Fr. Mike Schmitz And The ‘Magical Vocation Myth’

Romanticising ditching women for the priesthood is a tasteless, hurtful, and spiritually abusive part of Catholic culture

Sayde Scarlett
10 min readOct 6, 2022
Catholic priest and podcast host, Fr. Mike Schmitz

Imagine your college sweetheart breaks up with you. Imagine the hurt that would inevitably cause.

You move on with your life.

Fifteen years or so later, you realise your ex has become famous. Not only that, but he talks about your relationship and the subsequent break-up frequently and — publicly — and he talks about it as though it were an almost mythical, magical experience, the turning point in his life that freed him to pursue his career.

That’s exactly what Catholic priest, YouTube presenter, and podcast host Fr. Mike Schmitz does and did so again on the Megyn Kelly show last week:

Fr. Mike Schmitz on Episode 399 of the Megyn Kelly Show

Now, how would you feel if that was your ex talking about you?

Fr. Mike is the first to say that the people whose partners leave them to join Holy Orders are not ‘extras in someone else’s vocation story’. That is, however, exactly how Fr. Mike talks about his ex-girlfriend. This tragi-romantic story is told as though Fr. Mike’s ex-girlfriend is the ‘wife who dies at the beginning of the movie’. You know the trope... The [often] nameless woman whose tragic demise only exists to add depth to the protagonist’s inner emotional world before he carries on along his Hero’s Journey — alone.

Conditioning Women to Accept Poor Treatment

Though I’m sure this wasn’t his intention, Fr. Mike has contributed to a pernicious part of Catholic culture that mostly hurts women and conditions them to accept poor treatment from men.

You can, of course, dump your partner for whatever reason you want. I’ve no doubt that Fr. Mike and his ex did exactly what was right for them. What I object to, however, is how Fr. Mike talks about this story as though his actions were ultimately an act of love. Love for God, definitely!

But love for this woman? Absolutely not. I’ve no doubt that he loved her initially, but his breaking up with her was not an act of love. Women should not be told that men dumping them, abandoning them, leaving them, or prioritising their careers or their vocations over them is romantic love. That’s not what love looks like.

It’s only love if you play the trick of envaguening love to a statement like ‘love is willing the good for the other’ which more accurately describes the love you should feel for mankind in general than how we understand romantic love. This is exactly how women, and Catholic women in particular, are conditioned to accept poor treatment from men.

If a man broke up with a woman for another woman — no one — not a single soul, would be telling that woman how much that man loved her. If a man broke up with a woman to prioritise his career in the law or medicine— no one — not a single soul, would be telling that woman how much that man loved her.

Though there are hints that Fr. Mike may not be entirely at peace with that decision…

A clip captured form the Undaunted Life podcast, the full version of which is available here.

It is a wonder that these feelings weren’t caught on to in Fr. Mike’s semiary formation. Your vocation isn’t necessarily meant to make you happy every day, but it is meant to bring you a sense of contentment, peace, and joy. This doesn’t sound like peace and joy to me.

It is a wonder that this man’s advice is sought for the matter of discernment. If, when advising young people on their own discernment, Father Schmitz fails to mention the painful aspects of discernment as well as its privileges, shame on him.

A Lack of Consideration

After I posted my thoughts on Fr. Mike’s vocation story on, several women reached out to me to tell me their stories of how their ex-boyfriend’s dumping them for the priesthood had affected them.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said:

“My high school boyfriend, who I’d been with for a year, told me he either wanted to be a professional athlete or a priest. Honestly, it felt like he was telling me he was gay because the likelihood of him going pro was slim.

“I loved him and so I think I did really romanticize it all. We remained close friends for years. But little by little I recognized how enmeshed I still was with him.

“I felt like our vocations were intertwined, like I had this problematic thought that maybe God would want me to be single forever, while he went off and became another popular priest.

“The false spirit really would get to me sometimes.”

