Health issues force Fr. Irace into early retirement

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Father Dominic P. Irace has a lot to look back on in his 34 years as a priest. Over the years, he studied in Europe, was ordained by a pope, watched the growth of the Arlington Diocese and worked closely with several bishops. He's made fond memories and good friends, but now it's time for something new - retirement.

For the next few years, Father Irace will shift his priorities from the community to his own well-being, as he concentrates on improving his health, which due to diabetes, arthritis and a few other conditions, has worsened and affected his ministries.

Father Irace was born in New York City to Pasquale and Angela Irace. He has three sisters, Anne, Florence and Camillie, and a brother, Charles. He attended New York City's Public School No. 3 and graduated from the city's Evander Childs High School in 1960 and from Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Conn., in 1971.

Father Irace went on to study voice and oboe at the Julliard School of Music in New York for two years before receiving master's degrees from Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, in 1974 and the Gregorian University in Rome in 1975.

He remembers those years of studying in Europe as some of the most amazing times of his life.

"Going to Rome and studying there, in the heart of the Church, right there in that beautiful city, was a wonderful experience," he said. "Living with the sights and sounds and tastes of Rome, you just become intoxicated. You come back a much broader person than if you had stayed in the U.S."

His experiences in Europe were also marked with the love of his family, who traveled there to see his ordination in 1975 by Pope Paul VI at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. With them came Father Richard Ley, then the diocesan vocations director, and Msgr. Richard Burke, the rector at Father Irace's first assignment, the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Father Irace served as parochial vicar of the Cathedral from 1975-78, of St. Ambrose Parish in Annandale from 1978-81, of St. Luke Parish in McLean from 198-86, and of St. Mary Parish in Fredericksburg from 1986-87. He was administrator at St. Mary in 1987 and pastor of St. Louis Parish in Alexandria from 1987-94. He returned to the Cathedral in 1994 to serve as rector and since 2003 he has served as pastor of St. Ambrose.

In addition to his parish work, Father Irace was a member of the board of directors of the Paul VI Institute of the Arts from 1980-89 and was director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy from 1984-99. He also wrote Gospel commentaries for the Catholic Herald for many years.

Father Irace said he enjoyed being at the Cathedral when the Arlington Diocese was still being formed. He remembers working closely with founding Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh and, through his work as director of the office of liturgy, developing a close bond with his successor, Bishop John R. Keating. He said he enjoyed being able to serve multiple assignments at the Cathedral and St. Ambrose.

"I had two unique experiences of returning to parishes where I had already been," Father Irace said. "That's great because you know the people, you have friends there who you're going back to, and you have a surer grip of the parish - how it operates, how the people think and what they expect."

After a party and a farewell Mass at St. Ambrose in September, Father Irace left for his new home in West Palm Beach, Fla. There, he will spend time with his family - his sisters all live nearby - and focus on improving his health.

"My doctor and I felt that was what I needed - a new location in a more relaxed atmosphere," he said. "Being in the pool every day is a wonderful exercise and the weather down here is conducive to being active year-round.

"I've been doing something for 35 years, and now I'm starting something new," he said. "I've never lived by myself in a house before and never had to set up a house and get a mortgage and things like that, but I like doing things on my own. Bishop (Paul S.) Loverde was so kind and understanding that I felt like this is what I needed to do right now."

Father Irace hopes that after he can get his health in order, he'll be able to work with the local parishes in some part-time ministry.

"There is a great, great need for priests down here," he said. "I want to get myself physically better and then find a path I can take to keep my involvement in the Church I love so much."

He said he will miss the diocese and the friends he has made here and he wishes Father Andrew Fisher, his successor, nothing but the best.

"He's coming into a wonderful parish and I'm so happy for him," he said. "It's been a very fulfilling and wonderful life for me serving God in His Church and especially the Diocese of Arlington, in which I've been so active."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009