May 27, 2022

Personal trials prepare Deacon Michael Clawson for priestly ministry in archdiocese

Transitional Deacon Michael Clawson proclaims the Gospel on April 12 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral during the annual archdiocesan chrism Mass. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Transitional Deacon Michael Clawson proclaims the Gospel on April 12 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral during the annual archdiocesan chrism Mass. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Being called to minister to the dying and their loved ones happens frequently in the life of a parish priest.

And yet it never really becomes easy or routine. It can be challenging both for a newly ordained priest and one who has been ministering for years.

It probably won’t be long after transitional Deacon Michael Clawson is ordained an archdiocesan priest—along with transitional Deacon Matthew Perronie at 10 a.m. on June 4 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis—that he’ll be called to the bedside of a dying person with scared and sad loved ones nearby.

While that moment may bring its own particular nerves and anxiety, at least Deacon Clawson will know that he’s been on the other side of such a tragic moment.

Experiencing the death of his father 10 years ago helped prepare him to be a loving shepherd for the people he is called to serve.

So did the care and guidance Deacon Clawson received from his parish priest in the absence of his father.

‘I just kind of knew what had happened’

In January 2012, Deacon Clawson was a high school senior when he saw a car pull up to his house. His mother Annette Clawson was away at work as the business manager for Annunciation Parish in Brazil.

Three people got out of the car and approached the house.

“It was a surreal moment,” Deacon Clawson recalled. “I saw these three people get out of the car and I just kind of knew what had happened.”

He knew that his father Mike Clawson had died.

He had worked around the world for months at a time as a helicopter pilot for a defense contractor, taking Army special forces in and out of combat zones.

The people who got out of the car that day were the county sheriff and two representatives of the elder Clawson’s employer.

Deacon Clawson called his mother, who soon came home to learn that her husband had died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Such a moment naturally had an effect on Deacon Clawson’s faith.

“I was super mad at God,” Deacon Clawson said. “It took a long time to move past that. I had a very hard time seeing God the Father in line with who he really is, and not this kind of warped image that I had of him.”

That image was warped in part when his own father was taken from him so suddenly and tragically, and also in the difficult relationship he had with his father in his teenage years when he was away from the family for long stretches at a time.

That paternal absence was filled somewhat when Father John Hollowell became Annunciation Parish’s pastor six months after Mike Clawson’s death.

“He was able to give me some direction in my life,” said Deacon Clawson of Father Hollowell, who described the priest as a “stable figure in all of the craziness” of his life after his father’s death.

‘That’s really where my vocation comes from’

Although Deacon Clawson was troubled in his faith at the time, it had grown deep in him and couldn’t be easily uprooted.

Born in Arizona, Deacon Clawson lived there with his family until he was about 11, when they moved to Indiana.

His parents were deeply dedicated to their Catholic faith, he said, making sure their family attended Mass every Sunday.

As a child, Deacon Clawson was attracted by seeing his parish’s many altar servers and wanted to become one. He went so far as to gain the permission of his pastor to receive his first Communion about a year early so he could start serving as soon as possible.

“That’s really where my vocation comes from,” Deacon Clawson said of being an altar server. “My identity was very much wrapped up in being a server at Mass.”

His father, who sang in his parish’s choir, encouraged Deacon Clawson in this pursuit. He also took his son once to the weekly 4-5 a.m. hour of adoration he observed in a perpetual adoration chapel about 20 minutes from their home.

“It was a different side of my dad that I hadn’t seen before,” Deacon Clawson said. “It was a personal moment. He talked about his experience in adoration and shared with me that sometimes when he would go to pray, he would see the Sacred Heart or Jesus’ face in the Eucharist. … That memory has stuck with me for a long time.”

A time to begin to heal

After his father’s death, Deacon Clawson spent a year working and taking classes on a campus of Ivy Tech Community College in Terre Haute.

“I would get off of work late at night and would stop by the adoration chapel at St. Pat’s on the way home,” recalled Deacon Clawson of the perpetual adoration chapel at St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute. “I’d pray about my day, but I was also discerning my vocation.”

Although he had not fully come to terms with his father’s death and its effect on his faith, Deacon Clawson became an archdiocesan seminarian in 2013 at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and Marian University, both in Indianapolis.

“I think maybe following that call allowed him to work out that grief,” said Father Hollowell, who still ministers as pastor of Annunciation Parish as well as of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle. “He was able to work out his anger with God.

“The seminary has a lot of tools to help you learn about yourself. I think Michael did that and learned a lot about himself throughout his whole journey.”

Annette Clawson was grateful for the guidance that Father Hollowell gave her son during his time of initial discernment of a possible priestly vocation.

“Making that decision without having a father around to help navigate that, it was important to have Father Hollowell in his life to help answer all of his many questions,” she said.

Deacon Clawson stayed in priestly formation for four years, graduating from Bishop Bruté and Marian and completing one year of formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

At that time, though, knowing that there were significant personal issues that he needed to attend to, he took a break from priestly formation.

He said that time away from seminary gave him “the opportunity and the time to really go through all of the stuff I needed to deal with in counseling with my father, his death and my own personal stuff of dealing with depression and all of that.

“God gave me the time to heal those things, or to start to heal them at least.”

‘Michael doesn’t give up’

After a year and a half away from seminary, he felt confident enough in himself and in his vocation to return, which he did in the fall of 2019.

Three years later, as Deacon Clawson approaches his ordination as a priest, Father Hollowell, his pastor now for nearly 10 years, trusts that God will use the many trials Deacon Clawson has faced to help him be a compassionate priest for God’s people.

“The loss of his father will give him a touchpoint with anyone else who has lost a father or who didn’t grow up with a father,” Father Hollowell said. “As with all suffering that we go through, they end up giving us some point of contact with other people who are suffering.”

Newly ordained Father Ben Horn of the Lexington, Ky., Diocese has known Deacon Clawson for four years as they were in priestly formation together both at Bishop Bruté and Saint Meinrad.

He admires his friend’s determination in working through his personal difficulties and remaining true to his vocational discernment.

“Michael doesn’t give up,” Father Horn said. “He knows very well his own weaknesses and fallenness. But, despite this, he’ll keep showing up. There’s a great perseverance in Michael.”

Annette Clawson appreciates her son’s growth through his years of priestly formation and now looks forward to his ordination.

“It’s been a very long road for him,” she said. “I’m proud of him, but also relieved for him. It’s such a long road. I couldn’t be more excited for him. He’s ready and he’s going to make a wonderfully caring priest. He’ll relate to people and care deeply about their struggles.”

For his part, Deacon Clawson knows that God will bring to bear all of who he is through his priestly life and ministry in the Church in central and southern Indiana.

“It’s not just my strengths that God will use when I’m a priest, but all of my weaknesses, too,” Deacon Clawson said. “All of the painful things that I’ve gone through I hope to be able to use as a place where I can help people heal their own wounds and their relationship with God.”

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit

About Transitional Deacon Michael Clawson

Age: 28

Parents: Annette and the late Mike Clawson

Home Parish: Annunciation Parish in Brazil

Education: The former John Paul II High School in Terre Haute; Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and Marian University, both in Indianapolis; Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad

Favorite Scripture verse/passage: Is 41:10; Is 43:1-7; Jn 20:11-18

Favorite saint: St. Michael the Archangel and St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Favorite prayer/devotion: St. Michael Chaplet and Sacred Heart Chaplet

Favorite movie: The Harry Potter series

Favorite author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Hobbies: Reading, golf, basketball

Local site Links: