Fr. Michael Hartney, centre, celebrates his first Mass with Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, left. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

It took 50 years, but Hartney now a priest

By 
  • October 22, 2015

OTTAWA - Michael Hartney dreamed of being a priest as a young man, but his early sense of vocation was never fulfilled. That changed five decades later as Hartney has been ordained to the priesthood in Ottawa.

Hartney, ordained Oct. 18 at the age of 71, grew up in a “standard, traditional Catholic family in the 1940s and ’50s” in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighborhood, the son of an Irish father and a 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.”

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 the Church 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.

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, who succeeded Gervais. The archbishop “was somewhat wary,” Hartney recalled. But Prendergast 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. He continued to get involved in various parish activities, including youth ministry. He did an internship at St. Joseph’s in Orleans, where he started a youth group and conducted an Alpha Course in French. 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.”

Prendergast ordained Hartney at Notre Dame Cathedral, where he has been assigned to serve.

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