angelina, and now with a happy wife, three healthy and happy daughters, happiness was inevitable.
I had my own construction company at that time and work was starting to get very stressful. I was almost at the point of closing the doors, and I was feeling very unhappy again. One day I drove past my home town parish and had a memory of my father going to daily Mass. He, at one point in life, struggled as well, and he went to daily Mass for a while. It seemed to help him through his struggles, and I would try anything at this point to get some happiness back, so I decided to go the next day.
From that point on, my journey toward being happy took on a new meaning. I was lit with this desire to go more and more, to learn more and more. I needed to be part of something in the Church. I started to read books about the faith. I hadn’t read a book since high school, so this was something new for sure. It wasn’t enough, though, so I joined prayer groups and cenacles for almost three years. I even joined the Third Order Franciscans. Something just wasn’t quenching this thirst I had, this desire for more.
I was part of the RCIA in my parish when someone asked me if I had ever thought about being a deacon. I never had thought about it, but there was something about that question that sparked a fire in me. My wife and I attended a meet and greet at the Diaconate Center to see what this was all about. All I can say is that I felt at home in a way I couldn’t explain, and I wasn’t even accepted into the program yet. Meredith and I talked about it, and she was onboard to start this journey if it was what I thought I had to do. Four and a half years later, I am closing in on the end to my diaconate formation in school. My brother candidates and their wives have become more than friends. We truly are a family, and I truly have learned that, by allowing God’s will to be done in our lives, we find our happiness through Christ, no matter what is happening in this world. Because of this, I have found my happiness!
Michael Vitarelli is in formation for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Camden. His home parish is Christ the Redeemer in Atco.