Deacon Dan McHale said two of the people who influenced his faith formation the most were his grandfather, Anthony Liberti, and Father Winston L. Bath, now pastor emeritus of Holy Trinity Parish in Hudson. (Emily Benson photo)
Deacon Dan McHale said two of the people who influenced his faith formation the most were his grandfather, Anthony Liberti, and Father Winston L. Bath, now pastor emeritus of Holy Trinity Parish in Hudson. (Emily Benson photo)

Editor’s Note: The feature stories on Deacons Matthew Duclos and Daniel McHale are the first of five profiles of the deacons who will be ordained to the priesthood on June 19 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. Deacons Kyle Gorenski, Nathaniel Resila and Stephen Yusko will be featured next week.

For Deacon Daniel McHale, the path to the priesthood was a journey of waiting, wondering and, finally, being won over.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “You spend four years in seminary and all of a sudden it’s over and you have to look to the next chapter.”

On Saturday, June 19, five deacons from the Albany Diocese will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Deacon Daniel McHale, a graduate of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., is one of the men whose years of discernment have brought him to a realization: this is where he’s called to be.

“It’s nervous and exciting,” he said.

A native of the Albany Diocese, Deacon McHale, grew up in Stuyvesant, attending Holy Trinity Church (formerly St. Mary’s) and Ichabod Crane High School with his three younger sisters. Faith was just another part of his family’s life growing up, but a large influence came from Deacon McHale’s grandfather, Anthony Liberti, better known as “poppy.”

“He was the main role model of kindness,” Deacon McHale, 40, said. “He didn’t talk about his faith … he modeled his faith through his actions.”

He instilled that same faith in Deacon McHale, who was an altar server throughout high school and attended Mass regularly on Sunday. Looking back, the deacon also modeled a lot of his ideals and personal goals for the priesthood after his own priest, Father Winston L. Bath, now pastor emeritus of Holy Trinity.

“He was an influence,” Deacon McHale said. “It sounds cliche, but I wouldn’t be here without him. He modeled what it means to be a good and holy priest.”

During his undergrad years at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, Deacon McHale went through a period of irregularity with his faith, though it didn’t start off that way. Freshman year he jumped right into campus ministry, volunteering with the group on Habitat for Humanity trips around the Newburgh area and down the East Coast. But during his sophomore year, he started to pull back: “I never left the faith,” he said, “but there was a period in college where I went irregularly to Mass.”

Then, one November morning his junior year, something pivoted his faith journey. Around 6 a.m., sleepless and laying in bed, Deacon McHale heard a voice: “I heard a voice for the one and only time in my life,” he said. It wasn’t audible per say but the message was clear: The voice said, “Go to Mass.”

The deacon looked up the nearest Mass and headed over. When he arrived, he heard the psalm antiphon, “You’ll be a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

“It was one of those light-bulb moments,” he said.

While his vocation journey started, Deacon McHale wasn’t ready to commit, however: “I felt the call to priesthood, but I ignored it for 10 years.” He obtained a master’s in history from the University at Albany in 2005, and went on to teach history for 10 years at Mount St. Mary College and SUNY New Paltz.

Still, the idea was in the back of his mind, and in 2015, he attended a “Called by Name” event — in which parishes across the Diocese submit the names of parishioners they think would be a good fit for religious life — hosted by the Albany Vocations Office. Deacon McHale’s name was mentioned a few times and he figured why not give it a chance.

“It felt similar to model train collecting,” he laughed. “You think you might be the only normal one there.” That is until he showed up and realized, “I’m not alone in this and the guys are normal.”

It was at that moment he started to seriously discern his vocation. In seminary, Deacon McHale volunteered at St. Patrick’s Manor nursing home in Framingham, Mass., worked as a catechist teaching 11th grade faith formation at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, Mass., and after being ordained a deacon last spring, served at Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted in Waltham, Mass.

In the final weeks before his ordination, Deacon McHale has helped serve at a number of Holy Trinity’s Masses, the very church where his faith truly started.

“It amazes me at times,” he said. “It feels like I’m doing God’s will. I know the Lord called me here, and I thank him for that.”