MIDDLETOWN — The new pastor at St. Paul’s Parish in Delaware City may have spent 30 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and arrived in the Diocese of Wilmington just last year, but Norbertine Father David Driesch is not a total stranger to the Diocese of Wilmington.
His maternal grandfather was raised in Salisbury, Md., before moving to Pittsburgh, and Father Driesch has vacationed in Ocean City, Md., in the past. He even knew Delaware City a little bit because after joining the Norbertine Fathers at Daylesford Abbey in Chester County, Pa., in 2012, he and other priests would travel to the little town on the Delaware River to dine at Crabby Dicks.
“I remember coming down and saying, ‘Where’s the church at?’ and I thought that would be a neat church to be at,” he said recently at his new home, the Immaculate Conception Priory in Middletown, just a few miles south of Delaware City.
Father Driesch is the first Norbertine pastor at St. Paul’s and is believed to be the first in the diocese from the order, which is best known in Delaware as the congregation that founded Archmere Academy. The Norbertines at Immaculate Conception Priory separated from Daylesford in 1999, moving below the canal to a quiet 25-acre property. Father Driesch joined them last year, taking over at the church he had seen occasionally over the years.
Father Driesch, 67, was a longtime parish priest, teacher and high school chaplain in his native Diocese of Pittsburgh when he began discerning a vocation to join a religious community. He considered joining the Benedictines, the order who had taught at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pa., where he had been in seminary. He traveled across Pennsylvania one time to hear a priest speak at Daylesford Abbey, so he knew of the Norbertines. One night, he took his parish’s youth minister out to dinner to celebrate her getting a new job. She was from the Philadelphia area and was familiar with the Norbertines.
“She said, ‘Looking at you, and knowing them, I think you’d be a perfect fit.’ So, I said, there’s a sign right there,” he said.
Father Driesch attended Quigley Catholic High School in Baden, a suburb north of Pittsburgh. It was there that he began thinking about the priesthood. He had an uncle who was a Third Order Franciscan who had an influence on him, as did his pastor and the headmaster of his school.
“I like what they do, and I was impressed with them,” he said. “That’s what got me interested.”
He attended Duquesne University while a student at St. Joseph Seminary, both in Pittsburgh, then St. Vincent’s. After ordination in 1982, he was a parish priest, a full-time high school teacher, a high school chaplain and a campus minister. He also taught elementary school at three of his parish assignments.
His last assignment while with the Norbertines at Daylesford was chief mission officer at Cabrini University, where he also taught first-year students. Cabrini is closing after this year, so Father Driesch took the chance to move to Delaware to see what opportunities awaited him.
“I came down with the intention of being assigned somewhere,” he said. “They (Norbertine leaders) were thinking that maybe I could have been assigned as the assistant at St. Joe’s in Middletown. And then one day after they talked to the diocese, they said the bishop wanted to know if the new guy would be interested in St. Paul’s.”
The only requirement of his religious superiors was that Father Driesch live with his fellow Norbertines at Immaculate Conception Priory, and that is not a problem. St. Paul’s is a short drive up Route 9 and over the Reedy Point Bridge from the priory. Father Driesch may not live in the rectory at St. Paul’s, but he is fully invested in his new parish, where he arrived at the end of June.
“It’s a neat little parish, and the people are fantastic,” he said. “I give the people credit. They kept that place going without having a resident pastor all those years. They’re not used to a priest being in the rectory full-time. They were using the rectory for meetings, and even though I don’t live there, I still have living space.”
Since his arrival, Father Driesch has been trying to get more people involved in parish activities, and thus far, he has recruited new members to the parish and finance councils. Many, he said, were just looking for an invitation to help. He said music ministry will be a focus of his, as will bringing back parishioners who have left for other churches.
“The one thing that I hear from people is, ‘We come here because we like the smallness of it.’ Everyone knows everyone. They feel at home. That’s what I hear. I think that’s what’s kept that parish going,” he said.
He is already getting involved in his new community. When he was at Daylesford, he was a member of their volunteer fire company. He has already joined Delaware City’s, and although he said his firefighting days are behind him, he can still drive the truck and perform other duties.
He said the Diocese of Wilmington reminds him of his home diocese, Pittsburgh. The clergy here have been very welcoming.
“I’m delighted with the diocese,” he said. “I’m honored to be here.”