The beloved priest of the church I grew up in has left on sabbatical and will not return. He had been there since I was in the 8th grade…if that gives you any indication of the role he played in my life. Keep in mind that my elementary school, high school, and church are one compound. Also with my parents’ strict upbringing, I went to church every Sunday without fail. I can’t say I do the same now, but I do try to go when I can.
You never knew for certain which priest you were going to get at any given mass, but whenever we saw Father Rich Danyluk, everyone was pleased. He always told funniest stories and had beautiful insights with each of his sermons. I think it’s very telling that the congregation collected $20,000 for his sabbatical and retirement. Everyone really loved him.
I wanted to post his parting words here (from the church’s email newsletter) and also include an article written about him as a gay priest who came out to a fairly conservative church. I’m sure you’ll get a glimpse of what made him special.
Between our first cry and last breath we string together precious moments of life as pearls on a string. Then something or someone breaks the strand and the pearls scatter everywhere. And we are all on our hands and knees on the floor trying to retrieve something that was precious and is now lost. A human life cannot be restrung. But we can gather together precious memories in deep gratitude for the time we did have together.
I refuse to believe that either God or the universe is cruel. That is a human failing. Instead I trust that nothing is ever lost. All past and present make up this very moment.
Each of you has been a precious pearl on a string that grows bigger.
I take you all with me and give thanks to God for the life we had together, the new life we will have together. I am Rich-er and more grateful for life than ever before. I am grateful our paths have crossed and our hearts have touched – forever in my heart.
With love beyond telling, Fr Rich
A Priest’s Confession
By Jill Tucker, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
THE PRIEST’S heart was pounding in his chest. His hands were icy cold. He was nervous. More than usual. The pews were nearly full as they are most Sundays as he walked up the middle aisle of St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda to celebrate Mass. The topic of his homily that early fall day, as dictated by Catholic hierarchy, was accepting, not rejecting.
So the priest told a story. It went something like this. About two years ago his aunt was dying. As a priest and as her nephew, he arrived at her deathbed. He sat next to her and she started to cry, finally telling the priest, her nephew, she was gay. “I’m so afraid I’m going to hell,” the priest remembered her saying.
“That’s not how God works,” he replied. “This good news is for everybody or it is for nobody,” he told his congregation.
The Gospel has to be for his aunt, too. For all lesbians and gays, the priest said with conviction. How did he know? The answer was simple. “I’m one of you,” Father Rich Danyluk said.
The four small words echoed off the walls of the basilica that Sunday morning. Did he just say what I think he said? Some parishioners thought to themselves, glancing at others around them. He had. Father Rich Danyluk, a priest for 30 years, in the middle of Mass, had said he was gay. He had told his aunt two years before and now had told the world.
Alameda is not nearly the most liberal town in the left-leaning Bay Area. It is an island unto its own, with quirky politics and a stubborn small-town sensibility in the middle of a vast metropolitan setting. It is not the first place one might look to find an admittedly gay priest. San Francisco, Berkeley, maybe.
At three separate Masses that September Sunday, Father Rich shared his sexual orientation with those who came to worship. At the evening Mass, the small sentence fell on the congregation. There wasn’t the same hesitation as in the earlier Masses. Instead, the basilica erupted in applause, and pew by pew the parishioners stood. Their priest was homosexual and they greeted the news with a standing ovation.
Rich Danyluk was born in Bethlehem, Pa., on Dec. 23, 1947. “You’re almost Jesus,” a small boy once told him after learning of his almost-Jesus birthplace and date. Father Rich, 58, laughs when he tells that story. In 1967 he entered the St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia. But Father Rich’s first foray into the priesthood was a failure. He was kicked out for failing Latin and Greek — concluding his instructors thought he didn’t have the brains to be a priest.
He went to work in an orphanage instead. There, co-workers, including nuns, thought he should try again and encouraged a visiting priest to talk to him. Father Rich was persuaded and entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, falling under the authority of the religious order rather than a diocese. There, he didn’t have to learn archaic languages, and while he still struggled in his studies — always has, he noted — he was ordained Aug. 23, 1975.
The question hangs in the air. It’s a hard one to ask when sitting next to a priest in his office, religious icons on the walls.
“How can you, a gay man, work for an institution that loathes and condemns a part of who you are?”
Father Rich smiles. “There’s a difference sometimes (between) serving the Church and serving Christ,” he says. “There’s a higher voice that I hear…For all the Catholic hate, I experience here a community of love…For all the institutional idiocy, I find here a tradition of reason. For all the individual repressions, I breathe here an air of freedom. … For all the apparent absence of God, I sense here the real presence of Christ.”
The decision to share his sexual orientation during Mass wasn’t a political move or a personal protest, Father Rich said. He struggled with the decision. He was going to tell his parishioners in Mass something he has never even told his beloved 85-year-old father. Father Rich didn’t want to use the pulpit for a personal confession. But he did want to proclaim the Gospel — good news — to gays and lesbians. “Because I’m one of them,” Father Rich said in his office weeks later. “The only agenda I’m pushing is the Gospel.”
It wasn’t the first time Father Rich had stood before a congregation during Mass to share a secret part of himself. Six years ago in Southern California, Father Rich was arrested. He had been driving drunk. He was removed from his parish in San Dimas and sent for three months to a recovery center for priests in Minnesota. Before he left, in his last homily, he stood before the congregation and told them he was an alcoholic. He got a standing ovation that time, too. Father Rich smiles at the memory. “You’re clapping for a drunk priest,” he remembers telling them.
But he also remembers the tears in the eyes of grown men who embraced him after Mass, thanking him for his honesty, perhaps even seeing a bit of themselves in their fallible priest. “I find our brokenness binds us more than perfection,” Father Rich said. “I think the only thing we have to give each other is ourselves, he added. The only thing I have to offer people is myself. The Gospel through myself.”