[dropcap]C[/dropcap]laretian Father Darrin Merlino was baptized a Catholic but not raised as one. He didn’t realize he was being called to the priesthood until he was in his early 20s. After high school, he went to video production school and worked as a disc jockey. “God had to do a St. Paul on me,” Fr. Merlino said.
“I remember praying the Our Father and I just kind of nonchalantly asked, ‘Whatever Your will is for me, God’ — I was thinking Hollywood — and He flipped it on me. He said, ‘You asked for My will, so it’s going to change your life just a tad.’” Fr. Merlino spent a year in a monastery but it wasn’t the right fit, so he finished his degree in philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville and entered the Claretians eight months later.
The Catholic Sun: When did you first realize God was calling you to religious life?
Fr. Merlino: It was Jan. 6, 1987 around 10 p.m. I was in my kitchen at my parents’ house. … I had seen an opaque image of Jesus, which was the Divine Mercy image that I had never even seen before until then — I didn’t know it existed — in our backyard. I thought it was the way the lights were hitting from the moon, hitting the bushes … I kept seeing that image over and over again. Every night, it was just there. Eventually on the feast of the Epiphany, my mom said, “I think the Lord is calling you to be a priest.” I had no desire to be a priest at that time. None whatsoever.
The Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Claretians)
Community charisms: Preaching
Community founding: Aug. 16, 1849 in Barcelona, Spain, by St. Anthony Mary Claret
Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Prescott
When he first heard God’s call:
Jan. 6, 1987
Final vows: Aug. 1, 1999
Sun: Why did you choose the Claretians?
Fr. Merlino: My motto is the one I adopted from St. Anthony Claret: to preach the Gospel in urgent, timely and effective ways. I think that’s how I live my life. I’m always willing to look at new methods but keeping the message the same. As Claretians, that’s our main thrust. Our founder’s coat of arms is one that I also adopt, too: the love of Christ impels us. That for me as a Claretian is very foundational.
Sun: What would you tell men discerning their vocations?
Fr. Merlino: Men should pray for God’s will and let Him open or close the doors to the priesthood. If He wants you there, He’ll keep you there. If He doesn’t want you there, He’ll kick you out. And that’s how I looked at it when I left that first order. I prayed for that. When they kicked me out I said, “The Lord answered my prayers. I wanted you to have this experience but you’re not going to stay here.” So when I applied to the Claretians, it felt right, it felt peaceful.
Sun: What has been the most fulfilling about your life as a Claretian Father?
Fr. Merlino: I love when people come back to the sacraments, to the Church. That’s my favorite, when someone comes back. Or baptizing. Funerals are interesting because it gives you an opportunity to give a message of hope in a time of sadness. But I think as a priest, baptizing adults on Holy Saturday. Last Easter I baptized 18 people … that was probably the most joyful Holy Saturday I’ve ever experienced. The other thing is bringing people into the Church. That is definitely my favorite Mass, outside of the Ordination Mass.