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From atheist to catechist: How becoming Catholic saved Bruce Missen’s life

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Bruce Missen with wife Louise. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Bruce Missen with wife Louise. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

It’s been a long road from atheist to evangelist but one that saved Bruce Missen’s life.

With a young family and promising career in law enforcement ahead of him, the Revesby father-of-two had the world at his feet, until the unthinkable happened.

Set upon by a group of thugs during a routine arrest, he was left with horrendous injuries which would require more than 30 surgeries and ultimately end his career.

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Alcoholic, depressed and suffering severe anxiety and PTSD, Bruce was unable to see a light at the end of the tunnel—until God dragged him “kicking and screaming” back to life.

“All you have to do is let God in for just a minute, if you give him an inch, he’ll take more than a mile until he works his way back in,” he smiled.

Baptised as a baby at the insistence of his Catholic father, his parents separated when he was just two and his mother declared religion taboo in their home.

Despite attending Catholic schools, Bruce and his four brothers were discouraged from talking about faith and were often reminded they were only attending for the discipline they offered.

Growing up in an atheist family, he thought faith was something only for other people.

It was while at the Kapooka army recruit training centre that he realised he could get out of work if he was a man of faith and decided to take full advantage.

“On entering the army, I very quickly realised that people of faith are treated differently,” he said.

“The corporal would ask for those who were religious to go to one room for Mass and cups of tea with the padre, while the rest of us would be left behind to work, maybe some cleaning.

“I thought this was pretty unfair so I put my hand up purely to get out of work and from there a seed was planted.

“From the first time I went to Mass I felt a sense of inner peace, one that I had never felt before.

“And the more I went, the more I wanted to know.

“For the remainder of my time at Kapooka I continued to meet the padre and explore it.”

Bruce Missen with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP after the Pontifical Requiem Mass for Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Bruce Missen with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP after the Pontifical Requiem Mass for Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Bruce eventually joined the military police and for the next few years continued to ask the big questions.

But it wasn’t until he was invited to join a family of parishioners of St Luke’s at Revesby for Mass that he found the answers.

Invited by Louise and her family, he said for the first time in his life he felt at home.

“I didn’t know how to make the sign of the cross, how to pray, when to stand or kneel, but it didn’t matter because I felt so at ease and comfortable,” he said.

“Fr Geoffrey Plant was the priest and he had me hooked, he showed videos with his homilies and pretty quickly I went from not even thinking about praying, to not being able to go a day without it.”

Bruce became immersed in his faith, and became a catechist, then a eucharistic minister and finally an acolyte.

A few years later and with a shared faith, Bruce and Louise were married in the church and with Gia and son Chase coming along soon after, they became a tightly-knit family of four.

It wasn’t until Bruce suffered the career-ending assault during the 2005 Cronulla riots that their lives unravelled.

He needed a jaw and skull reconstruction, a metal plate in his head, bone grafts and was left deaf in one ear.

He spent around 18 months in a brace from neck to ankle and had his jaw tightly wired shut for a year.

“I was completely lost and couldn’t believe God would forsake me after it took so long for me to find him,” he said.

Despite how hard he fought against them, his family and fellow parishioners wouldn’t let him go.

They mowed his lawns, helped with groceries, drove him around and prayed with and for him continuously.

Bruce Missen in his military uniform. Photo: Supplied
Bruce Missen in his military uniform. Photo: Supplied

They became ambassadors of Christ and Bruce said it was “completely infectious.”

Little by little he found what he needed to bring him back to life.

“It was faith that dragged me kicking and screaming out of some of the hardest and darkest times of my life,” he said.

“Without a doubt, being Catholic saved me. God will always send warriors of Christ to support you, you just need to look for them.

“How could I not see the work of Christ around me with these people showing me the way.

“My faith saved me, I really hate to think what could have happened without it.

“It was Christ who led me to Louise, and she has been amazing in the way she supported and guided me.

“God worked through her, and he knew I had questions, and she had the answers.”

After years of rehabilitation and recovery, Bruce has now found the vocation he has so desperately been seeking.

He has become a funeral director and his company Willow Tree Funerals specialises in honouring the traditions and rituals of the Catholic faith.

“A requiem Mass as a Catholic is our God-given right, through the sacraments we receive,” he said.

“To support people through grief and help lift the burden of planning a funeral is just one of the gifts given to me by God.

“You don’t just wake up one morning and think, ‘I’m going to become a funeral director.’

For me this is very much a vocation and one that has taken my whole life to realise.

“Today after everything I have been through, I have a purpose and sense of direction and that’s all down to my faith.”

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