It is easy to envision a genuine smile upon Father John Durkin’s face as he recalls his 50 years of service in the priesthood. He spent the majority of his priesthood serving the Archdiocese of New York after studying at St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y., and celebrating his ordination in 1967. His first two assignments took him to the Bronx, N.Y., where he served for three years as parochial vicar of St. Frances de Chantal and then on the faculty of Cardinal Spellman Catholic High School.
He recalled his 12 years at the school in the South Bronx fondly. The majority of the student body was students from lower- and middle-income families, many from broken homes. Father Durkin said the staff worked not only to offer academics but a sense of a compassionate family. He used one story to describe how the actions of the students — despite their struggles in their home life — reflected that message of compassion.
“One priest complained about his hub caps getting stolen. The next day there were 25 hub caps piled on his desk,” Father Durkin recalled with a laugh. “They were just great kids.”
After more than a decade at Spellman, he spent another six years at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen before returning to his roots. Originally from Dutchess County in New York, he served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Amenia, just east of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for 21 years. He described the parish as small and close-knit with some 350 families.
“Being there for that long, there were parishioners I baptized, celebrated first Communion and married them,” Father Durkin said, adding he had so many wonderful experiences there from sharing dinners to starting a community food closet out of the parish. “I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t trade those 21 years for anything.”
Father Durkin retired to Florida in 2009 for health reasons, but he still tries to be active at his local parish, St. John the Evangelist in Viera. When asked if he ever fell into a rut after serving at the same place for more than two decades, Father Durkin said he didn’t but he could understand how that could have been a possibility. His advice for avoiding a possible rut? Take vacations.
“You need to take a break and sit down and not be able to hear the phones ringing.”