Summary of today’s show: Fr. Darin Colarusso was an Air Force aviator serving in Korea when he heard God unexpectedly calling him to the priesthood. Now he sits down with Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines to talk about that call and what’s it been like to transition first to seminary life—at a time when the Church was undergoing great trials—and then into the priesthood and eventually his first pastorate. He says he has discovered the priesthood is the greatest excuse to love every person you meet. Fr. Darin also speaks about the future and his work with the archdiocesan pastoral planning commission and presbyteral council, advising Cardinal Seán on how the Church should organize herself for the next 50 years.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines
Today’s guest(s): Fr. Darin Colarusso, pastor of St. Athanasius Parish, Reading
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Pastor Profile: Fr. Darin Colarusso
1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Chip Hines as guest co-host for Fr. Matt Williams who is away. They discussed the recent vote in Foxboro that ended an attempt to build a casino in that town. Fr. Chip said that his parishioners were concerned about the casino in a neighboring town that they would have no say over.
Scot said in the Pastoral Center today at the noon Mass they celebrated the 20 priests celebrating their 25th anniversary of the priesthood. Scot read their names on the air. Fr. Chip and Scot agreed that 25 years in service is the sweet spot of the priesthood, having served long enough to be well-known and to have plenty of experience.
2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Chip welcomed Fr. Darin Colarusso, who is pastor of St. Athanasius in Reading, which is Fr. Chip’s home parish. Scot asked about his background.
Fr. Darin said he grew up in Wilmington. His parents grew up in Wilmington. When he was 18, he went to the Air Force Academy. He entered flight training and became a Weapon Systems Officer in the F-4G Wild Weasel and the F-15E Strike Eagle. When he was 30, he ended up in a one -year non-flying assignment in Korea and began to investigate his faith life. He started praying the rosary after learning about Our Lady of Fatima. One day he was praying the rosary asking for God to show him the woman to marry and it came to him to be a priest.
Scot asked about growing up in Wilmington. Fr .Darin said he never went to Catholic school until seminary. He alway wanted to be a pilot from when he was 3 years old. He said his mom’s friends tell him stories about how he always wanted to fly jets.
In high school, he was pretty standard college track, taking honors courses and engaging in athletics. He played golf and track and wrestling. His resume was good for the academy.
He said during the Cold War, along as you were medically qualified you got a pilot slot. He washed out of the pilot slot, and ended up as a back-seater or navigator. He said in his second jet the pilot deployed the weapons while he did in his first het. He never employed weapons in combat, but only in training. He also flew in no-fly zones in the Middle East. Meanwhile, he has classmates who were in every major and minor conflict from 1988 to 2008. He was spared by Providence.
He also served in Germany and was able to see Europe. He was also assigned to Nevada outside Las Vegas at Nellis Air Force Base. They could fly over the whole northern part of the state and then after hours be able to go into a major metropolitan area. Fr. Chip asked what it was like in Saudi Arabia, and Fr. Darin said it was hotter than Las Vegas. He spent 12 years active duty and 4 years in the academy.
He never thought about the priesthood as a child and was never even an altar server. He also talked about the benefit of having come from the suburbs and now serving a suburban parish.
Scot brought him back to the moment of hearing the call to the priesthood. Fr. Darin said he was shocked, but didn’t realize the level of prayer he’d entered into. He had been praying the rosary on his knees in his room and said the interior voice called him, “I want you to be a priest.” He said he was typical of so many men who should be considering the priesthood, helping out at the parish, reading at Mass, and the like. Chaplains often asked him, but he rejected the notion out of hand. But when he heard the voice, he knew he should test that thought. He knew if God was calling him, he would have to say yes.
A few weeks later, he would say to God in prayer that he’d received so many blessings that if he wanted him to be miserable the rest of his life, so be it. From there he went on to his next assignment for the next four years. He didn’t apply to the seminary until 1998. He didn’t realize he had to leave the military to become a priest. If he’d wanted to be a lawyer or doctor, the military would send him. He thought he could go to the seminary and come back as chaplain. At the time, that wasn’t possible and he had to resign his commission. So going to the seminary was an even bigger commission, because even if he left, he would still be out of the military.
There is a program now where a man can go from a military assignment to seminary as a chaplain candidate. There are a lot of guys going to the seminary now because of it.
Scot asked how his friends in the service reacted. Fr. Chip guessed they were shocked. Fr. Darin said his close friends were close friends, but others would say he shouldn’t give up looking for a wife and similar reactions. But by the time he left the service, his friends were supportive. He was in seminary from 2000 to 2006.
Scot asked what it was like to hit the books again. Fr. Darin said Fr. Chip once saw him driving in his Jeep Grand Cherokee on the seminary grounds with a contented look on his face. Fr. Chip said at the time, there goes a man contented with his life. Fr. Darin said he was happy to study philosophy and go to Mass every day.
Scot said the clergy sex-abuse scandal broke while Fr. Darin was there and asked what it was like in the seminary at the time. Fr. Darin said originally he did have a few reservations about studying for Boston, but wanted to be local after his mother yelled at him for even thinking about going somewhere else. But when the scandal broke, he realized why God had called him. He said you don’t want every fighter pilot to be a priest, but you need a few, like you need artists and lawyers and the like in the priesthood. Fr. Darin said he was very conscious of being in a difficult scenario.
