By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor
Michael G. DeSaye looks at the priesthood as a family, which is no wonder considering he grew up with devoutly religious parents, three siblings and years of Catholic education.
PHOTO GALLERY: Father DeSaye's first Mass in St. Benedict Church, Holmdel.
“There’s something to be said for the word ‘father’ as used for priests,” said Father DeSaye, who was ordained a priest June 2 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. “It’s interesting that you should call them father and not ‘sir’ or something like that. A father is someone who gave up what he was doing to be a model, a self-sacrificing person, for others because he loves them.
“The Church is also a family – there’s local families and the universal family,” he continued. “Even though we don’t have natural children, we do have spiritual children. In a sense, we generate children not for the world but for God.”
Father DeSaye is about to learn more about both kinds of families. Born to Gregory and Deborah DeSaye, the 34-year-old priest grew up in Brick with his parents, brother, Christopher, and two sisters, Marie and Kathleen. He credits his parents’ decision to enroll him in Catholic education – Holy Family School, Lakewood, and Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft – as well as family time spent in prayer and at Mass with instilling in him Catholic morals and culture, which established the bedrock for his priestly discernment.
As a young Catholic, he said, he never considered a vocation.
“I used to have a picture of the priesthood as being an isolated and lonely experience,” he said. “I didn’t understand that they did so much because I was just sitting in the pew.”
After earning a pre-theology certificate from The Catholic University of America, Washington, and a master of divinity degree from Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., not to mention spending the past year as a transitional deacon in St. Rose of Lima Parish, York, Pa., he said he’s come to realize that priests are extremely busy.
Whether it’s by visiting the sick, celebrating Mass for various groups or participating in evening activities, meetings, public dinners etc., he said the priesthood is actually a very visible way of life.
“That surprised me,” he said. “It’s a balance between solitude and prayer and highly visible public work.”
The middle ground, he continued, is when priests spend quality time with their brothers in faith. “Priests have a really good fraternity and friendship with each other that sustains and carries them forward. The Diocese has a good amount of that, and that’s a sign of health.”
In God’s Hands
Father DeSaye, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music and piano from New York’s Ithaca College before seminary, has spent time as a case worker for the Diocese’s Mount Carmel Guild and served as a deacon in Visitation Parish, Brick, last summer.
He’s found the past year as a transitional deacon preaching, celebrating Baptisms and teaching religious education in the York parish to be occasions where spiritual fatherhood can be put into practice. At the core of this fatherhood, he said, is trust.
“Trust is key to the entire idea of priesthood,” he said. “The extremeness of it – it hits you. Celibacy is where it starts, but it doesn’t end there. The apostles left wife and home to follow Christ, and ultimately it’s about the Cross, the willingness to take onto yourself a huge burden because you believe that by taking it on something greater will come about. That’s worth a life of not having some things that other men have. We’re giving up really good things – a wife and kids, autonomy, to a certain degree, careers – for the sake of something greater: to be able to rescue souls from death and bring them to eternal life.”
Trust is important not just in God, but in one’s bishop, too, such as when a priest is placed in a new assignment.
“Bishop [O’Connell] holds the place of the father for us, so whatever he wants us to do, we have to trust that he is operating in place of Christ and is asking us as his representative to do what needs to be done for the salvation of souls.
“There’s something to that fraternal bond … to trust as a son to a father just like Jesus trusted his heavenly father all the way to death. That’s something we have to also try to imitate,” he said.
Father DeSaye said he feels prepared for his new assignment as parochial vicar in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, which includes a K-8 school.
“The formation process helps you wake up every day and say, ‘I’m ready for this again, let’s do this,’” he said, explaining that saying “yes” to God is an everyday exercise.
“To be a Sacrament, to be the Sacrament of Holy Orders, is at once terrifying and beautiful,” he said, admitting that he will be leaning on God, grace and the Blessed Mother. “I can’t do it by myself, but with the prayers of the saints and with the Church’s help, I confidently commit my life to God’s will.”