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I left the monastery—but I'm still discerning.

A letter from a young Black Catholic seminarian in Seattle explains his discernment of the priesthood, call to religious life, and how he's figuring it all out.

Maliko Madden in a July 12 video concerning his time in formation at Mount Angel Abbey in Saint Benedict, Oregon. (Madden/Facebook)

Editor’s note: Maliko Madden is one of the nation’s roughly 30 U.S.-born Black Catholic seminarians. Previously a philosophy student with the Archdiocese of Seattle, he entered postulancy with the Benedictines of Mount Angel Abbey in Saint Benedict, Oregon, in March 2023. He later released a video announcement of his departure to the public on July 12. A transcript is reprinted here with permission.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am writing to inform you that in consultation with those in charge of my formation, I have decided not to request admittance into the novitiate and have consequently departed from Mount Angel Abbey. I understand that given the nature of my discernment thus far, this news might yield various reactions. I know some of you will be pleased; others may be disappointed. Regardless, I want to assure you that this decision was not made lightly and more importantly, it is simply me trying to follow the will of the Lord as best as I can. I am extremely thankful for the time that I spent in the monastery, especially for the guidance of Father Abbot Jeremy Driscoll and Fr. William, my postulant master, and their ardent support (both spiritual and practical) in my transition back into the world. I was in the monastery for just over three months and I told the monks that I viewed the experience as my own personal Visitation. Like our Blessed Mother who visited Elizabeth in preparation for her mission, I visited the experts in Christian living and my stay with them has reoriented me to the fundamental goals of the Christian life and prepared me to continue my journey with greater trust and hope. I am leaving the monastery reinvigorated and ready to follow where the Lord leads.

I clearly had a great experience at the monastery, so why am I leaving? Ultimately, because it is not my calling. But I want to unpack this further. For the longest time, I have been steadily convinced of my call to the ministerial priesthood more generally; however, I have struggled to understand the necessary distinctions between the diocesan priesthood and religious priesthood, and this has made my discernment somewhat difficult. Again, I have a good amount of confidence in the veracity of my calling to the priesthood, but I am also deeply drawn to the religious life, and am drawn to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Seattle. So where does this leave me? How does all of this fit together—if it even can? Needless to say, these desires need to be sifted out, and that has been the task of the past few years and continues to be so at present.

One thing that the monastery helped me with was moving from a more subjective discernment (often concerned with feelings) to a more objective discernment based in self-knowledge. While I was in my monastic cell, I also entered into the cell of self-knowledge wherein I was able to see myself (both good and bad) and God more clearly. This allowed me to see very quickly that while I really loved the lifestyle that the monks engaged in, I didn’t really have a calling or a desire to be a monk. Put more simply, I really like living in community, praying in common, engaging in the monastic observances, etc., but I really felt called to those things as a precursor to ministry, as a means of being perfected myself so that I might go perfect others—or rather that Christ might do so through me. I resonated with St. Augustine, who, as a secular cleric and later a bishop, embraced a religious way of life as a means of aiding his pastoral ministry. But monks don’t live the religious life for a ministerial end; they do it as a means of growing in union with God. Hence, it was pretty clear to me that I was not called to be a monk.

So what’s next? Well, I am in the process of returning to diocesan seminary formation for the Archdiocese of Seattle. I am still open to the possibility of being a religious priest in a clerical order and am interested in both the Dominicans and the Norbertines. However, it seems that the best next step is to continue my formation and discernment in the context of seminary. While in the abbey, I also found out about the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic, and I think that this might be a way by which I can bridge the gap between my call to the priesthood and desire for the religious life. However, I may also very well be called to the religious life and, as such, may join a different (more clerical) institute down the line. What is clear is that more time and formation are needed and I think seminary will offer that. 

Currently, I am waiting to hear back from the archdiocese about when I will be permitted to return to seminary formation. I am hoping for August of this year, and I ask that you pray for this. If not August, then it seems like it will be in January of 2024 after a pastoral semester. Regardless, please continue to keep me in your prayers as I will each of you.

Finally, I want to confess that a part of me was embarrassed and hesitant to share this update with all of you. Some look at my discernment journey and conclude that my three moves are evidence of a desperate desire to control my life, or of immaturity and an inability to commit, or any number of other negative readings. I know that none of these are true, but sometimes it's hard not to buy into the readings of others. I share these updates firstly because I think that part of creating a culture of discernment is being honest about the reality that not everyone has a calling like St. Paul: direct, clear, and instant. Often, we must receive things in pieces and make decisions based off of the information that is available to us at a given time. It is not good to be rash in discernment, it is also not good to prolong it, and truly there is only so much that one can do from the outside. At some point, action is needed. We must progress inasmuch as we are able; action following being is the key.

I also share these updates with you because I desire to be your servant, and part of that is being transparent and open—within the appropriate bounds, of course, about how the Lord is working in my life. I have, to the best of my ability, attempted to follow the will of God. Have I made mistakes? Certainly, and I will until the day I die, but my movements in and out of seminary, etc., have been to get ever closer to the truth of Christ’s calling for me. I desire to do his will and when he calls, I go like the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and really all the saints of our great tradition: where he leads me. I have labored to follow where Christ leads me and will continue to do so. I thank each of you for accompanying me. May God bless you!

Pax et Bonum,

Maliko J. Madden

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