As a successful beer sales manager in central California, Bert Mello was living the 1970’s high-life. A company car, expense account and fancy home were all part of the scene. At first it seemed exciting – living a self-indulgent lifestyle. And then it all unraveled.
A painful divorce ended Mello’s 16-year marriage - that was accompanied by financial debt up to his eyeballs. What to do now Mello thought. He knew he was overweight, out of shape, and owing thousands of dollars to creditors. Mello decided to take a hike, literally.
In his effort to gain back some fitness, Mello began a daily walk around his neighborhood that included a drinking fountain stop in front of a Catholic church. As a cradle Catholic who had fallen away from the church more than 30 years ago, Mello was moved to prayer and a slow rekindling of his faith.
Still employed, he paid back his debt while the Holy Spirit began to burn inside of him. A timely homily on eternal salvation and a presentation on “What it means to be Catholic” stoked the flame even more. Then Mello’s moment of epiphany struck. “I need to confess my sins,” he exclaimed. So Mello wrote out what he felt were ten pages of transgressions built up over three decades. He didn’t know what to expect from the priest. “I thought he might throw me out of the church” Mello worried. But following the lengthy confession the thoughtful priest happily told him, “Welcome Home!” and granted absolution.
Mello says he walked out of the church with a 500-pound gorilla lifted from his back. He was on his way to totally giving his life to the Lord.
Now, at 59-years-old, following the death of his ex-wife, his discerning of the permanent diaconate program in California, his theology studies at Mount Angel Seminary and his ordination as a transitional deacon this past July, Mello is on schedule for priestly ordination on June 1, 2013.
As one of the older seminarians, Mello says he enjoys the diversity on the Hilltop and working with the younger men. As far as his “real life” experiences go, Mello believes this was God’s plan for him all along. Showing him the depths of despair only to fill him with the grace of redemption and salvation that he can share with others who are searching for hope in their broken lives.
And for that one incredible confession that turned his life around, Mello says he still prays the penance daily in joyful gratitude for a return to the light.