Father Stu

The 2022 biographical film of the late Fr. Stuart Long’s life, ‘Father Stu’, starring Mark Wahlberg, features a scene of profound heartbreak. It’s the scene in the middle of the movie where Long tells his girlfriend, Carmen, that he’s going to be a priest.

Carmen responds: “Have you considered all this entails?” What she really means is: “Have you considered me?” The pain is evident on her face whilst Wahlberg’s character coldly gives her a list of reasons why he can and should be a priest instead of the proposal she was expecting. It’s clear he hasn’t considered her at all.

In a line that strikes me as almost sadistically cruel — and like nothing a real person would say — Wahlberg’s character then tells Carmen that his vision of Mother Mary is the first time he felt safe and loved, invalidating and belittling all the warmth and love that has already transpired between the couple up until that point. All the warmth and love that we, as an audience, have just watched happen.

Freed of his inconvenient girlfriend, plucky Stuart Long is now able to conquer all the other obstacles that stand in his way. Next up! A snooty Monsignor at the seminary who doesn’t think Long is the ‘right type’…

Since I watched the movie, I’ve thought a lot about how that break-up might really have happened in real life. Although the scene is, obviously, fiction, it feeds into this idea of the ‘Magical Vocation Myth’. Receiving a calling to the priesthood is constantly portrayed in media as a magical, spiritual experience rather than a decision to enter into rationally and soberly.

If a vocation is portrayed as magical or supernatural, it doesn’t matter who or what is sacrificed along the way, or the manner in which they are sacrificed.

I think one of the reasons discernment causes so much turmoil is that young men are given the impression that their calling will feel supernatural. They end up disappointed that they never have this magical, emotional, definitive supernatural experience telling them to be a priest.

You can just be a priest if you want to be. You want to be a priest? Go be a priest. You don’t need a supernatural sign.

Emotional Invalidation and Spiritual Abuse

Another deeply problematic aspect of the ‘Magical Vocation Myth’ is the emotional invalidation that comes with it. What a good man shouldn’t do to his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend is tell her she’s not allowed to be upset because he’s leaving her for God.

Not only is this emotional invalidation, it's also a form of spiritual abuse. Yet many women have found themselves unable to publicly grieve their former relationships because their ex-boyfriend’s need to pursue his vocation is deemed by their Catholic families, friends, and communities, as more important than their own inconvenient feelings.

One woman told me:

“My fiancé left me for the seminary seven weeks after we’d made a non-refundable four-figure deposit on a wedding venue. My family had paid most of it.

“What upsets me more than the money, is that he could never just look me in the eye and tell me he didn’t want to marry me.

“He used the priesthood as a get-out-of-jail-free card. I’ve no doubt his vocation was sincere, and he’s a good priest now, but I’ve had to accept I’ll never get closure from him.

“For a long time it felt like my boyfriend and God had gone behind my back and made a decision about my life without my knowledge.

“Everyone in my community expected me to put-up and shut-up because my ex was now off to do great things for God. The pressure to ‘be supportive’ was crushing.

“It was just too hard to just pretend not to be hurt all the time. I was grieving and I became burned out from trying to pretend I wasn’t.

“I didn’t get over it until months later when I was praying and I just felt God was finally telling me it was OK to be upset and that what happened to me would have hurt anyone in the same situation.

“The way I was treated by family and friends in the wake of that break-up led me to leave my community and attend a different church even though I still live in my hometown.”


Someone actually had the gall to tweet this to me…

Another way of invalidating, belittling, and patronising women is by telling them that the priesthood is a higher calling than being married to them. The ‘Magical Vocation Myth’ benefits from an unhealthy, but unsurprising, serving of clericalism.

Being a priest is not a higher vocation than marriage. A different vocation, sure, but not a ‘better’ one. Men who put women aside to become priests are not holier or innately more virtuous than men who are loving husbands and fathers. It’s insulting to both men and women who are called to marriage to suggest otherwise.

