PORT DEPOSIT — Michael Preston has known for more than half of his life that he would become a priest in the Catholic Church.
“At a very early age I always knew what I wanted to do,” Preston said.
The Port Deposit man will take the vows at the Catholic Cathedral in Wilmington making him a deacon in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington on Aug. 2, his 28th birthday.
As a child Preston watched the parish priest care for the spiritual needs of his sick grandfather.
“I watched the priest pray with him and for him,” he recalled. “It fostered that vocation.”
During a short stint being homeschooled he was able to closely follow the news coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II and the events leading up to the naming of his successor. That pretty much cemented his plans, he said.
Raised in St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in Port Deposit and educated at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Perryville, he then attended Seton Hall University in New Jersey. However during graduate school At St. Mary’s Seminary he had a sort of a crisis.
“I was in a master’s program at seminary,” Preston said. However he felt out of sorts and decided he needed a break.
“I said, “Lord, just give me a year,” he said of the events, that he clearly remembers happened on Sept. 11, 2014. “I knew my mother was not going to be happy.”
On the drive home he ran through his options and knew he’d need a job during this gap year.
“I stopped at the Royal Farms and got a slushie for my grandmother,” Preston said. During the purchase he had a conversation with the manager, who was a friend. “I got a job offer at Royal Farms.”
Then he heard that a teacher at Good Shepherd was going on maternity leave. Sharon Hodge, the principal of the school at the time, remembered him as a third grader.
“So from January to June I was a 6th-7th-8th grade teacher of religious and social studies at Good Shepherd Catholic School,” he said.
“I enjoyed teaching but I kept wondering what else was out there,” he said. With nothing in the offing he let the Diocese know he was not coming back. “It kind of went downhill from there.”
Call it divine intervention when Preston had a conversation with The Right Rev. Francis Malooly, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.
“He encouraged me to come to the Holy Hour,” he said of the service of prayer and adoration. “So I was kneeling in the back and I said, “Lord, just give me a job.”
“I heard Him very clearly,” Preston said of the holy conversation. “You’re being stubborn in your heart.”
The man who was not planning to return to seminary did so, and is now preparing for a diaconate ordination into the Diocesan Priesthood.
“I can baptize, conduct marriages, witness the sacraments. A deacon helps with the functions of the church and assists the priest,” he said of his new role. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
He will officiate his aunt’s sacramental marriage, for example.
He’s become comfortable with the new attire; the traditional black shirt with the starched white clerical collar.
“It was kind of strange, kind of tight at first I must admit,” he said. However Preston said he is prepared to go forth, comfortable now with his career path.
“The biggest challenge for me is going to be helping people realize the church is not out to get them,” he said. “We need to get people to trust again in general.”
Acknowledging the turmoil in the church at large, Preston said he will encourage parishioners to forgive and move on.
“Give faith a chance. Trust more in your fellow man. Be able to forgive and move on,” he said.
He does not see himself as anything but a priest in a small parish.
“I can be very content with that life,” he said.