The Franciscan School families may have seen some new faces on campus this year as St. Francis of Assisi welcomed two new priests to the parish community in September. While they may be new to St. Francis, both Monsignor Michael Clay and Father Jairo Maldonado-Pacheco have years of experience serving parishes across the nation – and world.
Let’s get to know them…
Msgr. Michael Clay was born in Philadelphia, Penn. After several moves in connection with his father’s naval duties, his family finally settled in New Bern, N.C. where he attended elementary, junior high and senior high schools. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education, master’s degrees in liturgical music and divinity, and a Doctor of Ministry in liturgical studies – all from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He prepared for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome and at Theological College in Washington D.C., and was ordained in 1980. Within the Diocese of Raleigh, he has served as vice-rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral and pastor of St. Peter Church in Greenville, St. Thomas More Church in Chapel Hill, and St. Ann Church in Clayton. At the diocesan level, he has served as vocation director, director of the permanent diaconate, director of liturgy, and legislative lobbyist at the NC General Assembly.
He is returning to the diocese after completing an eight-year appointment by the Bishop of Raleigh from The Catholic University of America where he has served as associate professor, department chair of pastoral studies, and associate dean for graduate ministerial studies. For more than 30 years, he has been an internationally recognized authority on the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and has presented workshops on the RCIA in over 70 dioceses in the United States and Canada. He is the author of A Harvest for God: Christian Initiation in the Rural and Small-Town Parish published by Liturgy Training Publications and more than 12 articles on Christian initiation and liturgy.
Msgr. Clay was named a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title, Monsignor, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
Fr. Jairo Alberto Maldonado-Pacheco is a native of Colombia, South America. He was born in Ábrego, in the state of North of Santander. He is the second child of Daniel Maldonado-Ortíz and Roquelina Pacheco-Jiménez. He has three siblings: Elizabeth, Mairena, and Juan Camilo who is the youngest. His home parish in Colombia is “Divino Niño.” He attended Colegio Carlos Julio Torrado Peñaranda High School and studied philosophy at Fundación Universitaria Cervantes-San Agustín while discerning a religious vocation with the Augustinian friars. He came to the United States in 2013 to study English as a Second Language (ESL). In 2014, he joined the Diocese of Raleigh and attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Penn., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and master’s degrees in Divinity and Theology. He was ordained to the Priesthood on June 6, 2020. His home parish in the diocese is St. Therese in Wilson.
Tell us about your journey into the priesthood.
Msgr. Clay: “A lot of children during my era grew up wanting to be a priest. I started thinking about it during 2nd or 3rd grade, and then… of course… decided I wanted to be an architect or a teacher or a number of other things. I didn’t seriously consider it again until college. I was a music education major in college and wanted to become a high school music teacher. As I served in the campus music ministry, I started seriously considering the possibility of becoming a priest. A wise nun I knew told me there’s only one way to find out – and that was to go to seminary and explore it. For a while I had doubts over whether I was called to the priesthood or to be a church musician, but the Lord kept tapping me on my shoulder and nudging me back to the priesthood.”
Father Jairo: “I remember when I was seven or eight, I came home from school and was talking with my mother in the kitchen when she asked me what I wanted to be one day. I told her, ‘I want to be a priest.’ However, it wasn’t for the reason you might expect. I grew up hearing my parents – especially my mother – tell me that one day, every parent has to give an account to God in regards to how you raised your children. It was a vocation, and I did not like the idea of being responsible to God for other people – that idea was scary to me. I wanted to face God on my own merits – not my children’s. My mom, who is so wise, said, “Okay that’s good, but remember – if you become a priest, you will become a Father to many.” It was a naive way of thinking about the priesthood at the time, and it’s funny to think today that I love when people refer to me as “Father.” Being called father reminds me of my vocation to be a spiritual father to the people I’m serving.
What do you enjoy most about being a priest?
Msgr. Clay: “I love so much of what I do – preaching, celebrating the sacraments, and helping people develop community and find the Lord.”
Father Jairo: “I love being the father of many and helping spiritually develop ‘children.’ Fatherhood is God’s gift and I get to share in that spiritual fatherhood of God. I love to share in Christ’s priesthood and demonstrate God’s love for His people.”
What is unique about parishes that have a school connected to it?
Msgr. Clay: “This is the fifth parish I’ve been able to be a part of and only one of them didn’t have a school connected to it. Parishes with schools have been my primary experience. I find that schools provide an opportunity for us to really help our children learn their faith more expansively. I think it’s good for the parish to have the presence of young people, children and teens – they bring an energizing level of life to the community.”
Father Jairo: “I find that parishes that have a school attached to them display a beautiful way of evangelism. I love how they help the kids know more about Jesus and carry out the ministry. When children are deeply involved in the life of the church, it is beautiful.”
What do you see as the value of a Catholic education?
Msgr. Clay: “Schools give us an opportunity to shape our children’s worldview in a way that’s inherently Catholic. In public schools, there are a lot of restrictions on what you can and cannot say and do – you have to be neutral so as to not offend. Here in a Catholic private school, we can share what we believe, explain what we believe, and give the children the opportunity to develop their Catholic DNA … not just in terms of their religious beliefs, but in the way they treat and respect each other and learn to become a community. We provide human and spiritual and academic development.”
Father Jairo: “Catholic education provides learning excellence and spiritual formation in a way that prepares children for life beyond school. It helps them not only be successful in life, but to be a good witness of God in whatever they choose to do.”
What are your plans for The Franciscan School?
Msgr. Clay: “The Franciscan School is an excellent school with a phenomenal reputation and is being capably led by Mr. Watson. I get to enjoy that! I want the school to keep on doing what we’re doing, while constantly making sure we’re true to our sense of Catholic identity.”
Father Jairo: “I want to see the students learn to explore their faith and then become comfortable in sharing it with others.”
How will you be involved with the school and its students?
Msgr. Clay: “I’ll be visiting the classrooms and seeing the school children at weekly mass. My challenge will be the busyness of being the pastor, which means I can’t always drop by when students are being released or coming into school. I call 7:30-8:30 a.m. my “holy hour.” It’s a time I set aside for the Lord where I read Scripture and pray. It’s a very holy time for me. As much as I love the kids and school, the Lord gets first choice with that time. But I will enjoy getting to know our families in many different settings.”
Father Jairo: “I hope to attend all the school’s major activities and regularly visit classrooms. I want the students to get used to seeing us and interacting with us on a regular basis. I want to walk our students through their spiritual life – from confession to communion and more – and accompany them on their journey of faith.”