One summer day, a fourth-grade age boy named Hartley Bancroft III wrote a heartfelt letter to God in his family’s garage.
“I told God I loved him very much, and if He wanted me to be a priest, I would do it,” recalled now 28-year-old Father Hartley Bancroft.
More than a decade later, at the end of the Funeral Mass of his pastor from childhood, Msgr. John Keaveney of St. Mary’s parish in Washingtonville, Hartley, then college age, first verbalized his desire to enter the seminary.
The year was 2010, and he had served at the early January Funeral Mass. After the liturgy, Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro approached Hartley and the other altar boys and asked, “‘I wonder who’s going to be stepping up and taking Father Keaveney’s place’” as a priest?
“You had the feeling that this is something he says at all priests’ funerals, to whoever is serving there,” Father Bancroft surmised with a smile. As one by one the other servers said, “‘I don’t think so, Bishop,’ he turned to me and I said, ‘Yeah, I think I would like to do that.’”
Hartley soon made an appointment with the pastor, Father Jeffrey Maurer, to discuss applying to the seminary.
“I think Father Keaveney has definitely watched out for me over my years in the seminary,” he said.
He also acknowledges the kindness of Father Andrew Florez, then a parochial vicar at St. Mary’s, who first spoke to him about the priesthood in the sacristy after Hartley, then a sixth-grader, had served Mass.
The realization of how remarkable the fraternity of the priesthood is came to be the night before his transitional diaconate ordination last year.
His good friend from the seminary, Father Seán Connolly, who was ordained a priest last year, randomly sent him a text. “He just said, ‘Hartley, God has chosen you. He knows who He’s chosen. He’s happy with His choice.’”
Born in White Plains, he is the oldest of four children of Hartley and Betty Anne Bancroft. His sisters are Tara, Colleen and Molly.
Summer assignments included Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s, Newburgh; St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus, the Bronx, and Most Precious Blood, Walden.
He studied physics at Duke University and received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. John’s University.
Among the Eagle Scout’s favorite pastimes are playing board games, reading science fiction books, watching tennis and playing the saxophone.
Science continues to fascinate him, as do discussions about faith and reason.
Gazing at the stars at night, he is awestruck. “God has created something so much larger than we can imagine, for us. It’s a huge gift, the universe itself.”
A sense of wonder is something mankind needs to recover, he firmly believes. “He absolutely loves us,” Father Bancroft said. “He’s created all of this for us.
“When we realize what’s beyond us spiritually, also—God—how much greater is He than just the stars.”
Father Bancroft will celebrate his First Mass Sunday, May 29, at noon at St. Mary’s Church, Washingtonville. Father Mathew Reiman, parochial vicar at St. Francis Xavier, the Bronx, will deliver the homily.
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