The Rev. Michael Jude Fay, the long-time pastor who stole more than $1 million from Dariens oldest Catholic parish, died Saturday in a Butner, N.C., federal prison medical facility. Father Fay, 58, died of metastatic prostate cancer, according to North Carolinas chief medical examiners office. He was 10 months into a 37-month sentence for the theft.

The Diocese of Bridgeport confirmed the death with The Darien Times, which was first to report the news Saturday at DarienTimes.com.

The diocese said Wednesday that, at the request of the family, funeral services for Father Fay will be private.

Monsignor Frank McGrath, the pastor who replaced Father Fay in 2006, announced the death during Saturdays 4 p.m.

Mass. The reaction from the parishioners was subdued.

"I think people were stunned by the news and didn't expect it to happen this soon," Monsignor McGrath told The Darien Times on Saturday. He said it was very tragic and sad "but we are counting on the Lords light to come through the darkness."

Monsignor McGrath spoke with Father Fays brother, Daniel, to whom he conveyed the parishs condolences to the family, especially his mother.

The monsignor said he expected some parishioners to grieve because of the tragedy of the situation and how sad it was, and because of their closeness with him as a priest and because he got them through some very tough times. "They cared for him very deeply," he said.

He said there is another group that remains hurt and bitter over what Father Fay did, and he hopes they can look beyond that feeling and react to this as the death of a man.

In May 2006, it was discovered Father Fay was using church money to support a lavish lifestyle, which included trips to Europe, the Caribbean and other parts of the United States. A private investigation - prompted by another church priest and the bookkeeper, who both left the parish in 2006 - also discovered that Father Fay was in a romantic relationship with another man. Father Fay resigned shortly after the news broke.

An August 2006 independent audit commissioned by the Diocese of Bridgeport, reported that St. John Parish lost at least $1.4 million since 2000. Father Fay became church pastor in 1991.

More than a year later, he pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of money obtained by fraud. Father Fay and his attorneys asked the judge not to send him prison, saying he would die there.

"Naturally, I am petrified about going to prison," Father Fay told The Darien Times in a July 2008 interview before he began serving his prison term.

"God forbid I would have to go through with this," Father Fay said, "my 36-month sentence, or whatever it is, becomes a death sentence for me."

Fay was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $1,027,989 in restitution.

In October last year, after the same judge who sentenced him granted seven delays for the former pastor to get cancer treatment, Father Fay began serving his sentence in Ayer, Mass. He was receiving an experimental cancer drug treatment at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering.

The treatment was transferred for Father Fay to the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts.

His cancer, Father Fay said in the 2008 interview, had spread throughout his body to his bones and lymph nodes.

"This drug has arrested any new growth of the cancer. It is something that is keeping me alive."

In the same interview, Fay said that much of what was written about him since the scandal broke was untrue and unfair to him and others, including the man he was said to be having an affair with.

"Some of that is the socalled relationship with the wedding planner in Philadelphia," Father Fay said that July. "He is not a boyfriend. He is not even a wedding planner. It has affected his life in a terrible way. People Google his name and that is what they get. Not to mention his family. Or my 87-year-old mother.

"It has destroyed me. The accusations about what I did.

A lot of it is not true. And to read it over and over again

It has been very difficult in many, many ways."

At the time of the interview, Father Fay declined to discuss the crime he pleaded guilty to. "I don't want the judge to get angry," he said.

"There are issues that I have to say. But I am afraid of being quoted."

When asked if he wanted to share a message with his parishioners, Fay said last year: "I love them very much."

"As they have suffered, I have suffered," Father Fay said of the St. John Parish.

"I feel horrible about everything naturally. I just wish that all this never happened.

I think about them a lot. I am still friendly with several of them - or I should say, they are still friendly with me. I pray for them. I love them."

In May, Father Fay was transferred from Massachusetts to the Butner, N.C., prison, which has a medical facility, where he died Saturday.

The death does not put to rest the Darien church drama, which has dragged on for more than three years.

The bookkeeper, Bethany D'Erario, who with another priest hired the private investigator who uncovered Father Fay's thefts, is suing the diocese.

D'Erario is claiming the church retaliated against her after she blew the whistle on Father Fay.

A state superior court judge on Friday denied the diocese motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The civil trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 14 in Waterbury. editor@darientimes.com