Husband of Annemarie. Father of (soon-to-be) five. Senior vice president of retirement services for MMA Securities. Chair of Saint John Vianney College Seminary’s alumni ambassadors. Vianney News was thrilled to catch up with Mitchel Milless ’08 and hear how SJV helped prepare him to transform the culture through his marriage, family life and career.
Q: What are some highlights from your time at SJV?
A: There were a couple of memorable spring break trips where 12 of us took the Vianney Van to the great Smoky Mountains. I joined SJV midway through my first semester and left after completion of my junior year. My brother, Fr. Marcus Milless, overlapped with me the semester I studied in Rome. He was ordained [in 2014], and then my wife’s brother was ordained one year behind him. I was recruiting Fr. James [Stiles] (just knowing him as ‘James’), and I knew AnnMarie as just AnnMarie but didn’t know they were siblings until one of the first family functions.
Q: What have you been up to since your time at SJV?
A: After finishing my philosophy and Catholic studies degrees, I was seriously dating my wife-to-be and had to figure out how to pay for student loans. I started doing individual financial planning and met for five years with mentor Tim Fleming who had been a speaker with Pastores 21, now SJV’s Virtuous Business Leaders group. I have now worked with Tim for the last 10 years. My philosophy degree and time at SJV suited me really well for all of the ethics, trainings and legal things I handle now in my work with corporate retirement plans and pensions. Most college students aren’t engaging with priests, bishops and vocations directors or public speaking and leading in the same way we were at SJV. I wasn’t even fazed when I started working with leaders of companies and boards because I was so used to this from SJV.
Q: Talk to me about SJV’s building project and your role as an ambassador. Why is it important for you to give back to SJV?
A: As much as I have nostalgia for my time at SJV, it was always a dream for the people of our time to have a better chapel. We also used to cook and try to cater different events from a small kitchen there. To see all the space for human formation, dining, cooking, working out, and hosting bishops, vocations directors and prospective seminarians gives me a lot of joy. I have three boys and one on the way, and, God-willing, I hope some of them come here where some of the best years of my life were spent. To be able to give back now to SJV and the next generation of the Church is really motivating to me. As a lead ambassador, I’m excited to bring back some of the alumni and engage them in a serious way. It’s neat to see [Rector] Fr. [Jonathan] Kelly and [Director of Development] Phil Roeser make this a priority. By building these relationships after we’ve left SJV, our alumni are able to support this formation and help build the Church. We gain so much from what we give.
Q: Have you stayed connected with any brother seminarians?
A: I was in Oklahoma last year on a Holy Day of Obligation. Looking up Mass times close to the hotel where I was staying, I realized one of my classmates — Father Michael Pratt — was the pastor there. He was the one guy from the Tulsa Diocese and now happens to be the vocations director! [Pratt is scheduled to become vice rector at the Pontifical North American College this summer.] After Mass, we went out for dinner, and it was like time had never passed. This has happened in multiple states I’ve been covering for my job. Part of the magic of SJV is that we draw from such a big group. Some of my best friends were from dioceses outside of Minnesota. I probably haven’t seen some of them in 10 or 15 years, but we would pick up right where we left off.
Q: What do you miss this most from your time at SJV?
A: The intentional prayer. Like “Hey, we’re going spend an hour in silence, pray Liturgy of the Hours, do morning prayer and evening prayer together.” That’s burned in my memory. Even now on Sunday evenings, I’ll sometimes pray evening prayer with my boys or sing “Ave Maria” to put my 2½-year-old daughter to sleep. The only reason I know it is from singing it every day at SJV. As a husband and father, you don’t have that much [time] to pray. These are daily reminders of gratitude for my spiritual formation at SJV.
This article was first published in Vianney News Spring 2023.