Deacon Alex Millar: From jet engines to elevating the Eucharist

By: By Tom Dermody

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is one of six stories profiling the transitional deacons who will be ordained priests of the Diocese of Peoria by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at St. Mary’s Cathedral on May 23.

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In the summer of 2008, Deacon Alex Millar had what he thought was his dream job — working on jet engines with G.E. Aviation in Cincinnati. He would graduate the following spring from the University of Illinois with a degree in theoretical and applied mechanics, and chances were good he could return to Cincinnati and begin his career as planned.

But there was one problem.

“I was absolutely miserable,” said Deacon Millar, “because I knew it was not what God wanted me to do with my life.”

Thankfully for Deacon Millar and the Diocese of Peoria, a Dominican priest that summer had a high decibel way of helping to clarify matters for the unsure college student — and in the confessional, no less.

“He basically yelled at me that I was being a coward and that I just needed to go to seminary,” recalled Deacon Millar. The penitents in line gave him curious looks as he exited.

That night, Deacon Millar called Msgr. Brian Brownsey, director of priestly vocations for the Diocese of Peoria, and the next day he drove six hours to be part of an Emmaus Days weekend vocation retreat. He would complete his senior year at the University of Illinois, receive his degree, and head the following fall to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

“I was 100 percent sure I was in the right place,” he says six years later and weeks away from priestly ordination. “Seminary has been absolutely fantastic.”

Deacon Millar is the son of Dean and Dorothy Millar. He was born in Urbana when his parents were graduate students at the University of Illinois. The Millars soon moved to Midland, Michigan, where Alex and his younger sister, Taylor, were raised. But the University of Illinois connection continued when his mother returned there to earn a doctorate, and her son made it his college choice.

“U of I is kind of in the family blood,” Deacon Millar told The Catholic Post.

His father is Mormon and his mother is Catholic. While raised Catholic, Deacon Millar said he didn’t have training strong enough to defend his faith when challenged by “very militant atheists” in high school.

His years at the University of Illinois were years of exploring different spiritual paths. He spent time with Mormon missionaries and an evangelical group, “I-Life,” and is grateful to the latter for challenging him to read Scripture and encouraging him to attend church regularly. For a time while dating a Protestant girl, he attended her church, but “I couldn’t leave the Catholic Eucharist because I knew there was something special there.”

When attending a vocations-themed Mass at St. John’s Catholic Chapel on campus one afternoon, he sensed he had a vocation within the church. That sense grew deeper when he visited St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria during the summer after his sophomore year. He picked up a bulletin, opened it, and was greeted by the headline “Do you think you have a vocation to the Catholic priesthood?” He contacted Msgr. Brownsey and began his formal discernment.

Soon he will be celebrating Mass, and that thought sends the former aviation engineer flying high.

“I can’t imagine how big that will be,” said Deacon Millar, who is especially looking forward to concelebrating the Mass of Ordination with Bishop Jenky.

“Realizing what God does for us in being present in the Eucharist has been so key to my formation. My spirituality flows out of Eucharist,” he added, saying he hopes as a priest to help inspire deeper love for the Eucharist and liturgy in others.

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