Not to mention the implicit misogyny that suggesting the highest vocation possible is the one only men can attain naturally entails.

The ‘Magical Vocation Myth’ also ties into sexist ideas surrounding the mandatory celibacy requirement for Catholic priests — the idea that women are obstacles for men to overcome in order to be truly holy.

John Underwood 1989-2018

In 2018, a dear friend I had known since university, the writer John Underwood, died aged 28 due to complications from Hepatosplenic T-cell Lymphoma. He had been fighting the disease with some success since the age of 25.

Before he died, John had dumped his long-term girlfriend, cookery writer and children’s author Ella Risbridger, with the intention of becoming a Jesuit novice as soon as he was well enough to do so.

Even though John had talked about being a priest before, we never actually thought he’d go through with it. Especially considering where he was in his recovery from cancer and his hitherto ambivalent relationship with God.

Although John would have made an excellent priest, as he had the social skills, intellect for theology, and charisma that makes the soft-power position of parish priest work, it wasn’t meant to be.

You can read his obituary in the Times article linked below.

I often wonder how, had John lived, he would have told his own vocation story. I wonder how he would justify abandoning the girlfriend who held his hand whilst sobbing through three grueling years of chemotherapy and various other cancer-related treatments for the priesthood.

The woman who cooked him offal-rich food to keep his plummeting iron-levels up. The woman who pushed his hulking 6ft 6in frame around London in a wheelchair. The woman who cleaned up his vomit from the shared bathroom of their tiny flat.

There’s part of me that hopes the real reason John chose to break-up with Ella is because, deep down, he knew he was going to die or be permanently crippled, and he wanted to release her from being bound to him. One last grand romantic gesture to make whatever happened easier for her in whatever way he could.

That way, even if he did die, she would know there would have never been a future for them together anyway, and she could more easily move on.

But knowing John, knowing how men are, knowing how the world really is, knowing his selfishness — I think it would be foolish to allow myself to believe that as much as I would like to.

I do think it’s interesting to note, however, that all three men mentioned in this article — Schmitz, Long, and Underwood — experienced periods of severe illness and/or injury immediately before acting on their desire to become priests. So, Catholic girls, if you’re dating, don’t forget to wrap your boy up in cotton wool every night…

Through my work as a journalist who covers religion, I speak with a lot of priests, and so many vocation stories are characterised by a shocking lack of gallantry and human decency disguised as an unfortunate necessity in the pursuit of holiness. The sugar of tact and consideration would help make the medicine of the break-up go down a little smoother.

Fr. Mike Schmitz is obviously not personally responsible for all the above mentioned flaws in contemporary Catholic culture. As I said, I don’t even believe he did the wrong thing for him or his ex. He is, however, the most high-profile priest to feed the ‘Magical Vocation Myth’ that romanticises men jettisoning women for the priesthood.

His publisher, Ascension Press, affords him an unusually large platform to do exactly that.

The above short film is shot like the trailer for a Ridley Scott movie. There are so many videos on Ascension’s YouTube channel that also reinforce the ‘Magical Vocation Myth’, including this video which contains the almost comical suggestion that every person who isn’t already married or a Consecrated Single should discern Holy Orders.

This is an aspect of Catholic culture that simply has to change. As I said, you can break-up with anyone for any reason you want, but I do not accept the mythologising, emotional invalidation, and spiritual abuse that seem to be an underlying feature of so many vocation stories or the implication that men who become priests are off to do something better and more worthy than the women they leave behind.

The perfect vocation is not the priesthood; it is the vocation that God calls you to. Your vocation is something you should discern independently of any other human being.

Fr. Michael Schmitz and his publisher were made aware of this article before its publication but did not offer comment.

Thank you for reading — I hope you found my thoughts interesting. You can find links to my other work here:



Sayde Scarlett

Author and poet by day; artist by night. Loves to tell stories and create art; loves to talk about stories and creating art.