Fr. Dan Daley, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels parish in Pinetop, AZ, recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination. Fr. Daley first served in Vermont but left the priesthood for a period when he was 36. He returned to actively service after coming to the Diocese of Gallup in 1993 – first, at Blanco, NM and Bloomfield, NM, and then to Pinetop. In this interview with The Voice of the Southwest, Fr. Daley reflects on the lessons, sorrows and joys experienced throughout his 50 years as a priest.
Voice of the Southwest: You entered the priesthood young – how did you discern you were called to be a priest?
Fr. Dan Daley: You know, I never had a doubt. [Referring to his time away] I really was growing up at the age of 36 – you see, I went in at the age of 18. But after ten full years away, it became clearer and clearer to me that no matter what I would become, I was really a priest. When you leave and return, you see things in a whole different way. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
So how did you end up in Gallup? It’s a long way from Vermont.
I had never heard of it in my life. I thought “Gallup” was a poll. I was on a one-year sabbatical from my former job in Boston, and I had determined during that one year, I would – with God’s help and the permission of the local bishop – return to the priesthood. At that point, I had never been across the Mississippi River. My dad died and I had received a little inheritance, and I determined to use that inheritance to drive throughout the United States. And then I came to a place that I never, ever could forget – called New Mexico. And I was overwhelmed by New Mexico. It is truly, truly the magic state.
What struck you about it as “magic”?
The scenery – the miles and miles and miles of being able to see from one end of the universe to the other. The colors of the whole country, and the rocks, and the culture! I love the Hispanic-American culture. Which was a perfect reason for Bishop Pelotte, within three months of my coming to the diocese, to name me as the priest in Blanco, NM. I was there for twelve years.
Can you recall some of your fondest experiences?
That gets to be harder because I think that like some priests of the Diocese of Gallup, I had a pretty good idea from the beginning that Gallup was not going to be Boston, where I came from. The Diocese of Gallup is the most unique diocese in the United States, bar none. The location, the size of the diocese – I come from Vermont, born and brought up. You can put five Vermonts in our diocese. And then the ethnic makeup of the whole of the diocese – and its variety from place to place.
So I served my first twelve full years in the more Hispanic side of the diocese, and then came to [Pinetop], which is more of a mix.
What would you say is one of your favorite things about being a priest?
Offering the liturgy – that’s the real truth. Celebrating the liturgy and doing all kinds of personal counseling. I really enjoy it – I love being able to help people.
Are there any specific challenges you’ve faced – especially in this diocese – and how have you overcome them?
I have to say thank God for this diocese and the time here, and I’ll tell you why – when I had finished my ten years [away], I had this fantasy of being a pastor at one parish for all of my life, and God has fulfilled that fantasy and made it into a total reality, after the 28 years I’ve been here.
Is that because you’ve enjoyed getting to really know people and see the different generations grow up?
Absolutely. This part of the world is so unique with the varied cultures – Native American, Hispanic, and western culture – it’s just a remarkable place to be. It’s also challenging. It can be very lonely. I’m delighted that I ended up at a parish where Pinetop – we’re 7200 feet up – when I left Vermont I said “well I hope the one thing I never see again is snow” and now of course we pray to God we get a lot more.
And what other things about Pinetop in particular do you like?
I’ve come to appreciate the fact I’m in a place that is peaceful, a place that is very small-town America. A place that has natural beauty. I’m obsessed with the Painted Desert and with the Petrified Forest – I live an hour from both of those. And I go there frequently to spend two or three hours, driving around at 15 miles per hour and meditating and praying. I find the mysteries of nature to be overwhelming.
What have you come to appreciate about the priests and religious you serve with?
I’ve never seen such a mixed group of priests in my life. We come from every corner of the globe. I’ve always been really impressed with the goodness of the priests here and the kindness that they have.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
The Anima Christi. It’s really my protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. And the other one is the St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Because I see my joy at being here in NM and AZ as a joy that is, if you want, ecological. When I pray I do a lot of meditating on nature.
Do you have a favorite book?
This is a difficult question because all my life I’ve been an intensive reader.
How about some which have had a profound influence on you?
You know, it’s like a parent trying to pick out a favorite kid. I love reading history – all of history, and how no matter what, we live it again and again.
Is there a particular lesson you’ve taken away that you’d like to impart to others?
We’re born, we live, we die, and we go to glory. And the deeper thing would be – life is a great mystery.
Any other hobbies besides enjoying nature?
Whenever I have time, I love to travel through Arizona and New Mexico.
Do you have any favorite little spots?
Yeah, a wonderful, wonderful area that I recommend to everyone if you’re in Arizona – you go to Winkelman, and you drive the back roads, from Winkelman to Superior, Arizona. It is one of the outstanding, most beautiful, picturesque forty miles I’ve ever seen in my life. And then the whole area around Jemez and Abiquiu, New Mexico. Georgia O’Keeffe was right – it really is supernatural.
Any other thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
The thing that I’m astounded with is I was invited to come to the diocese in 1993, and 28 years later I’m here talking to you. And I’m just astounded and delighted – God gave me this great church in this state of Arizona and New Mexico, this unique group of people to live with.
Editor’s note: Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.