A student of art, culture

Father David Michael is the new pastor at St. John's Parish. He comes from Burma and received much of his education in India. He considers himself an artist, and everything is art.

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August 6, 2021 - 1:48 PM

Fr. David Michael is the new pastor for St. John’s Parish. “From 8th grade, I was very much in that direction, living the life of an artist,” he said. Photo by Trevor Ho / Iola Register

“For me, everything is art,” said Father David Michael, the new pastor for St. John’s Parish.

Indeed, it’s an approach the 46-year-old takes to life itself, whether it involves the complexities of mission work, cooking or something else altogether.

As he explained, “I write poems. I write songs. I have acted in plays. Later on, I wrote a play and directed it. It was staged in the national theater in my country.”

And being an artist comes with a certain dynamism.

For as Michael put it, “whenever I’m not able to do one thing, I will try to do it in a different way. I’m always looking for alternatives.”

Fr. David Michael enjoys a break with his dog, Julio.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

THE SEARCH for different ways of doing things has long held a fascination for Michael, who has studied and written about cultures around the world.

He originally hails from Burma, and it’s a name he thinks is vital.

“I don’t use the word Myanmar,” he said. “In 1991, the military, the terrorists who are ruling right now, they got into power and changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar.”

“Since they’ve been in authority for 22-23 years, people seem to be forgetting.”

Michael received much of his education in India, and he’d initially hoped to serve as a priest in China, excited to learn the language and culture.

Before heading to the United States in December 2013, the possibility likewise arose that he could be working in Australia instead.

Despite the global range of options, however, Michael would ultimately find himself in Kansas, bouncing from Wichita to St. Paul to Wichita State University over the past eight years.

He’s now been in Iola for the past month, and plans to stay for at least three more years.

Fr. David Michael strolls from the rectory to St. John’s Catholic Church.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

AMERICAN culture didn’t really require much of an adjustment, Michael said.

As he explained, “there’s no culture shock, because we watch movies when we’re young, and so we’ve seen that culture. And smaller counties always imitate a bigger, stronger, influential country’s culture.”

“So we know the western way of life.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges.

“The very first challenge is, of course, the language,” Michael noted. “People don’t always understand my English, and sometimes the way others speak, I have no clue, because it’s out of context.”

He also laments that Americans will throw a party for practically any occasion.

“Going to this party, that party … it’s very difficult. I don’t enjoy it. But since I’m a priest I have to go,” he said, grinning.

“But if I go, I would be the last one to leave,” he laughed. “I couldn’t understand why I do that!”

“I enjoy the company of the people,” he supposed.

Michael could live without American fast food, too.

“Even as a child, I never drank Coca-Cola,” he said. “But young people are like, ‘Where do you want to go? Subway?’” 

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