There was little doubt about what career path would be taken by Rev. Ian Duffy, the new pastor at Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate.
“I was probably about five years old the first time I thought about it,” said Duffy. “Other things would come and go but the priesthood was the only one that kept coming back.”
Duffy was pastor for St. Anne’s in Ancaster from 2012 to 2019 before Bishop Crosby selected him to be the new pastor at the Basilica, taking over for Monsignor Dennis Noon who retired in June.
“I said to the people my very first weekend, let’s deal with the elephant in the room,” said Duffy. “I’m not Monsignor Noon and you’re not the people of Ancaster. Usually I find the first year really is a time of transition in any move that I have had. You know I am missing the place I came from and they are missing the priest they had for 16 years.”
He has arrived while the rectory is in the middle of a major renovation. The diocese has set him up in a home off site and the church office has been temporarily moved to a portable in the basilica’s parking lot.
Adjusting to these temporary conditions and life in a new parish has come with its challenges but they pale in comparison to the broader challenge he has accepted.
“The biggest challenge we face right now is how to preach the gospel and preach the faith to a society that really no longer speaks the language of faith,” he said. “Somehow we have to learn how we break through to the people we are trying to make disciples of.”
Duffy was born in Pembroke in 1966, the oldest of two siblings, and grew up in Kitchener.
“Both of my parents were teachers as is my sister and, at least, on my mom’s side we come from a line of teachers,” he said. “My grandmother was a teacher as well.”
He was drawn to the church at an early age.
“I was an altar boy, choir boy, organist, all those kinds of things,” said Duffy. “As I got older it was going to be the priesthood or law. I was drawn to the priesthood basically through the liturgy. From a very young age I loved the mass and the worship of the church. That’s what drew me to the priesthood.”
It remained his focus all through school.
“I went to school at St. Jerome’s then went on to St. Jerome’s College at the University of Waterloo,” he said. “I then went to Western University and St. Peter’s Seminary. I studied history at Western and theology through Western at the seminary.”
His reasons for becoming a priest evolved but his faith never wavered.
“We had a rector in the seminary that used to say that the reasons you come to the seminary are seldom the reasons you stay,” he said. “While the liturgy certainly remains a great love of mine to this very day, as I went on the Lord helped me really fall more in love with him and his people and that is the reason I have stayed to this day.”
Duffy was ordained at the age of 28 and served at Holy Cross in Georgetown and Our Lady of Lourdes in Hamilton before coming to Guelph where he was associate to then Pastor Noon at St Joseph’s Church from 2000 to 2002.
“St. Gabriel’s in Burlington was the first parish I was pastor at,” said Duffy.
He was at St. Gabriel’s from 2002 to 2006 then was made pastor of St. Joseph’s in Fergus where he stayed until 2012.
He was at St. Joseph’s in Fergus during the building of the new church there from 2009 - 2011.
Duffy is dedicated to his faith but recognises that many today have turned away from the church – a situation he considers a crisis of faith.
“That is exactly what it is,” he said. “I don’t think there is any simple answer to that. A big part of that is simply the world we live in today that has a whole lot more to distract someone from faith than the world ever did before.”
He acknowledges that the church itself has contributed to the problem.
“Some of the scandals that have rocked the church in the last 20 years have certainly contributed to people who, may not have lost faith in Christ but have lost faith in the institution.,” he said. “We’ve also, as a society, given into the notion that scientific empiricism equals truth. If something can’t be scientifically proved, then it’s not true.”
Not all truths, he said, can be measured in the lab.
“Prove to me that love exists,” said Duffy. “There is none of us who would deny it, but we can’t empirically prove that it exists using the scientific method. When we try to make simple, pat answers as to why this is the case, I don’t think we do anyone any favours.”
He is looking forward to moving his office out of the portable and settling into the newly renovated rectory.
“As you can see, we are working in these wonderful surroundings here,” he joked. “It will probably be done in the spring, at least that is our hope. The place has been entirely gutted and rebuilt inside.”
The main floor has been redesigned to include a dining room, living room and kitchen.
“The second floor will be rooms for probably up to three priests,” he said. “The third and fourth floor they are not doing anything at all with them now. It would have gone into too much money to go up there and of course, the extension they are building on the back will be the offices and meeting rooms.”
He said the transition has been going well.
“So far so good,” he said. “I have been around long enough to learn that you take time with things and ease into the new job. Right now, I am the only one here but there is always the possibility of an associate being sent or a retired priest moving in.”
He feels he is gaining the trust and support of his new parishioners.
“I think so, yes,” he said. “The bishop hasn’t got any letters yet. That’s always a good sign”.