As far back as he can remember, all Stephen Sansevere ever talked about while growing up was wanting to be a cop or a priest. He never expected the “or” would become an “and.”

That will be the case June 27, however, when the retired Jersey City police sergeant will be ordained a priest by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during a 10 a.m. Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

Between his time as a police officer and pursuing the priesthood, he said, “I was married to the best wife ever.” Susanne Sansevere died on Christmas Day 2017.

“We were married 39 years, eight months and 10 days. But who’s counting?” he said. “I couldn’t ask for any better. I am really blessed in my life.”

With humor, confidence and an unwavering faith in the plan that God has for his life, Rev. Mr. Sansevere, 66, reflected on the “alternate route” he’s taken to becoming a priest.

Serving Law, Church

The Jersey City native was born on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, 1953. He is the son of the late John and Joan Sansevere. His younger brother, Lawrence, is his only sibling. His family worshiped in the city’s St. Nicholas Parish, and he is a product of Catholic education, graduating from St. Nicholas Grammar School and St. Anthony High School.

It was in St. Francis Hospital, Jersey City, where he met his future wife. He was a security guard, and she was a nursing supervisor. They married on April 15, 1978, in St. Aedean Church, he said, joking how “it would not be a good thing” if he ever forgot that April 15 was his wedding anniversary and the date income taxes are due.

On Oct. 1, 1979, Rev. Mr. Sansevere followed in the footsteps of his father, uncle and cousins when he joined the Jersey City Police Department. He spent 25 years on the force, a time in which he also experienced a number of personal milestones. He and Susanne moved to Monmouth County and joined St. Gabriel Parish, where he discovered his calling to be a permanent deacon.

He also pursued an education, receiving an associate’s degree in criminal justice in 1997 from Brookdale Community College, Lincroft. He earned a bachelor’s degree in adult religious education in 2008 and a master of arts degree in pastoral theology in 2014, both from St. Joseph’s College of Maine, Standish, Maine. In retirement, he earned a doctor of ministry degree in pastoral care and counseling in 2018 from the Graduate Theological Foundation in Oklahoma.

Rev. Mr. Sansevere said his diaconate vocation was inspired by his uncle, Anthony Sansevere, who was ordained in the Trenton Diocese’s first class of deacons in 1977 and was assigned to St. Robert Bellarmine Parish (now Co-Cathedral), Freehold. He also witnessed how the deacons serving in St. Gabriel Parish at the time carried out their ministries.

“They were the ones who brought me along,” he said of Deacons Gerald Henwood, Les Owens and Jim Russo. He also credited his wife, who fully supported him and accompanied him to evening formation classes at the diocesan Chancery in Lawrenceville.

Following his diaconate ordination in 2000, Rev. Mr. Sansevere and Susanne served together on the parish’s pre-Cana and marriage prep teams. Susanne was an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, while her husband carried out his diaconate responsibilities assisting at Mass and in other sacramental duties. He also was involved with the liturgy committee and went on to become the parish’s pastoral administrator and business manager.

He considered himself blessed when he could combine his background in law enforcement with his duties as a deacon, such as when he was chaplain to all faiths in Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center, New Brunswick. He said he was also privileged to assist for Blue Masses in both the Newark Archdiocese and the Diocese of Trenton. He continues to serve as the chaplain for the Jersey City Police Department.

New Beginnings

Rev. Mr. Sansevere smiles as he admits that becoming a priest “was not my idea.” It was a priest-friend who first broached the subject during a conversation in August 2018, about eight months after Susanne’s death. Initially, he resisted the idea, honestly thinking that “at 64 and quickly going on 65, my age would come into play. I was happy … as a deacon in St. Gabriel,” he said.

But further conversations – including with Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life and director of seminarians, and Bishop O’Connell, who gave his approval – “is what led me to this point,” he said, “for which I am very grateful.”

Because of his academic background, Rev. Mr. Sansevere was not required to pursue further seminary studies. However, he was given a pastoral assignment for a year in St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, where he experienced parish life as a transitional deacon. Upon ordination, his first assignment as a priest will be as parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Pennington; St. George Parish, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell.

As his June 27 ordination date nears, Rev. Mr. Sansevere said there are two “firsts” he is especially anticipating – celebrating Mass and elevating the host and chalice at the Consecration at his first Mass. “That is the biggest thing I look forward to.”

He is also humbled at the thought of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“I’ve heard confessions before, but that involved my writing them down and then handing it over to the Prosecutor’s Office,” he said. “But the idea of celebrating the Sacrament – and to think that I’ll be the one relieving someone of their sins, their worries and concerns – I pray that God grants me the ability to do that.”

Rev. Mr. Sansevere said he is deeply appreciative to many people for their support, guidance and insight. Those include Father Eugene Roberts, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish, whom he refers to as a good friend and who he asked to be his vesting priest at ordination; Father James Grogan, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, who was also widowed when he was ordained a priest; and the priests of St. Theresa Parish, Father John Large, pastor, and Father Mick Lambeth, pastor emeritus.

Then there is Susanne, who “always believed in me and was always behind me,” he said, adding that “she wouldn’t be the least bit surprised by my decision to become a priest. She would be thrilled.”