Growing up as the oldest of three sisters, Michelle Chandler laughs when she says that “for better or worse, it’s the oldest one who becomes a teacher.”
She majored in English and minored in Spanish at USC, and received a Master in education from UC Santa Barbara, leading to a job as a high school English teacher for five years. She then began work on creating curriculum for teachers to use in the age of Internet instruction.
“I was, in all sense of the world, doing everything well,” Michelle says. “It was all about becoming the best version of myself, using my talents, doing everything the world tells us is important. But I felt very lost. It took me awhile to find my way home, which is where I consider myself now.”
In the version Michelle finds her self today – 7 years ago, her husband Mac, and their teenage daughters Cora and Willa all became Catholic converts at the same time through RCIA — Michelle’s teaching skills remain vital tools in her journey.
At St. Bede the Venerable Church in La Canada Flintridge, Michelle has given back by co-teaching RCIA as well as helping to start the Adoration ministry. Through the invitation of pastor Monsignor Antonio Cacciapuoti, she has also spearheaded local support of important national women’s ministry programs called Endow and Challenge Youth Ministry.
“Teaching is a theme through my whole life and being able to help teach through RCIA, through Endow, with girls in Challenge, it comes naturally and as a source of joy,” Michelle says.
Endow is an apostolate formed for all women to learn about their faith through studying the lives of saints and encyclicals of the Holy Fathers.
“It gives us the context of the vocations and our lives,” Michelle explains. “I’m a mom and a wife and I love this as my primary vocation. Prayer and daily Mass, help me strike the balance of apostolic works and serving with love in our own home. I enjoy above all working with other women, youth and the poor.”
‘Challenge’ for girls, grades K-12, focuses on fostering faith and friendship through positive life choices. The Challenge teens have served on Skid Row, meeting with the Franciscan Sisters, and was given a charter by Archbishop Jose Gomez to continue work there.
“It is about guiding young women to discover their feminine genius and dignity as women of God,” Michelle adds. “The greatest joy is to see girls empowered by the discovery of their worth and their desire to go out in mission and share His love.”
Michelle recalls, “I sought God from a very young age. I have a seeking heart. My Grandmother was a great inspiration to me. She was an elder in the Protestant Church, and I loved to talk with her about her faith.” At a junior high Catholic Youth Group retreat, Michelle said she, “became aware of Jesus in the Eucharist, and a deep joy in this – then the pain of not being Catholic and receiving Him.”
Growing up with a single mom until she was 12, making many trips from San Diego back to their extended family in Glendale, Michelle admired the grounded stability that her Catholic/Christian friends’ families seemed to experience.
After marrying and living for a time on the East Coast, Michelle and Mac moved back to Southern California and became involved with the La Canada Presbyterian Church. She said as both spoke about a longing for the Eucharist, it finally happened while attending a retreat by the Legionaries of Christ, that she heard a direct calling to conversion to Catholicism.
“It was the most profound experience, and I felt there was no option other than a willingness to answer that call,” Michelle says. “Being in the Catholic Church today in La Canada, I wake up deeply grateful that this is the life God is giving me, a family life grounded in faith, a family that prays before and at the end of each day.”
Beth Hodgkiss, who has known Michelle for more than 30 years going back to junior high school, says, “She is like a vessel, and the second she was filled with the understanding and awareness of her faith in Catholicism, she couldn’t help but share it with everyone in a positive way.”
Claudia Ferguson, a fellow Catholic convert who met Michelle at St. Bede’s through various family oriented programs, calls her friend “a genuine soul … she’s so on fire. It doesn’t come out as overpowering, but compelling and intriguing, and you are drawn in to share it with her.”
If she were to reflect on a Gospel passage that relates to her journey, Michelle says she feels a connection to the story in John 4:4-42 about the Samaritan woman at the well.
“As a convert it can be overwhelming to come into the Catholic Church. Conversion requires learning a whole new way of living, moving and having our being. I mean, we are called to follow and imitate Jesus.” Michelle explained. “I was baptized in my late 30s. But here. Jesus waits for this woman and He knows her life story, and then sends her out. She leaves her old jar behind for His joy. I, too, have left my old jar for lasting joy.”