From 27 May to 4 June, popular United States priest, writer and speaker Fr Chris Alar MIC toured Australia and New Zealand promoting the message of the Divine Mercy. As part of a joint project of Parousia Media and Divine Mercy Publications, Fr Chris had the opportunity to share his conversion story with Australians, a story that involved his discovery of the writings of St Faustina and the messages of mercy given to her by Jesus.
It was the discovery of these messages that prompted his journey to the priesthood.
‘The Divine Mercy brought me from being a secular, worldly American who only cared about his girlfriend and his business to being a Catholic priest,’ he says.
On a tight schedule during his time in Australia—moving from location to location, hosting public conversations, and giving interviews and talks based on his book, Understanding the Divine Mercy—Fr Chris began to fall ill towards the end of his trip, but remained joyful and articulate, exuding passion for his life’s work in spreading knowledge of God’s mercy.
‘I’ve had really bad luck on this trip with getting sick, a driver not showing up to take me to the airport, breaking things, losing things,’ Fr Chris says, ‘but the people have been amazing.’
Fr Chris says he loves Australia, and more than a few things have surprised him. ‘I was surprised at Tasmania. I expected it to be much more remote,’ he laughs. The Masses he’s celebrated and concelebrated across the country have been a source of joy for him too, and he’s been ‘more than impressed’ by how reverently Australians have approached the Mass. ‘I’m very pleasantly surprised by the people and the reverence of Australia.’
Heartening as well has been the turnout at his events. ‘Every place we’ve gone has been a tremendous turnout. Sold out, full capacity … A lot of people are interested in learning about the faith, which is encouraging for me.’
In some ways, this is not surprising since Fr Chris’ ministry in the United States has gained an enormous following both nationally and internationally. One of his big media projects is the Saturday-morning Explaining the Faith series, which covers a range of different topics and which has reached 83 million views since COVID began.
This series is quite unique, he thinks. Having loved the education he received in seminary, Fr Chris wanted to pass this opportunity on to other people. ‘I kept all my notes,’ he says, ‘so people can learn and get a seminary education with no money, no tests, just watching the videos. I’m giving you the same teaching I got, and people have really responded well to that.’
His other big project is with global Catholic media network EWTN, where Fr Christ hosts a show called Living the Divine Mercy, featuring stories about people living the message of the Divine Mercy. He says the show reaches more than 400 million households worldwide.
Fr Chris wasn’t always a popular priest and teacher, though. At one point in his life, he was a wrestler, a sport he discovered in third grade and continued to pursue all the way through school and into college.
In college, he studied and trained to become an industrial engineer, and for a while worked in the automotive industry in Detroit making cars for a living. After completing further studies in business, he went on to start and grow a million-dollar business. On the surface, everything looked great. He had two cars, two houses, a boat, more money than he knew what to do with and was even engaged to ‘the most beautiful woman’.
Everything on paper was like, what else could a guy ask for? But something was missing, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I ended up discovering the call to the priesthood.
The call did not come easy. Fr Chris’ life was shaken by the suicide of his grandmother. Growing up, he absorbed the belief—as many perhaps have—that suicide means someone is ‘automatically lost’. But following her death, he discovered the Catholic Church’s true teaching on the matter, which is laid out in the Catechism:
We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives (§2283).
A priest in North Carolina, where his business was based, gave him the diary of St Faustina, certain passages of which deal explicitly with the issue of suicide.
‘When I learnt about God’s mercy, after my grandma took her life—that even she can make it to heaven—and when I learnt that God’s mercy is greater than any sin, even suicide, it changed my life,’ he says.
He fell in love with the diary of St Faustina and the message of the Divine Mercy. Discovering that the diary was sold by Marian Press—a publishing apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception based in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, who also run the National Shrine of Divine Mercy there—he knew he was being called to be part of the movement and to give his life to spreading the message of the Divine Mercy.
Breaking off a relationship is never easy, though, especially when you are in the planning stages of getting married. It was a painful experience. ‘She was beautiful, she was smart … Sometimes I look back and say, “God, did you have to send me such a good one? It made it so much harder to let go.”’
His experience with his grandmother ended up shaping a book called After Suicide: There’s still hope for them and for you (2019).
‘A lot of people who lost their loved ones to suicide, they don’t want to read, they don’t want to talk about it. They want to get away from God, because how could God allow it?’ he explains. ‘This book, I hope people get it because it is about hope.’
‘And it’s not just suicide. It’s any kind of suffering and loss. People who lose their spouse to cancer, or if a family loses their son in a car accident, the same exact principles apply.’
Looking back over his life, Fr Chris says he can see how God was using everything to bring him to where he is today. Both his engineering and business degrees—he only pursued the latter because his engineering job paid for it—meant he was well equipped to undertake the role he has now as Provincial Superior of the Marian Fathers.
‘Industrial engineering is about making things efficient. It’s about productivity, about doing things smarter. And then the MBA helps you to manage people and money,’ he says. ‘I’m the Provincial Superior of the Marian Fathers in the US and Argentina, so I’m over all the operations, the priests and brothers, which is a huge deal because I have over a hundred employees, in addition to the Marian priests and brothers. So, in total, I have over two hundred people under me. It’s quite a task.’
At the end of the day, everything he has, every breath he takes, he believes is the result of God’s mercy. He encourages Melbourne to join him in spreading and promoting the message of God’s extravagant mercy, a message that is full of hope for all those who need it.