For Father Michael Darcy, of the parish of St. Ann in Bethany Beach, becoming a priest felt like a natural progression. As a teenager, he thought about becoming a priest and spent a lot of time active in his home parish.
“I always enjoyed religion. It was one of my favorite subjects,” explained Darcy, who was born in Scotland and came to the U.S. with his family at 7. He attended Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md., from kindergarten through eighth grade and then attended Salesianum Catholic High School in Wilmington, Del. He taught Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes and was the parish organist.
Besides being active in his home parish, Darcy had guidance about his future from his teachers in high school and from special people in his life.
“I was an altar boy and Father Robert Coin, the associate pastor in Elkton at the time, inspired my vocation – many people did.”
Darcy said one specific woman at his church growing up, Annette Ott, always used to say “Michael, there’s a place in the church for you.”
“I used to push her away,” he recalled, “but in the end, she was right.”
Although he had the early inkling that the church might be his vocation, he said he didn’t visit a seminary until 23.
“I had actually been afraid to go,” Darcy admitted, “but I had been laid off from my job as a computer operator and took the plunge.”
At 23, he was older than many of the young men in seminary, but that experience served him well in his studies. Of the 11 or so men that started out in the seminary with him, only four ended up being ordained. Like many young people, Darcy noted, some men find out only after joining that the seminary is not a good fit.
“It’s an eight-year process,” he said. “It’s hard to discern if you are actually called to do it until you actually go.” He added that a priest once said to him, “Dating is to marriage as the seminary is to priesthood.”
After completing four years at St. Pius X in Scranton, Pa., Darcy went to Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, N.J., for his last four years. He was ordained on May 27, 2000, at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington by Bishop Michael Saltarelli.
Darcy then worked as an associate pastor at Holy Cross in Dover for four years, and as chaplain at St. Thomas Moore Academy. He worked at St. Mary Magdalen in Wilmington for two years before being asked to come to Bethany Beach to be St. Ann’s first associate pastor. At St. Ann’s, he works under the Rev. David Kelley.
Darcy describes being a priest as being a “general practitioner.” For those who might not understand his choice of vocation or who might wonder about something that takes such a strong commitment, he said it has its ups and downs – like everything – but, in the end, is so much more than a job.
“I always feel most like a priest saying Mass or hearing confessions,” explained Darcy, noting also the “not so glamorous” parts of the jobs, such as visiting the sick. “There are some good days and some bad days,” he said. “There are hard days, and you have bad days of your own – when there is a death of a young person, for example, or someone’s in the hospital. But it’s not about you. They don’t love you because you are you, they love you because you bringing them closer to God.”
He added that, underneath it all, priests are still people, with a strong desire to share their faith with others.
“Your personality doesn’t get erased when you become a priest,” he emphasized. “You still have your hobbies and your passions. I still maintain friendships from before I was a priest.”
Darcy pointed out that he still enjoys working with computers and reading, and has been to Rome – his favorite place to visit – many times.
But, ultimately, Darcy said, the thing that allows someone to give up being able to get married or having a family is something that is bigger than them as in individual.
“Sometimes I’ll put hours into a homily and no one will really say anything, and then there will be a week where there was a lot of emergencies or it was really busy or I couldn’t think of something, and [what I end up with] I don’t think is so good, and people will say it was great,” he explained. “It just shows that I am not the active agent. The active agent is the Lord. God – he is the one that opens up your heart.”
June 19, 2009, began the Year for Priests, declared by Pope Benedict XVI, under the patronage of St. John Vianney. St. Ann’s will be hosting a prayer service on Jan. 31, at 3:30 p.m., at St. Ann’s in Bethany Beach, honoring both Kelley and Darcy.
Darcy explained that, while it is a honor, it can also be a little challenging for a priest to accept such recognition.
“Is there’s too much, you get embarrassed, because it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus Christ. It’s not for [Father Kelly] and I. It is a way to thank us and to honor us, but it is also to pray for us, that we be good priests, faithful priests.”
He added that the measure of success for a priest is not easily seen on the exterior.
“It’s the interior,” Darcy surmised. “It’s how many souls have you brought to Christ, how many people have you helped in their time of need and brought closer to God.”
All are welcome to St. Ann’s in Bethany Beach for the celebratory service for its priests on Sunday, Jan. 31. For more information, call Andy Tracy at (302) 539-3240.