It was his first official weekend as the new pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes church in Malverne, and the Rev. Michael Duffy made it a point to address the congregation at every Mass celebrated on July 1 and 2. “I said to them, ‘Invite me into your home. Invite me over for dinner,” he said. “I can’t get to know you just by shaking your hand, but if you have me over to have dinner, to bless your home … whatever you cook, I’ll eat.’
“But,” he added with an extended pause, “I have a terrible allergy to pasta.” Then the punch line: “I break out in fat.”
Duffy, a 32-year-old priest, became the parish’s pastor on June 28. Among his immediate goals, he said, is to get to know the church’s 2,200 families.
Duffy was an associate pastor at St. Kilian’s church in Farmingdale, which has 5,700 families. Though OLL is smaller, his new post is a significant change because the parish includes an elementary school.
But as someone who grew up in Wantagh and found friendship and solace in the youth group at St. Jane Frances de Chantal church, Duffy visited each classroom before the school year ended and gave rosary beads to each student. On the last day of school, he found joy in dismissing the students after an outdoor morning breakfast to welcome him. “I got to say the words I always wanted to hear when I was a kid, he said. ‘Boys and girls I now declare this school year is over. Go home!’ And they went wild. It was so much fun.”
Duffy said he hasn’t missed Sunday Mass since he joined his church’s youth group in his freshman year of high school, and credits the group with welcoming and accepting him during a troubled time. “My parents were divorced and my father was an alcoholic and a drug addict,” he said. “Through all that, you look for some consolation.” No one in the youth group, he said, shunned him. “They just wanted to get to know me,” he said. “I felt embraced from the first moment, and I knew that I belonged.”
It was also a place that drew him into his profession. “People ask me all the time, ‘Father, how did you know you wanted to be a priest?’ he said, and every time I answer the same: ‘How did you know you wanted to marry your wife or husband?’ I fell in love.”
Because Duffy grew up in the digital age — Facebook was introduced while he was a college sophomore — he understands the power of social media. When he was in college and seminary, he established accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “It’s an easy, cheap way to reach people,” he said. And if they are there, their priest needs to be there, too.” He will also be establishing a Facebook page for Our Lady of Lourdes in the future. “There’s [a Facebook page] for the school, but not for the parish,” he said.
He realized social media’s impact on evangelism when a car accident killed five teenagers in St. Kilian’s parish in 2014. Duffy used his social media accounts to spread the news about a prayer service for the teens and their loved ones the next day — which was Mother’s Day — and his posts went viral. That evening, 3,000 people showed. “This just proved to me that our kids are out there, and they are thirsting to be reached,” Duffy said. “Bishop [John] Barres” — the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre — “has called me the social media priest,” he added.
Ordained in 2012, Duffy has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University and a masters in theology and divinity from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. He said he prefers to be addressed as Father Duffy because his friends call him Duffy. “It has nothing to do with formality,” he said. “I’ve been Duffy since the fourth grade.” He also pointed to a priest with a similar name — the Rev. Francis P. Duffy — who fought in two wars and was among the most decorated priests in U.S. Army history. Duffy Square, in Times Square, was named after him.
Duffy replaces the Rev. Frank Parisi, who left the parish last June due to sexual assault allegations. Since then, the Rev. John McCarthy has fulfilled OLL’s pastoral duties, but in the capacity of an administrator, not as pastor. McCarthy will soon tkae a new position as pastor at Our Lady of Mercy in Hicksville. “I want Father Frank to know that this parish is going to continue to pray for him and love him,” Duffy said. “We’ll just let the process work itself out.”
Young priests like himself, he said, want to reach people wherever they are, and village residents will see him in local stores, taking a walk or doing errands. In doing so, he hopes to become part of the community, and win back those who don’t attend church anymore. “Go to your neighbors,” he said, “and tell them that we have a new pastor in town who wants to meet you, and tell you that we need you, and that we’re better when we’re all together.”