Bellmore native Father Timothy Hirten performs with the Hirten Family...

Bellmore native Father Timothy Hirten performs with the Hirten Family Dancers at Hofstra University's 19th annual Irish Experience Festival on March 5, 2016 in Hempstead. Credit: Andrew Coen

Fresh off a tour of duty in the Middle East as a United States Air Force chaplain, Father Timothy Hirten was back on a familiar stage Sunday, keeping a family tradition alive.

Hirten, who returned to the United States in mid-February after an eight-month stint overseas, helped close out Hofstra University’s 19th annual Irish Experience Festival with the Hirten Family Dancers.

The Bellmore native, 62, who is now stationed at McGuire Air Force Base at Fort Dix, New Jersey, has performed Irish step dancing for more than 40 years after first learning the craft from his parents, Gladys and Bert. The priest managed to practice some routines while across the globe and dedicated Sunday’s first performance since returning home to his mother, who died in July at age 88.

“I have been preparing a lot for this show,” said Hirten, who before arriving at Hofstra conducted a Sunday Mass at McGuire Air Force Base. “There is a great connection to culture and faith that Irish dancing provides.”

Hirten’s athletic skills also extend to the basketball court. After shining at St. John the Baptist in West Islip and Ohio’s Steubenville College (now Franciscan University of Steubenville), Hirten played professionally in Europe and Israel, along with competing against the Harlem Globetrotters with the Washington Generals. Hirten, who was cut six times in NBA tryouts, recently scored 92 percent on an annual military fitness test.

“My mother believed that a lot of the athletic ability in my family stemmed from Irish step dancing,” said Hirten, who was a Long Island high school track and field champion in the triple jump.

Hirten was ordained as a priest in 1993 for the Diocese of Brooklyn and has spent much of the last two decades serving Catholic Air Force families. He served two deployments in Iraq, meeting with troops in the midst of war.

Nancy Hirten, who owns the Hirten Irish Dance School in Babylon, was thrilled to have her older brother on stage Sunday at Hofstra and is hoping to perform more with him on Long Island as well as for the military abroad. She is passionate about keeping the Hirten family’s Irish dancing tradition alive for many generations and expects her brother to be there every step of the way.

“He is quite the guy, “ she said. “He’s the dancing priest.”

Latest videos