June 5, 2009

Deacon Peter Marshall answers God’s call to Catholicism, priesthood

On Christmas Eve in 2008, Deacon Peter Marshall, left, poses for a photograph at St. Mary Church in Indianapolis with Father Michael O’Mara, pastor, near a Nativity scene. Deacon Marshall was a member of St. Mary Parish when he entered the seminary. (Submitted photo)

On Christmas Eve in 2008, Deacon Peter Marshall, left, poses for a photograph at St. Mary Church in Indianapolis with Father Michael O’Mara, pastor, near a Nativity scene. Deacon Marshall was a member of St. Mary Parish when he entered the seminary. (Submitted photo)

By Mary Ann Wyand

First, God called Peter Marshall to the Catholic faith. Then God called him to the priesthood.

Deacon Marshall, who is 36, entered Saint Meinrad School of Theology from St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis in August 2004.

He doesn’t consider his calling to serve God, the Church and God’s people in central and southern Indiana as a priest to be a delayed vocation.

“I couldn’t have gotten here any faster,” he said. “It was God’s time.”

He is looking forward to his first ministry assignment as associate pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

The adopted son of a minister and stay-at-home mother was born on April 18, 1973, in Chicago, and grew up in a small town in central Illinois with seven adopted and multicultural siblings.

“My father was the preacher of Bethel Bible Church, a small country church about 10 miles west of Peoria,” he said, “so we were fairly poor, but rich in the priceless things in life. We didn’t have a lot of extras.”

His adoptive parents, Rev. Thyron and Carol Marshall, taught their children about Scripture early in life. They will attend their son’s ordination on June 6 and his Mass of Thanksgiving at 3:30 p.m. on June 7 at St. Mary Church.

“I went to Peoria Christian School then Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college [in Upland, Ind.],” he said. “At Taylor, I majored in history, and took minors in English, political science and international studies. For most of my undergraduate years, I was thinking about going on to law school.”

During the summer of 1995, he went on a three-month mission trip to India, Kenya and Uganda with a group of Taylor students then felt called to a life of service.

“We worked at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Calcutta,” he said. “It was a very moving experience. I didn’t meet her because she was in the United States opening a new ministry. In Africa, we were based at Lake Victoria and teaching the Christian faith in different villages. … It really opened my eyes to the vastness of the world. That was a very pivotal experience. After that, I had a change in what I felt I was supposed to do.”

After graduating from Taylor University, he moved to Indianapolis and volunteered with Americorps for a year.

“I worked as a courtroom advocate for the victims of domestic violence in Marion County,” he said. “I was looking for a way to go into a more helping profession. … I thought a master’s degree in social work would be a good foundation for that.”

He earned a graduate degree in social work at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis then worked in drug and alcohol counseling as well as foster care and adoption counseling.

“I had begun exploring the Catholic faith in college,” he said. “On a study trip to England, we visited a lot of old churches and cathedrals. … It just stuck with me that I needed to know more about Catholicism. … [It] predates the Bible.”

He attended Mass for the first time at St. Mary Church and got to know Father Michael O’Mara, the pastor, during the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. He was received into the full communion of the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass on April 19, 2003, the day after his 30th birthday.

“I was where I belonged,” Deacon Marshall said. “For a long time, I had felt a call to ministry, and I started helping out around the parish. I went on a vocations retreat sponsored by the archdiocese at [Our Lady of] Fatima Retreat House. I met Archbishop [Daniel M.] Buechlein and Father Joseph Moriarty, [then] the vocation director, and it all fell into place.”

Seminary formation at Saint Meinrad was a great educational experience, he said, and pastoral assignments at Christ the King Parish, St. Pius X Parish and St. Vincent Hospital, all in Indianapolis, and St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington were positive ministry environments.

A mission trip to the Gulf Coast to help with Hurricane Katrina relief work in April 2006 and a seminary pilgrimage to Rome in January 2009 gave him even more insight into the universal Church.

He was ordained a transitional deacon by the archbishop on Oct. 25, 2008, at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einseideln in St. Meinrad.

“From my background, I have a leaning toward pastoral care,” he said, “and I love preaching.”

Deacon Marshall carried the archiepiscopal cross and helped distribute Communion during the archdiocese’s 175th anniversary Mass on May 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“It was very awe-inspiring,” he said. “To see everybody together was a good reminder of just how big the Church is, and it was also a nice symbol of unity.”

In a video posted online at www.heargodscall.com, the archdiocesan vocations Web site, Deacon Marshall talked about his love for the faith.

“What I love most about the Catholic faith is the way the theology is always coming down to meet people in their

real-life experiences,” he said, “... [and] the beauty of joining our sufferings to the suffering of Christ on the cross. I love the sacrament of reconciliation. I hope my ministry will be one of bringing the mercy and love of Christ into people’s lives.”

Benedictine Father Denis Robinson was a spiritual director for Deacon Marshall before being named president-rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology.

“His experience as a social worker has given him a sensitivity to the poorest and most marginalized,” Father Denis said. “He is a man of great compassion.”

Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen, vice rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology and a former spiritual director, said Deacon Marshall “has a unique gift of using his background in social work to enhance his ability to serve the people of God.”

Marge Hittle, co-director of the Crisis Office for Catholic Charities Indianapolis, and her family are close friends with Deacon Marshall.

“He is going to make a wonderful priest, shepherd and pastor,” she said. “Any parish that is in his future will be very lucky.” †

About Deacon Peter Marshall

  • Age: 36
  • Parents: Rev. Thyron and Carol Marshall
  • Seminary: Saint Meinrad School of Theology and Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., for spiritual direction
  • Hobbies: Reading, cooking, baking and music
  • Favorite prayer or devotion: Liturgy of the Hours
  • Favorite Bible verse: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Tm 1:7).
  • Favorite saints: St. Thomas More and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta †

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