Father Joseph Franklin Dutan, 30, believes that it was an extraordinary act of God, in the form of deadly cancer, that finally helped him answer his true calling.
Born in New York, he grew up in Woodside with his parents, Manuel and Ana, who emigrated from Ecuador, and his siblings, Zully and Yolanda. Manuel and Ana fostered a domestic church in their home, not only with their spiritual guidance, but also with their deep love and support for their children and each other. Although they sacrificed much for their children, this did not dampen the joy that came out of their love.
His family attended St. Teresa parish in Woodside, where he also went to school. He became an altar server and it was in this ministry, during the fifth grade, that he first felt a tug on his heart.
Father Adnel Burgos was his inspiration. The parish priest had enlisted 150 altar servers and was a true presence in their lives. “He showed us the normal side of the priesthood,” Father Dutan said. “He ate the same food and listened to the same music as us. He took us out to the movies.”
The tug was there, but it was internal and not quite understood. Eventually, he confided in his mother that he may want to be a priest, but asked her not to tell anyone. He did not want things to change or for people to look at him differently. His mother respected his wishes and made sure that he knew there was support and resources available for him, without being pushy about it. She also prayed for him.
When it came to choosing a high school, he made it to the front steps of Cathedral Prep. Seminary to register, but changed his mind at the last moment. He decided on St. John’s Prep, Astoria, from which he graduated in 2006.
As a teenager, Father Dutan said he fell away from the Church slightly. He would lie to his mom and tell her he was at Mass on time, when in fact, he only went at the end and stayed in the back.
No matter how much pull he felt from secular culture to see success in the form of wealth and popularity, and how much he wanted to convince himself his calling was to be a family man, he was always drawn toward the Blessed Sacrament. He would join his mom after Mass to pray in front of the Lord. In this time of quiet, he would hear the Lord’s call toward the priesthood. His response: “Thank you, Lord, but no, this is not for me.”
He went on to enroll at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology as an electrical engineer major. But realizing the financial burden on his parents, he withdrew and found his first full-time job.
He saved up enough money to start college again after working in a Manhattan pharmacy for a year. All seemed to be going according to plan, until a week before he was to resume college. He began to feel sick. He was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, a cancer that had infected his blood cells and bone marrow at an age that came as a shock to doctors. He became deeply depressed. He would not speak to anyone and would not even draw the blinds next to his hospital bed. He was angry at God.
The hospital chaplain, Father Quintero, came to talk to him everyday.
“Who said you are going to die?” Father Dutan remembers the chaplain saying to him, and told him to snap out of it. “Only God makes that decision.”
It was there, in the hospital, that the future priest decided to say yes to the Lord. He began to heal, but felt cured – physically and spiritually – only after he entered the seminary.
Although his father was always supportive and loving, the priesthood was not what he envisioned for his son. He was angry with the decision.
Then one of the employees at his father’s restaurant realized their mild-mannered and kind boss was strangely agitated, and asked what was the matter. Upon hearing what the problem was, the employee asked him why he would deny God the son for whose life he was begging just a year earlier.
Father Dutan’s father has become his son’s biggest supporter, and will proudly attend his son’s ordination with his wife.
Father Dutan will offer his First Mass of thanksgiving at St. Teresa Church, Woodside, on Sunday, July 1, at 12 p.m.