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‘I know my way is with Christ’

February 10, 2021

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Jonathan Monfiletto
Contributing Writer

HANNAWA FALLS – Mike Neaton says his faith has never been as strong as it is today.

That is quite a statement from a man who was raised in a Catholic family, left the church and his faith during a period of life he called his “tumultuous 20s,” struggled with his faith through two marriages and two divorces, and now tries to provide an example of faith for his six children, who range in age from 32 to 8.

“In terms of my own faith, it’s just super important that I have it there,” said Neaton, who lives in Hannawa Falls and attends St. Patrick’s Church in Colton. “I think it’s most important during these times (of pandemic and turmoil). I feel bad for people that don’t have it, that don’t have the faith. As you struggle through things, sometimes life is never going to make sense.”

Being involved with Cursillo over the past few years – and its slogan of “make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ” – has helped Neaton strengthen his faith and draw him closer to God.

“Cursillo made me appreciate (my faith) a lot more,” he said. “I didn’t really appreciate the actual relationship you can have with Jesus. I got to that realization, and it’s really taken hold with me. I’m stronger in my faith now than ever. The Cursillo organization has been a blessing. … It’s just taken me to a whole new level.”

Strengthening his own faith has in turn helped Neaton help others strengthen their faith, including his own children. While it has been a struggle to get his older children to follow in his footsteps and be involved in Church, his youngest son “really embraces church school” and develops his own prayer life.

Neaton recalled a conversation he had recently with his 8-year-old son when the boy was going to spend Thanksgiving with his mother and leave behind his father, who has no family in the area, and the worry the boy expressed for his father.

“Dad, you’re going to be all alone.”

“I’ll be all right, buddy.”

“But you’ve got nobody that you’ll be with.”

“I have a friend.”

“Is that Jesus?”


“I know he gets it. I know he gets my perspective,” Neaton said. “I was thrilled by that little experience.”

As a New York State Trooper for 32 years, Neaton also had the opportunity to share his faith with both his colleagues and the people he came across in his line of work. That included working with the Employee Assistance Program that supported Troopers and their families experiencing hardships, including illness and death.

During his conversations with the people he crossed paths with, Neaton always tried to ask whether they had faith of any kind. When they said no, “I’d just be downhearted,” he said, because he knew they didn’t have anything to fall back on.

“It was long into conversations before you tried to find a way to determine that, but once it was determined it was very unnerving when they said they didn’t believe in anything,” Neaton said. “When I look at my dealings with others, there are so many people out there that are separated from the church for whatever reason. … I look at that as an opportunity to say, ‘The doors are always open. It might be time to try again.’”

There was a time in his life when Neaton had to remind himself that the doors were always open and he could try again with his faith and the church. Though church was a big part of his life and his family growing up, he retained the basis of faith even as he experienced a separation from his faith as a young man.

As he began his law enforcement career, his work shifts gave him an excuse for not going to church and not making an effort to, and before he knew it he had left his faith and the church behind.

“It’s one of those things you don’t see until you look back how much you missed,” he said. “Things could’ve been a lot easier had I been praying and listening to Jesus in my decision making and all that stuff.”

But it was a good friend, with whom he shared an apartment at the time, who surprised him by suggesting they go to church and helped Neaton return to the faith he had grown up with.

“He didn’t seem like the type that would value it enough to go with me, like I wouldn’t go unless I was with my family,” Neaton said. “That one experience with him helped me to start opening my eyes and say it is a part of my life and I need to keep it there. It was a chance happening and one of those things that you look back and you didn’t realize how important that friend’s one little invitation was.”

The challenges Neaton has gone through have also helped solidify his faith. Following his first divorce, he attempted to have his first marriage annulled before getting remarried, though the annulment was rejected.

Feeling disenfranchised from the church, Neaton said he started looking at becoming a member another congregation when he looked into revisiting the decision regarding his annulment. When the case was reopened, the annulment was approved.

“That’s pretty much what saved me from losing my Catholic faith,” Neaton said. “It was one of those things I was so glad to get back to. I love the Catholic church. I love what it stands for. I love the Eucharist. … That’s such a big part of it for me.”

After returning to his faith, Neaton was able to share it with the people he met through the EAP, showing them the strong connection he had to his faith and how it helped him through his own difficulties and could help them through theirs.

“Everybody has their struggles. Mine happen to be this,” Neaton said of his conversations with those people. “I’m so thankful to God and my relationship with Jesus for getting me through my struggle. This could be helpful for you to look at it in the same regard.”

During his struggles, particularly in his first marriage, Neaton found comfort in confession and being able “to talk to a priest and express what I needed to express and keep going with that,” he said.

And when Neaton found his faith again during his career, it gave him something to lean on during the tough situations he encountered.

“There were some experiences in the police world that really brought to light the worst sides of people,” he said. “There was a number of experiences in my law enforcement career that really had me questioning how people could be the way they were.”

Now, Neaton relies on his faith to help him make God the main focus in his life.

“I have to find my way and it might not be their way, but I know my way is with Christ,” Neaton said. “It’s very empowering to me, the simplicity of knowing what you’re doing is right and that God’s will puts me in the situation where if I follow the way of Christ then I fear nothing. If I feel so strongly that I’m doing the right thing, then there’s nothing that could be done to me to dissuade me.”

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