Father Michael Bartholomew and Father Maurizio Duru have been in Sacred Heart Parish in Cutchogue just since June. They both arrived when the longtime pastor, Monsignor Joseph Staudt, retired after 16 years in the parish.
They are still getting used to their new surroundings at the parish rectory on Main Road in Cutchogue and at Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Mattituck, where Masses are held.
Father Bartholomew is not new to eastern Long Island — for nine years he was pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Westhampton Beach. But for Father Duru, the North Fork is very new. He grew up in Nigeria, studied in Germany, Rome and Spain, and came to Long Island for the first time in March.
“Every parish is different,” said Father Bartholomew as both men sat in the rectory office. “I was a little worried when the bishop asked me to come here, but I love it.”
Father Duru talked about his journey from a small village in Nigeria to Europe, where he studied languages and philosophy and worked as an associate pastor, to his first Long Island assignment last March at St. Catherine of Sienna R.C. Church in Franklin Square.
“I was an altar server when I was a boy, and began in the minor seminary when I was 12,” he said, adding that he is happy to be on the North Fork, where both he and Father Bartholomew have major responsibilities beyond the parish.
Father Bartholomew is coordinator of the Spanish Apostolate, whose mission is to serve the Spanish-speaking community and is part of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Father Duru is the chaplain for the group. Both men speak Spanish fluently — Father Duru, who has a gift for languages, speaks German and Italian fluently as well.
Sister Margaret Smyth ran the Apostolate until her death last March at the age of 83. She was responsible for the North Fork, and Vincentian priests helped with the mission on the South Fork. Those priests are no longer there.
“This will be a lot of work,” said Father Bartholomew, “because we are also parish priests. But my primary responsibility is here, in this parish. And Sister Margaret did so much great work. She was a force of nature.”
In Westhampton Beach, Father Bartholomew said there was a good-sized Spanish-speaking congregation. It is smaller in Sacred Heart, but no less important to both men and to the diocese.
“In Westhampton, we involved them in the parish; their ministries grew, and we encouraged them to come,” Father Bartholomew said. “That ministry is very important to us.”
Born in 1980, Father Bartholomew grew up in Levittown, went to St. Anthony’s High School in Melville, and went on to the University of Scranton (Pa.), a Jesuit institution. His mother taught Latin at Great Neck South High School. Her favorite family vacation was to Rome. His mother’s parents were Irish immigrants.
He was called to be a priest when he was 23, after living in Spain on an internship. He went to the seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor.
“When I was assigned to Westhampton Beach, I was the youngest pastor in the history of the diocese there,” he said.
As for his philosophy as a pastor, he believes in a welcoming church. “There is room for everyone,” he said. He mentioned a comment Pope Francis made in Lisbon earlier this week that the church is “for everyone, everyone, everyone.”
In speaking of his own journey to the priesthood, Father Duru’s story is that of a man seeking opportunities to learn and grow. He grew up speaking Igbo, the language of his part of Nigeria. In 1997 he was ordained in Nigeria, and then went on to Europe for additional studies, first in Germany and then in Rome.
He earned a master’s and a doctoral degree in philosophy and also worked as a priest in a parish near Rome. He also studied in Valencia, Spain. To say he is well-educated and multilingual doesn’t entirely describe the full scope of his studies. He is a learned man.
In Sacred Heart, Father Duru is associate pastor and Father Bartholomew is the pastor. As chaplain of the Apostolate, Father Duru has already done baptisms and is scheduled for more, all in Spanish. For both priests, Sacred Heart is a set of new, and welcoming, challenges.
Father Duru has to spell out his whole name — Uchenna Maurizio Duru — to a visitor. He has to do it several times before it sinks in. In Nigeria, his first name means “the will of the Father.”
He turns 54 on Aug. 12.
“So far, so good,” he said.