It requires a commitment and a calling from God for people to dedicate themselves to prayer, study and work necessary to become a priest.
So when it came close to the last leg of that nearly 10-year spiritual path to priesthood, Port Deposit native Michael Preston would not allow himself to be discouraged by a coronavirus-inspired delay.
The milestone will happen soon enough as Preston is scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop Malooly at 2 p.m. Aug. 2 at Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington.
Instead of spending the summer at a diaconate assignment on the final road to priestly ordination, he and fellow seminarians have been at home with their families. For Preston, that meant the horse farm acreage of Cecil County, Md., where he was raised by family including his mother, aunt and late grandmother.
Preston is a local Diocese of Wilmington product through-and-through. Good Shepherd Elementary School. Perryville High School. He even has worked a stint at everyone’s favorite service-station chicken outlet – Royal Farms. He is also a graduate of Seton Hall University and will finish studies this academic year at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore.
His mom, Cathy Ann Bradley, works for family court in Wilmington and lives on a horse farm where she has 14 horses. The farm next door has 10 and belongs to her sister, Michael’s Aunt Mary. Along with cousin Monica and grandmom Mary Areta Bradley before her death last year, the family has spent plenty of time working the farm.
“COVID did put an interesting wrench on (summer),” he said. “It wasn’t so awful to help here on the farm. It’s been a retreat from the craziness.”
He said he put up a new gutter among other chores.
“I really learned to pray on this farm, outside working,” he said.
“It’s a nice place to just sit around and pray. All of the (horse) boarders have been very supportive. It was here that my faith was really taught to me – what we believe as Christians, I learned to put that into practice.”
Michael credits all his family, especially his grandmom, a Baltimore native, with helping to shape his faith.
“My family has been very active in the church,” he said. He said his grandmother volunteered in all aspects of parish life. “I can remember playing with my toys, at 7 or 8, and EWTN was constantly on the TV.”
He remembers the positive influence on his life by retired Good Shepherd pastor Father Ray Forester and other priests. He has given thought to becoming a priest for almost as long as he can remember.
“I think I’ve said it since I was in the second grade.”
Dealing with a health issue several years back and having some doubts, Preston spent some time away from the seminary and was not convinced what was next. He remembers a moment of prayer and seeking guidance. “You’re just being stubborn.” That was the message, or calling, that he remembers.
Parishioners are often told they are giving one of their own when another parishioner chooses a life of vocations. Each person in a parish offers a contribution to God’s servants. For Preston, Good Shepherd in Perryville and its missions, St. Teresa’s in Port Deposit and St. Agnes in Rising Sun, are all part of his life. He considers them all home.
“I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful home parish that I have, a wonderful parish, very supportive,” he said. He also credits his experience at parishes he has served as a seminarian, including St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Elizabeth.
Two seminarians are close behind Preston on the path to priesthood. Craig Kursinsky and Brennan Ferris mark their candidacy this month and will be preparing for transitional diaconate in May, the same month Preston is expected to be ordained to priesthood. Kursinsky and Ferris are on track for priestly ordination in 2022.
Preston will be the first in the diocese ordained to the priesthood since Father Richard Jasper in 2017.
While so many Catholics worry about the need for vocations and pray for candidates, Preston believes it will take root.
“I believe God is still calling,” he said. “It’s being open to that call and being supportive.’
He knows there are challenges.
“Celibacy is a part of it, but it’s not the whole story. It’s the part about feeling incompetent. You don’t know if this will be the best fit. Allow God to look into it. Be who you are in the seminary, and allow the formation process to make you into a good, Christian man. I feel like God will use me better here. I think if what we focus on is Christ, I think we need to be less afraid.”
Preston knows the church has focused on making amends for crimes committed by priests. Those are sins that can’t be ignored. But he thinks not enough attention is paid to so much good done by the overwhelming majority.
“There’s a minority … they have hurt the church,” he said. “But why aren’t we talking about the good the church does?”
He believes people of all ages need to learn to pray. “There’s a lack of understanding and lack of devotion we need to address. Ask ‘Have you thought of being a priest?’ I think we need to do more of this.”
It’s a long road and it has been tumultuous final year, but he believes he is ready for the work ahead.
“In the end, it’s the good Lord’s work, not ours,” he said.