By GRETCHEN MURRAY
Traverse City still looks good to the Rev. Dan Gallagher.
That's in spite of the fact that the 38-year-old priest with the Diocese of Gaylord has spent the last year in Rome.
The 1988 graduate of Traverse City Central High School has completed the first of a five-year assignment in the office of Secretariat of State, a department of the Vatican that helps Pope Benedict stay in contact with the English-speaking world. He returned to Traverse City this week for a short visit with parents and friends before heading back to Rome on Monday.
Fr. Gallagher's fluency in foreign languages earned him a place in the seven-member English section of the department where he, along with other priests, laity and religious women, study, read and translate information that comes to the Vatican in English.
"It is an opportunity to see the church from a bird's eye view, and I learned that there are a lot of areas of the world where Christians are suffering because of their faith," Gallagher said.
Since English is an important language in places such as Asia, the Middle East, Pakistan and India, he also deals with many countries that are not English speaking.
"The English department covers a lot of areas," he said.
Gallagher takes particular pride in being a priest with the Gaylord Diocese and loves it when he has the opportunity to present an English-speaking program to the church, particularly when it's hometown folks.
Last summer, Gallagher presented members of the choir of Christ the King Church in Acme to the Pope. The choir made a musical pilgrimage to the Vatican that included a performance before Pope Benedict.
Fr. Gallagher says the job can be fast-paced.
"Vatican City maintains diplomatic relations with other countries and we prepare for visits from heads of state," Gallagher said.
Currently the Vatican is arranging for Pope Benedict's eight-day visit to the United States in April. Gallagher is helping prepare information the pope will present to United Nations delegates.
He's also involved in preparations for World Youth Day, taking place this year in Australia.
"This experience has been a real privilege, but it's always nice to come home," Gallagher said. "You forget how much at home you feel in your own country when you get off the plane, and the McDonald's ... . No matter how long you're gone, America stays America."