Michael Hartney said yes to God's call at 71

Fr. Michael Hartney closes his eyes in prayer during his ordination Mass celebrated by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG

Fr. Michael Hartney closes his eyes in prayer during his ordination Mass celebrated by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

October 26, 2015
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Father Michael Hartney, ordained to the priesthood Oct. 18 at the age of 71, had originally hoped to be a priest. But his early sense of vocation was not fulfilled.

He grew up in a "standard, traditional Catholic family of in the 1940s and 50s" in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighborhood, son of an Irish father and French-Canadian mother.

Baptized at St. Joseph's, active as an altar boy through his teen years, he expected to become a priest as a young man.

He entered the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at age 19 and "enjoyed it very much." These were the years of the Second Vatican Council, and "among the most important years for my spiritual development," he said.

"I was in my 20s when the Oblates told me they thought I wasn't suited for the priesthood," Hartney said. "It was a big letdown, but I took that as a definitive answer: this was God's answer to my decision to be a priest."

"I was never given any explanation," he said. "That's the way things happened in those days."

Hartney then pursued a career as a university professor, teaching philosophy at Western, McMaster and Ottawa Universities.

He also participated in church life as an organist and choral singer, including the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, Seventeen Voyces and the National Arts Centre. He served as president of the Royal Canadian College of Organists for three years.

Hartney remained active in parishes serving on parish committees, in addition to playing organ and singing in church choirs.

"There was not a falling away, or moment of conversion," he said.

A FRIENDLY NUDGE

He put aside the idea of the priesthood until he had a conversation with a friend in 2006. He even recalls the date: March 24.

"My sense of a call came very suddenly."

His friend asked him how his life was going and said, "You once wanted to be a priest. Have you ever thought of that?"

"The answer was 'No,'" Hartney said. But the question opened his mind again to the priesthood, something he hadn't thought of in 40 years.

"It was almost as if the heavens opened, and I heard God telling me I want you," he said. "It was as sudden and as certain and definitive as that. From that moment I was convinced and I've never doubted it since."

Hartney spent a few months talking to priests, asking them about their ministry, what it is like being a priest today and whether they found it difficult.

"The answers I got were encouraging," he said.

Because then-Archbishop Marcel Gervais was retiring, Hartney had to wait until the summer of 2007 to speak with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

The archbishop "was somewhat wary," Hartney recalled.

But the archbishop decided to put him in a parish as a pastoral associate to see how it would work out.

"I loved everything about it," he said. The pastor seemed happy with what he did and at the end of a year wrote a letter recommending he be ordained soon.

Hartney already had the theology courses and other academic requirements, so the diocese looked at what other training he would need.

Hartney continued to get involved in various parish activities, including youth ministry. He also did an internship at St. Joseph's in Orleans, where he started a youth group and conducted an Alpha Course in French.

"It's so obvious in today's Church, what we need to do is reach out," he said. "We can't just wait in church for people to come. The same people are going to come. We have to reach the people who aren't there."

"It's very difficult to pinpoint one moment it happened to me," he said. "It developed, through taking part in various events, through prayer, both collective and individual."

PRAISE AND WORSHIP

"I can point to a moment where a sort of boost to this," he said. "Surprisingly it came through youth movement. I was far from youthful.

"It's when I discovered praise and worship music, something to which I had a disdainful attitude at first. Musically it's pretty simple, for a trained musician, simple-minded. Nevertheless, it is music we pray."

"I could say it just goes to show even at my age one can develop and grow," he said.

Hartney got to know young people in Catholic Christian Outreach, and through attending World Youth Days in Madrid (2011) and Rio de Janeiro (2013).

The priest remained celibate after his first brush with a priestly vocation. "It was a gift, that's for sure," he said. "I can't say I found it terribly difficult."

Archbishop Prendergast ordained him at Notre Dame Cathedral where he has been assigned to serve.