Born in Maquoketa, Iowa, Rev. Michael Hutchins graduated from Divine Word College in 1971. He joined the Society of the Divine Word in 1972 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1975. Fr. Mike has served as vice principal of Verbum Dei High School in inner-city Los Angeles and as chair of Religious Education at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines. In 1993, he returned to his alma mater as the seventh president of Divine Word College. As DWC’s longest-serving president, Fr. Mike continues to minister in this position. He holds a Ph.D. in the social foundations in education from the University of Iowa.
As an SVD priest, professor and longtime president of Divine Word College, Fr. Mike Hutchins has assumed many roles during the course of his ministry and experienced numerous changes since he graduated from DWC in 1971.
Though busy with his current administrative work, Fr. Mike has found time this semester to interact with Divine Word College students on a more personal and satisfying level by teaching a new course, Images of the Priest in Literature. “It is an ambitious schedule,” Fr. Mike says, “and we hope to get through all of it.” The course examines various portrayals of priests in novels and films, including both serious and popular works. Because it is essentially a discussion course, Fr. Mike says, “We will achieve a habit of reflection about the image and vocation of the priest.”
The class has completed two novels to date, exploring examples of priests who struggle with their own humanity and limitations yet continue to persevere. Other important elements of a priest’s image are considered and discussed by the students. These include priestly friendships within ministries and the fundamental importance of priests living their faith and remaining steadfast in their commitment despite disillusionment.
Huy Tran, a DWC senior, is one of the students in Fr. Mike’s class. “I think the course topic is inspirational and helps me to form and idealize my point of view and also the image of who, what and how a priest should be,” says Huy. He likes the concept of writing a paper on the images of a priest as class begins and again after the course is completed. “I thought that was a brilliant idea which allows us to recognize and compare our changing views,” he adds. “I would recommend this class to all students who are seriously considering their religious vocations as priests and Brothers.”
Films like Going My Way, Boys’ Town and On the Waterfront will be interspersed between novels in the course and offer another way for students to examine images of priests. “We will see old familiar stereotypes that are still noble and inspiring,” says Fr. Mike. “We will also see priests, who, though seriously flawed as persons, radiate Christ and act as God’s instruments.” Getting away from the old stereotypes ofpriests and moving into the realm of their humanity provides a challenge for the students, helping them to form their own preferred images of priests.
“This course also helps our students connect to the SVD mission by helping them modify and develop the dynamics of priests’ identities within their own unique personalities as a part of their formation,” says Fr. Mike. “And by talking about priests, the focus inevitably leads to mission.”
Divine Word College continues to study and clarify its mission, adapting to a changing world, while maintaining its bedrock of internationalism and tradition. “Over the years, we have upheld the fundamental mission of the Society of the Divine Word,” says Fr. Mike. “Yet we continue to adapt to the changing environment, searching out ways to keep what is distinctly ours as SVDs even as we change and flourish.”
Looking back, what are Fr. Mike’s greatest joys?
“Teaching has been very satisfying and rewarding to me,” Fr. Mike says. “As a priest, to teach and engage people in their life choices is challenging and inspiring. One of my teaching goals has been to put educational resources out there for the people who are traditionally excluded from these educational opportunities.” He recalls his years of teaching in the struggling neighborhood in the Watts area of Los Angeles. “Our small Catholic high school literally made a difference in the lives of young men. Education offered a viable alternative to negative social forces.”
Fr. Mike notes that the programs developed at Divine Word College are unique to our seminary. “We offer a holistic and cross-cultural way of educating our students and promoting our mission and ministry.” During the 1970s, DWC welcomed Vietnamese refugees, embracing change and receiving much in return. “Today, our situation continues to evolve,” says Fr. Mike. “Now, perhaps, we are called to something new.”
“And one of our biggest challenges is to fully utilize the wonderful resources that we have here at Divine Word College. As an SVD priest, professor and college president, I have experienced the reward of seeing people become involved with our mission and go on to live that mission in dynamic and valuable lives.”