As his May 22 ordination to priesthood approached in the Diocese of Wilmington, Rev. Mr. Michael Preston was asked to give some thought to the priests who have influenced him along the way.
He knew certain priests close to his home parish, Church of the Good Shepherd in Perryville, Md., and its mission churches, St. Agnes in Rising Sun, Md., and especially St. Teresa in Port Deposit, Md., had a lasting impact on him.
But then he began to think about all the men he worked with in his priestly formation. Fathers William Cocco, Norman Carroll, Joseph Cocucci, Brian Lewis, Idongesit Etim, Charles Dillingham, Glenn Evers, Joseph W. McQuaide IV, John Solomon, Anthony Giamello, Michael Darcy and Msgr. David F. Kelley, among others.
“Too many to name,” he said. “Too many who have been so supportive and inspirational.”
Still, when he thinks about the priests close to home, three come to mind who have helped him get to the doorstep of ordination.
Father John Abrams
Father Abrams is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore who lives on his family’s Cecil County farm in the Diocese of Wilmington. At 81, he describes himself as semi-retired. He still maintains a weekly Mass schedule, primarily at St. Teresa in Port Deposit, that has resumed recently after a pandemic-driven limitation in his public Mass participation. Both he and Preston have lived large chunks of their lives in the tiny Maryland hamlet that hugs the Susquehanna River.
Both have worked family farms in the county.
“He lives about a mile and a half from me,” said Father Abrams.
“I’m a native of Port Deposit and Cecil County, ordained from Good Shepherd.”
Around the time of his initial inquiry into the priesthood, Preston asked Father Abrams to write an evaluation to send to the diocese.
“He seemed to gravitate to me. He loves this area, as I do. He’s taken me under his wing. It’s usually the other way around. I’m just so very honored that he has found in me a certain Catholic orthodoxy and sense of humor.”
Preston asked Father Abrams to assist him in vesting for his ordination.
“I was surprised to receive that honor,” he said.
He said he met Michael when the soon-to-be-priest was about 18 years old and that he wasn’t your typical youngster.
“I recall a certain orthodoxy. A certain piety. He wasn’t far out,” Father Abrams said.
The elderly priest is not surprised Preston has made it to the end of his priestly formation.
“I sensed that he would make it from the beginning, although when we were in our discussions, we talked about whether he would consider other venues (for his vocation), and he did,” Father Abrams said.
“He didn’t really ever depart from his goal of being a Wilmington priest. He was made and bred and born for the priesthood, I think.”
He sees great things ahead for Preston.
“I hope he completely comes along as an associate pastor at a parish in the diocese and gets his feet wet there. That’s the ground floor. We can see how he loves his people and serves his people as a parish priest.
“I sense and see some other heights for him. He’s good with people, down to earth. At first, he’ll be a good parish priest.”
Father Ray Forester
Father Forester is a retired priest in the Diocese of Wilmington who spent a portion of his active priesthood as pastor at Good Shepherd Parish.
“I knew the whole family,” Father Forester said. “I got to know him out at the farm. He was such a young fellow and then I got moved.”
Michael was always focused on family and the horses at the farm, Father Forester said. “He’s an interesting person.”
Ordained in 1966, Father Forester spent more than 50 years in active priesthood. He has his own extended family in Wilmington, parishioners at St. Elizabeth, and they got to know Preston in the time he spent there during his formation.
“They all like him a lot. They all got to know him. A good young man.”
Preston said his pastor as a young boy was one of the influences on his decision to become a priest.
“I was just being myself. That’s the best I can say. Helping people as part of everyday work,” Father Forester said.
Does he offer any advice to young men who may be considering the priesthood now?
“Get in contact with a good priest. The Lord will show the way. Listen for the calling.”
He knows there are distractions and other options.
“There are so many choices today with so many different ways for serving people.”
He says it makes him feel good to know Preston credits him as an example of a priest he’d like to be.
“It really does,” Father Forester said. “Now if we can get a few more seminarians in there …”
Father Jay McKee
The pastor of Good Shepherd parish since 2007, Father McKee has been helping Preston along the way through his priestly formation.
“He’s come a long way in his growth process,” Father McKee said. “I’ve seen him come from a young man into a very prayerful man. He is dedicated to his family, very faithful to the process overall, his formation.”
Preston has said his seminary years were not without hesitation. His hometown parish has been a constant.
“Michael’s been actively involved in the parish in the past,” Father McKee said. “When he was having some questions in discernment, we tapped into him to substitute during a maternity leave at our school. He found out teaching was not his thing.”
He said his parishioner is looking forward to his ordination, even though ordination and his first Mass the next day are limited as far as attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His first Mass will be May 23 at St. Teresa in Port Deposit. The following weekend, he will celebrate Mass at every active church in the parish: May 29, 4 p.m. at Good Shepherd and 7 p.m. at St. Agnes in Rising Sun. May 30 it will be 8 a.m. at St. Teresa, 10 a.m. at St. Agnes and noon at Good Shepherd.
Every parishioner should have an opportunity to share in Preston’s start to ministry.
“Just to see him grow through the years it’s been a really fascinating story,” Father McKee said. “Just to see him operate with the people. They appreciate him becoming a priest. I’m very hopeful for him. I know that he’s got some time to learn and to grow yet into becoming a pastor, but I’m sure he’ll develop and mature into that very fully.”
Father McKee said he’s praying for an increase in vocations.
“I do see more young men at least giving it a consideration,” said Father McKee, who said he appreciates Preston listing him as an influence.
“I give the Lord all the credit,” the pastor said. “All I am is an instrument of his ministry.”
Bishop Malooly, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wilmington, will ordain Rev. Mr. Michael Anthony Preston to the priesthood on Saturday, May 22, 11 a.m. at St. Elizabeth Church in Wilmington. Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, attendance is by invitation only. The ceremony will be livestreamed on the Diocese of Wilmington’s YouTube channel – www.YouTube.com/DioceseofWilm.