TOM Milliken is a Marist College, Ashgrove old boy, but the 24-year-old didn’t become Catholic until 2016.
Since his conversion, Mr Milliken has served Jesus on three continents, as a missionary with the Society of Jesus.
“I used to think that showing up to a Catholic church meant that I was being Catholic,” Mr Milliken, a Jubilee parishioner, said.
Like many young Australians, Mr Milliken was a zealous and talented athlete at school.
“I used to put sport as my god,” he said. “The moment I hit rock bottom, depression at 15 with a few injuries, I first experienced the joy of prioritising God above all things.
“Loving God above all things brought a deeper sense of peace and happiness.
“I still love sport, but now put God above everything.”
In the days and weeks that followed his Confirmation, Mr Milliken found himself, once again, in the wilderness of his faith.
He said this was the “most difficult time”.
“Straight after the conversion is when the questions and doubts start to kick in – when the faith needs to grow into something concrete and not just a new habit or strategy for short-term happiness,” he said.
He spent time praying and seeking counsel from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was the only career counsellor who would direct him towards the right vocation.
“In the one-on-one personal relationship with Jesus, I usually find that Christ knows the way and that I need to be attentive to wherever I am being taken,” Mr Milliken said.
“The work is everywhere – at home, at the office, at the university, overseas, at the beach, and on the road.”
The young man attributed much of his formative initiation to the school at which he spent the majority of his teenage years.
“The time at Marist was an eye-opener for me,” Mr Milliken said.
“I was shown how to try, and how to be an all-rounded person and not only focus on the performance and results.
“It showed me how to be happy and grateful for the journey and the time.
“I always think back on and see the value in the advice, example and teachings from my high school teachers.”
The Marist Brothers have always placed a high importance on the work of its missionaries.
It should come as no surprise then that Jesus led Mr Milliken toward this vocation.
“Since I was 16, I was really keen to explore mission work,” he said. “As soon as I knocked over high school I headed to the Solomon Islands where I taught in a rural primary school.”
The taste of missionary work left Mr Milliken wanting more.
Still uncertain about his faith, he discovered a religious order that helped him facilitate his passion.
“I got back from the Solomons mission and was a bit unsure of what to do next,” he said.
“I was actually tutoring chemistry when my student told me about her grand-uncle who was a priest in India.
“She mentioned that he had been there for 50 years, so I thought it would be interesting to get in touch.
“At this stage I didn’t even know who the Jesuits were, but two weeks later I was on a plane to India for four months.”
It was there that Mr Milliken met Jesuit Father Paul Jackson, who showed him how to be joyful amid daily suffering that took place around him.
“Father Paul Jackson was a wise, deeply spiritual and typical Aussie larrikin who helped shape and guide the joy and peace I find with God,” he said.
“He pointed me to the village where there is a Jesuit mission.”
It was there, in rural India, that Mr Milliken taught mathematics and English in a girls’ boarding school.
“During the arvo I’d go to the rice farms with the girls and we’d all work hard to keep the weeds out and cultivate the rice,” he said.
Mr Milliken is now in Ecuador where he is teaching physics to students from Amazonian communities, and forging valuable friendships in the process.
“I really enjoy that I interact and get to know the students on a personal level,” he said.
“They often invite me to their communities during the weekends or vacations.”
Mr Milliken plans to continue his overseas missionary work for the next two years – or for however long the Holy Spirit leads him.