He had a conversation with an academy classmate about some issues at the parish and his friend reacted that the reason for the issue is because they don’t realize that failure is not option. That was their attitude at the seminary, that even if nothing else was left, they still say Mass on a card table. He noted that at the beginning of his time, there were 100 men in the seminary plus the college seminary. At the end, there were 25 men and no college seminary. Fr. Chip recalled being there at the same time and they agreed it was a tough time.
Fr. Chip said it affected him every time he drove down Commonwealth and turning onto the chancery grounds and driving past every TV satellite truck and crowds of reporters. They eventually had to block it out and focus on what they were doing. He said the rectors did a good time keeping them focused.
Fr. Darin was ordained in class of 2006. In the seminary, he was assigned as a deacon to St. Francis in Dracut nd served under the first he met in the process of applying to the seminary, Fr. Bob Blaney. He also served St. Agnes in Arlington and St. Ann’s in Neponset, and he lived at Immaculate Conception in Salem for a summer while working on his hospital rotation.
3rd segment: This week’s benefactor card raffle winner is Nancy Fitzsimmons from Duxbury, MA
She wins “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin” by St. Louis de Monfort.
If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit WQOM.org. For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.
4th segment: After ordination, Fr. Darin went to St. Francis in Braintree with Fr. Kevin Sepe. He was there for several years. Scot said it’s a place with a lot of young families and is very active. People still walk to church there and they have inactive and successful parochial school. It was a good assignment because he was absorbing a model for his own priesthood from Fr. Sepe.
Fr. Darin said the key lessons from first assignment is just learning how to be a priest. the first and most important lesson for a new priest is that the people do want to have you as their priest. People want you to succeed and they do want to love you. They also know you’re new so they help you as well. Even now in his first assignment as pastor, when you’re talking about certain topics, he has to keep in mind that people often know what the Church’s teaching is and you have to take that into account when talking to them. You still have to be a representative of Christ and the Church. But the people know what you’re going to be teaching, so it’s about getting others to see the beauty that you’ve been able to see, say through seminary education and formation.
Fr,. Chip said all priests want people to see the same thing they see in the beauty of the Church. It’s like finding something wonderful and not wanting to share it.
Scot said Fr. Sepe was a great gatherer of priests, bringing them together in his own rectory. Fr. Darin said it’s important to recognize there is a cultural shift in the diocese and a lot of priests have worked out the right way to live and Fr. Sepe is one of them. Fr. Sepe is a very fraternal priest who wants the priests to be together. One priest had said that it was unusual for him to watch sports on TV with other priests in the same house, which is not the right way to live. Fr. Darin said, that being said, he lives alone at St. Athanasius, but he’s not isolated form others.
After 4 years, he was named pastor of St. Athanasius in Reading. Fr. Chip, who is on the personnel board and had called Fr. Darin about the opening. At the end of the first four year assignment, priests are advised to put their names in for pastorships or other assignments. So Fr. Darin got the opening in Reading while Fr. Chip went to his parish in Wrentham. Fr. Darin said the personnel board came up with a slate of priests that they give to the Cardinal, who picks one.
Scot said one of Fr. Chip’s jobs on the board is to encourage good priests to apply for openings that fit them. Fr. Chip said it was important in his mind to get some good guys to apply for his parents’ parish. He said it’s tough to get an opening and have no apply for it and then have to find men to offer it to.
Scot asked what it was like to make the transition as first-time pastor. Fr. Darin said just as the slate was being decided for St. Athanasius, St. Francis in Dracut opened up. Clearly, if St. Francis had opened up earlier, he would have applied to it, but he said it all worked out as God intended. The transition was hard though, because he had lived in a good house in Braintree with other men and hadn’t been interested in leaving the assignment and serve for six or seven years. He said he felt like he needed to learn everything, having never been an altar server. He was scared, but knew that failure was not option. Scot said he would do his best and trust in God.
Fr. Darin said while he was still considering the assignment, he stopped at St. Athanasius and went into the church to pray. He knelt before the tabernacle and got the feeling that God said to relax, that He will take care of everything. He felt like it was what he was meant to do. He did like the idea of going to a smaller parish as a starter place for him.
Fr. Darin said there are about 1,900 registered parishioners. They have about 600-700 people coming to Mass during the school year. They are a medium-sized parish. They are distinctive for their architecture. The church was built in 1960 and has the shape of what he called a Dorito chip. He said it’s like the Air Force Academy architecture and he’s very fond of it. The other parish in Reading is St. Agnes and he said they’re working on collaboration. Fr. Stephen Rock at St. Agnes is a former Navy chaplain and he said they get along fine despite that.
He said one of the joys of serving his parish is how new and different it is. He said the priesthood is the greatest excuse to love every person you meet. As a pastor, versus parochial vicar, the benefit is you come as being sent by the Cardinal and are replied upon to see to the needs of the parish and are expected to move it in a direction of improvement or maintenance if it’s going well. That process has been awesome for him. He said it’s the right size for one priest.
With regard to being on the presbyteral council and the pastoral planning commission, it allows him to make St. Athanasius as a model and example parish for the future of the Archdiocese.
Scot asked what it’s like to be on a commission charged with helping Cardinal Sean plan for the next 25 to 50 years. He said excellent advice has been that Fr. Darin has an opinion, but it’s not the only opinion. He said they are offering a framework that has to be modified for each local situation, which will require input from all kinds of areas within the archdiocese. He sees the dedication of the people throughout the archdiocese, including laypeople who are extremely competent in their fields and serving the Church.
Fr. Darin said it’s difficult to change the culture and change course. The book is being re-written and there isn’t anything historical to fall back on.