By Elizabeth Lowe
After Michael Middleton’s high school graduation in 1967, then-Father George Giese, who ministered at St. Cecilia in Baltimore, presented him with a blank check for registration and books at what is now Baltimore City Community College.
That act inspired Middleton. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and a law degree – and to help others.
“He (Father Giese) saw more in me than I did in myself,” said Middleton, 64, director of youth ministry at St. Cecilia and a parishioner there for more than 50 years.
As the director of youth ministry, Middleton does more than teach youths about their faith. He advocates for them, whether it’s after a run-in with the law, writing letters of recommendation for college applications, taking them to register for college classes or helping them navigate the financial aid application process.
“If they want to go to college, I’m going to do everything I can to get them there,” said Middleton, a married father of three adult children and grandfather of one. “When I’m finished they have a class schedule. Some need your help more than others.”
Watch video of Middleton taking some young residents of Baltimore City camping at Rocky Gap.
Joyce Henry, a 19-year-old parishioner of St. Cecilia, said Middleton is a good role model.
“He takes care of his responsibilities,” Henry said, “and even though he’s such a busy man, he still makes time and watches out for us like we’re his own.”
Henry’s college applications included letters of recommendation from Middleton.
“He guides us if we need help or if we are ever in doubt about our beliefs,” said Henry, a sophomore at Wesley College in Dover, Del. “I know that if I’m ever in trouble or need that I can call on him for help.”
The former pastor of St. Cecilia and Immaculate Conception in Baltimore credits Middleton with instilling new energy in youth ministry.
“When he came on board,” said Vincentian Father Sylvester Peterka, now pastor of St. Vincent de Paul in Germantown, Pa., “it brought a vibrancy to the youths in the sense that they started youth Bible studies, they went to national conventions, they went to state conventions.
“Everybody loves him and respects him. He has gotten kids who didn’t finish high school to get their GEDs and then walk with them and go through the whole registration process and getting them the financial aid that they need.”
“You do stuff because it’s the right thing to do,” said Middleton, who is humble and patient. “It’s my responsibility to give back as others have given to me.”
He pays it forward by working to help youths make good decisions and avoid the wrong crowd.
Wearing a bright orange shirt, Middleton was highly visible July 15, during a prayer walk for peace that originated at St. Edward in West Baltimore.
“I’m just trying to plant the seeds and move them (youths) toward the path of spiritual development,” said Middleton, who works as a consultant to the Cherry Hill Development Corporation and is chairman of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition.
In May, Middleton and his wife Phyllis, a youth minister at St. Cecilia, received the For God and Youth award from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
While appreciative of the award, Middleton doesn’t strive for accolades.
“The ministry I do is a blessing from God,” he said. “To see them (youths) mature into young adults and start on their spiritual path are the rewards you get.”