In late August, St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre saw a leadership change as the Rev. Michael Duffy joined the parish as rector. In a short amount of time, Duffy has settled in and is actively getting to know the congregation.
“I do feel at home,” Duffy said. “My whole hope is to become a part of peoples’ lives.”
His role as a priest, he said, is to be a “spiritual father” to his parishioners, and fulfilling that role is dependent upon developing a relationship with people. “We can’t help people by standing up by the vestments on the altar and I can’t be a spiritual father simply by shaking hands at the end of Mass,” Duffy said. “We need to get to know each other, and so far, I haven’t gone a week without an invitation to visit with a parishioner. There’s a desire on my part to get to know people and people have been so kind.”
Duffy, 35, was ordained in 2012, at St. Agnes Cathedral, and at 27, was the youngest priest to be ordained in the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He said that date, June 9, 2012, was “the happiest day of my life.” His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Kilian Church in Farmingdale, where he served from July 2012 to June 2017, when he was appointed by Bishop John Barres as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Malverne.
The decision to appoint him as rector of St. Agnes, he said, came as a “total shock.” He had been in Malverne for three years and had expected to stay on for at least three more years. Still a young priest, he said he felt “humbled” that Barres would “take a risk” on him. “It’s humbling to think he must have seen something in me and thought I could be of help here,” Duffy said. “I believe God has brought me to Rockville Centre, through Bishop Barres, and however long I stay, I intend to serve the people, meet the need and serve God’s will.”
Duffy attended public high school at Mac Arthur Park in Levittown and did not grow up in a particularly religious household. His grandparents, who live in Oceanside, were devout Catholics, but he said he came to faith through joining youth groups in high school. “I found a home in church. There was safety, comfort and acceptance,” he said. “The priests were so kind and holy. They were an inspiration.”
He said he entered the priesthood because he felt he was called to it. “I believe God wanted me to do it,” Duffy said.
The idea of becoming a priest was something he thought about as a high school freshman and sophomore, but he became more serious about it in his junior year. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, cemented the idea, he said, when he saw the image of Father Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, being carried out of the rubble after administering last rites to firefighters. Judge was the first certified fatality of the attacks and was in the World Trade Center North Tower when the second plane hit the south tower. “Who’s going to take his place?” Duffy said was his first thought, followed by, “why not me?”
Duffy earned his bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, where he studied philosophy and theology, then went to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor. He graduated with a master’s degree in divinity as well as a master’s in theology. He went on to complete a master’s degree in ecclesiastical administration from The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
“I love being a Catholic priest. It has been the greatest gift of my life,” Duffy said, noting that he was blessed to have served at St. Kilians and Our Lady of Lourdes prior to coming to St. Agnes. “I am the priest I am today because of the wonderful people in those two parishes.”
He noted that he has no intention of coming in and changing things at St. Agnes. “I want to observe how things work, I want to be a part of the parish community and I want to be a spiritual father to my parishioners,” he said. “I hope that they will see my enthusiasm and fervor for teaching about faith.”
Cecilia St. John, principal of St. Agnes Cathedral School, said that she appreciates that Duffy is not only taking time to get to know the students by holding grade-level Masses each week, but he is also adept at speaking to them at their level. “He brings a great vision for evangelism to our school and to our parish. He’s a dynamic speaker,” she said. “He takes the time to simplify the terms and explain them in a way that the children can understand. He helps them understand the purpose of their faith and of Mass and explains it on their level.”
“Rockville Centre is wonderful,” Duffy said. “It is a privilege and a blessing to serve as Rector of this parish.”