Fr. Michael Boyle (1998-2002)
Raised in an Episcopalian home in northern California, V. Rev. Michael Boyle remembers being drawn to the worship of God when he was a seven-year-old acolyte. “It felt like home,” he says of the rich liturgical worship that inflamed his heart with love for God. “Public school did not feel like home. Even my own family home did not necessarily feel like home. But church felt like home.” Deep down he knew that he wanted to “be in church.”
Then life intervened. He was an Eagle Scout. He earned a BA in Speech Communication from Stanislaus State College in the Central California Valley. He earned his MS in Communication Disorders from the University of Redlands. When still an undergraduate and doing clinical work in speech therapy, he was sent to Our Lady of Fatima, a Catholic elementary school in Modesto, California. While waiting for his next student to arrive in the classroom, he remembers looking around the room and finding himself surrounded by Uncle Sam “I want you”-style posters but depicting priests pointing and asking, “Boys, want to be a priest?” He was twenty. He remembers thinking, “Yeah, I do.” But he wasn’t Catholic. He didn’t even go to church. “I had this burning in my heart. I was not a fulfilled man,” he recalls.
His first job after graduating with his MS was across the country at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital near Boston, Massachusetts. There he worked alongside and befriended a number of members of the local Christian Community, which he began attending after being invited to a Sufi celebration at the Boston Armory: “It was a pageant of the great religions of the world. It was really incredible how God used that pageant to squeeze my heart. He just squeezed my heart.” He was brought back to remembering God. His adult relationship with the Lord then began as he attended the Christian Community in Boston, then pastored by V. Rev. Jacob Meyers (+2013) of blessed memory (later of Atlanta).
It was torturous, however, because he had only just started as a therapist and now he knew he wanted to be a priest. “What am I doing?” he asked himself. Then one day in 1978, as he was walking to his car, he heard the voice of Jesus: “Do you want to be my priest?” He said, “Yes.” Then he heard the same question again. And again. Three times and each time he answered, “Yes, Lord.” He thought he would receive clear direction about how to respond, something like “go to seminary.” Instead, Christ told him, “Then forget about the priesthood, deny yourself, take up the Cross, and follow Me.”
This began an improbable path to the priesthood. He worked at a boys school in Derbyshire, England in 1979 for a year before selling everything and returning to the States to live in a San Francisco Christian Community. “I was in my twenties and mixed up and trying to figure out my life. But I knew I loved God.” He lived in San Francisco from 1980-1989, during which time he and Matushka Magdalena met and married. They and two other Christian families bought a three-flat Victorian house where the Boyles started their family, which would eventually include four children. He initially worked as a therapist at UC San Francisco Medical Center, while at the same time earning his Special Education certification at San Francisco State University (1986). In 1986 he then began teaching at the Diagnostic School for Neurologically Handicap Children (1986-1989). While in San Francisco he was baptized Orthodox and ordained a reader.
In 1989, when the other two families who owned the Victorian house wanted to move out of the city, the Boyles, unable to afford the house themselves, moved to Milwaukie, Oregon because Matushka had family in the Portland area. He was ordained a deacon in 1991 at Church of Annunciation, where he was in charge of Sunday school programs and serving in the Altar. In 1994, he transferred to Holy Apostles Mission in Northwest Portland (now in Vancouver, Washington). When Church of the Annunciation and Holy Apostles resolved to join the OCA, Fr. Michael had some reservations about doing the same at that time. He and Matushka sought the Lord for direction, praying an Akathist to St. John the Wonderworker for forty days. On the thirty-ninth day, it became clear that they should move, but to where?
During this time, “We would drive to Eugene and visit Fr. David and Esther and talk things through with them. They were real life-savers for us.” In the Sunday paper, Fr. Michael found a little ad for a speech therapist with an early intervention specialty. With Matushka’s prompting, he responded, not even knowing where the position was located, only knowing that the area code was 541, which is not a Portland number. The telephone call went well and Fr. Michael learned that the position was in Bend, Oregon, with which he was unfamiliar. “I was in agony. I was tormented not knowing what to do” because he was facing uprooting his family yet again.
At the school where he worked, “I go out to the playground for recess duty and one of the teachers came up and asked how my weekend was.” Fr. Michael smiled and nodded offering a pleasant response about visiting friends in Eugene. When he asked his colleague how her weekend was she offered, “My husband and I had a wonderful weekend in Bend. Have you ever been to Bend?” Reflecting on his phone call for the job interview in Bend not just five minutes earlier he said “well…no.” “Well you gotta go” she said as she pointed her finger at him. Fr. Michael then replied, “You really think so?” To which his recess duty partner said, “Absolutely!”
Fr. Michael got the job and in December of 1995, within twenty-two days of finishing the Akathist to St. John, Matushka and the kids were already settled in Bend with Fr. Michael to join them a couple weeks later. “We had a mission there; it was beautiful. I was the first Orthodox presence East of the cascades. I was a sight to behold for the ranchers.” For the purpose of founding the mission in Bend, he was ordained a priest at the St. Paul the Apostle Mission in Eugene on Saturday, February 3, 1996.
In 1998, the Boyles moved to Eugene to help the Lubliners build the church. I was “to assist Fr. David with pastoring the church and the work there in Eugene.” He had no problem getting a job. He taught disabled children in the Springfield School District. Then he taught at Willamette High School in the Bethel School District. A great part of his ministry in Eugene was introducing daily matins and vespers in Eugene and hearing confessions; he was a great help in deepening the spiritual life of the community at this time.
In 2002, Bishop Jovan sent Fr. Michael and his family to Redding, where he became the priest of St. Andrew Fool-for-Christ Orthodox mission. He was responsible for overseeing its move to and the renovation of its present home in Anderson, California. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated there on September 13, 2009. In 2010, Fr. Michael was released from the Serbian Orthodox Church and received into the OCA in order to assume the position of Chaplain and Director of the Residential Program of Raphael House, an emergency shelter for at-risk and homeless families. However, not long after he took up the position, the Board, which had been distancing itself from its Christian roots for a while, voted to eliminate the residential program and Chaplaincy. Fr. Michael and Matushka were in San Francisco without employment or a home.
Through his kindness and blessing, Archbishop Benjamin appointed Fr. Michael Dean of the historic St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka, Alaska in 2011. He is also Dean of the Sitka-Southeast Deanery. In 2012, he was elevated to the rank of archpriest by Archbishop Benjamin at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco. He works as a speech therapist for Sitka Community Hospital serving inpatients, outpatients, and home health residents. He is also contracted with other facilities in Sitka to conduct therapy work with children from birth to three as a member of the team for the Fetal Alcohol Disorder Clinic, as well as therapy at Mt. Edgecombe High School and at the Native seniors home. He considers his secular job significant to his pastoral work in Sitka. “It is refreshing to live life not divided between church and “work,” he says, as his clients, his colleagues, and the people of Sitka all know him as “Fr. Michael.”
Fr. Michael & Matushka Magdalena in Sitka, 2011.
Both he and Matushka like small town life in Sitka, especially their loving experience with the Tlingits, who adopted Fr. Michael into the Coho Clan of the Raven Moiety with the clan name “Taga” (Tah-gah) in 2015, the most honored blessing he could receive from his native flock, who have been Orthodox Christians for many generations; their great love for the Church is inspiring and is something to which a former seven-year-old acolyte in northern California can relate.