“To be able to share my story, which I kept secret for over 30 years, and still feel safe and loved was such a profound experience.”
Mike Hoffman, 58, lives in Chicago and has been married for 28 years to his wife, Kathy, with whom he has two adult children. He is the director of patient care services at Graymont Medical, an orthopedic products and services company in Chicago. He swims laps at a local health club and enjoys taking the family dog, Winston, on long walks in the forest preserve near his home. He and his wife also like visiting local taprooms to sample new craft beers—and they often bring Winston. Hoffman graduated from Marquette University with his bachelor’s degree in 1987.
Hoffman remains an active Catholic, despite the abuse he endured as a young boy. “I believe in the community of believers,” he says, explaining that he and his wife are very involved in their parish. “I am a lector and was previously on the liturgy planning committee and a member of the school athletic board,” he says. “My wife works as an aide at our local Catholic school and volunteers for a variety of fundraising efforts.” Hoffman also volunteers his time as chair of the Hope and Healing Committee of the Archdiocese of Chicago, a group of clergy abuse survivors, priests, and staff from the archdiocese who reach out to other survivors seeking help to heal from the pain. This committee helped create the Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago and plans all aspects of the annual Hope and Healing Mass, now in its eleventh year. “I feel that abuse survivors working side-by-side with priests and staff with the support of church leadership is a model for healing our Church overall from the wounds caused by abuse,” he says.
Awake: Hi, Mike. Thank you for sharing your story with our community. It’s an honor to hear from you. As we begin, what would you like to share about your abuse?
Mike Hoffman: When I was a young boy, I was sexually abused by my parish priest, who was a dear friend to my parents. He was also held in high regard within our community. Because my parents really trusted him, I didn’t think they would believe me if I told them what he was doing to my body. I also felt they would think I was a “bad boy” for saying “bad things” about their friend. My abuser told me that what he was doing to my body was a normal way for two people to show love and affection for one another. Obviously, he was the adult and I was a child and it wasn’t right—it was not a healthy or appropriate relationship. Against that backdrop, I was unable to process the sexual nature of the relationship, my parents’ expectations, and the family and social implications of telling my story, along with my own emotions and safety. This was an impossible task for any young child. I was only 12 years old at the time. My coping mechanism was to keep it all inside.
Q: Again, thank you for sharing this, Mike; I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You must have felt so alone. Could you tell us about anyone who has been particularly helpful in your healing and recovery process? What did they do that helped you?
A. My primary act of recovery from childhood abuse was telling my wife my story. I finally had the courage to share with her when I was in my 40s. We had been married for more than 12 years at the time. Up to that point, I had not wanted to introduce, verbally, what I viewed as a sick and depraved personal history into our marriage. I thought she would think differently of me, as a husband, as a provider, as a father to our children. I was deeply conflicted because I had held back my story for so long, and I was deeply afraid to finally let it out. Exhausted from the inner struggle, with tears streaming down my face, hands shaking and heart pounding, I finally told her. Remarkably, Kathy didn’t think differently of me. She responded to me with compassion, love, and understanding. To be able to share my story, which I kept secret for over 30 years, and still feel safe and loved was such a profound experience. I believe God’s grace was among us.
Q. Wow. That’s really powerful, Mike. Is there anything else that you’d say has been useful in helping you heal?
A. Not holding back my story any longer has been the most helpful. Telling my story to family, friends, and other survivors has helped me to feel free. I am free to be myself. The childhood trauma I experienced still affects me deeply but does not define me.
Q. So sharing your story has been really key for you. Could you offer one important idea that you would like Catholics to understand about your journey of healing from sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?
A. I told my story to officials of the archdiocese in 2006. They responded to me with professionalism, decency, and compassion. In short, they believed me, and with that, I was able to more tangibly embark on a therapeutic process of healing. I participated in individual counseling for two and a half years as well as a support group of other survivors of childhood sexual abuse for a year and a half. Another aspect of my healing process was meeting with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago at the time. I had never met a cardinal before. I was anxious about this meeting. I felt conflicted out of deep respect for his office, but I also wanted to tell my story as a way to unburden myself. I told Cardinal George my story of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it had on me, throughout my life, and my family. The cardinal listened. He apologized to me for the abuse imposed on me when I was a boy. I accepted his apology. Since my abuser had been such a close family friend, I brought family photographs of him from many of our family functions and shared them with Cardinal George. He asked about my parents and my siblings. We had a very nice discussion and because of the time he spent with me, and because that conversation was so good, I feel comfortable continuing to practice my faith.
Q. Mike, it’s been an honor to hear your story. Thank you for sharing with us and giving us the chance to learn from you. I have one final question for you: What gives you hope as a survivor?
A. I have hope that healing is possible. There are many good people, like the Awake community, and others who walk with, affirm, and accompany survivors on our healing journey. Despite the abuse imposed on me, I consider myself to be blessed and blessed and blessed. My hope is for any survivor to know that we hear you, we believe you, and you are not alone.
—Interview by Erin O’Donnell
Note from Awake Milwaukee: We extend heartfelt thanks to Mike Hoffman for sharing his story. We also want to acknowledge that every survivor’s path is different. We honor the journeys of all survivors and are committed to bringing you their stories. In addition to Mike’s story, we encourage you to read our previous Survivor Stories, including our last story, from Esther Harber.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, you can receive support through the National Sexual Abuse Hotline, 800-656-4673, which operates 24 hours a day. In Milwaukee, you can contact one of the Aurora Healing Centers at 414-219-5555. If you seek support from the Catholic Church, contact the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s victim assistance coordinator at 414-758-2232. Also, Awake is always open to listening to and learning from survivors. If you would like to connect with us, we invite you to email Sara at email@example.com.
2 thoughts on “Survivor Story: Mike Hoffman”
Mike, thank you for sharing your story. What a horrific and lonely experience to deal with alone for so long. I am so glad you were able to talk about it and start your journey of healing. All of us Catholics need to know that many survivors like you are in the pews with us. Thank you again for your story, and for your words of wisdom and hope!
Mike, thank you for sharing your story. I am moved by your strength and your faith. I also agree how helpful it is for everyone to hear, to raise our awareness and in turn our compassion for our neighbors we do not know are carrying these heavy burdens.