Glen Ellyn church helps immigrant fulfill his calling

Glen Ellyn church helps immigrant fulfill his calling

When the Rev. Miguel Briones took a job as a sexton at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn 13 years ago, he didn’t know he would go from doing maintenance work to fulfilling a childhood calling to become a priest.

“It was God,” said Briones who will become the first native Mexican to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago early next year.

Briones credits members of St. Mark’s with encouraging him along the way.

“I was working here and I was part of the congregation,” Briones said. “I was a different kind of sexton.”

Briones didn’t just maintain the church property. He befriended members of the congregation and supported the church’s activities, said the Rev. George Smith, who as rector has led St. Mark’s for five years.

“His gifts for worship and leadership in the church were clear early on,” Smith said. “Worship was important to him, something he loved.”

Briones said he first felt the call of God on his life when he was about 10 and growing up in Mexico City. Like most Mexicans, his family was Roman Catholic and he served as an acolyte and choir member of his church.

“I felt the call right there already,” he said.

But with a family of 11 children, his parents did not have the means to send him to seminary. Briones worked his way through school and the university, where he met his wife, Nora. He became an accountant before immigrating to the United States with his brother-in-law.

Unable to practice his profession here because of the language barrier, Briones worked for a company that did maintenance work for St. Petronille Catholic Church in Glen Ellyn. Then someone told him about the opening for a sexton at St. Mark’s.

“I knew right away ... I was welcome here,” he said.

Jeannine Mahon, a late deacon of the church, was the first to talk with him about becoming a priest, he said. The church’s former rector and Smith also encouraged him to pursue his calling.

“I didn’t think it was possible to come back to be a priest until I came to the Episcopal Church and found here the opportunity,” he said.

After going through a long process to discern his direction, Briones embarked on two years of seminary studies — taking classes at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, an Episcopal seminary in Evanston, and at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

“I started school and realized it was not too easy,” Briones said. “Learning (in) a second language is different.”

But with the help of some understanding professors and work with other students, Briones finished his classes this past summer. Still working to complete a master’s thesis, he was ordained a provisional deacon at St. Mark’s in August.

After completing six months as a provisional deacon, Briones will be eligible to be ordained a priest in late February or early March.

Briones resigned his position as sexton at St. Mark’s at the end of September. He already is serving as a full-time associate at Christo Rey Episcopal Church and at Nuestra Señora de las Americas Episcopal Church, two Latino congregations in Chicago.

Smith said Briones is particularly equipped to bring the gospel to Hispanic people. Not only does Briones share the language and immigrant experience, his character, sincere interest in people and joy attract others to him, Smith said.

“Miguel is someone whose joy appears on his face,” Smith said. “He brings good news to people, especially people who speak Spanish.”

Troubled by racism he has witnessed in the United States, Briones said eventually he would like to work to bring Latino and Anglo believers together.

“We are one body in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Briones, who now lives in Winfield, is gradually saying his goodbyes to the Western suburbs. His wife and two children also have been deeply involved in St. Mark’s, where the congregation recently held a reception for him and his family this past Sunday.

But Briones will be back to visit, Smith said.

“St. Mark’s is proud of Miguel. We’ll keep him in our prayers,” he said.

For information on St. Mark’s, see

  After completing two years of seminary studies, the Rev. Miguel Briones was ordained a deacon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in August. Mark Black/
  Miguel Briones quickly became involved in the life and worship of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church after taking a job there as a sexton. Mark Black/
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