Day of Joy • Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., left, and Father James Grogan are shown during the Mass of Installation celebrated April 15 in Nativity Church during which the Bishop installed Father Grogan as pastor of the Fair Haven parish. Hal Brown photos
Day of Joy • Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., left, and Father James Grogan are shown during the Mass of Installation celebrated April 15 in Nativity Church during which the Bishop installed Father Grogan as pastor of the Fair Haven parish. Hal Brown photos

By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent

Father James Grogan has come to know and love Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, since his arrival nine months ago – and from the packed pews and smiling all around April 15, the feeling is apparently mutual.

“Since we’ve had Father Grogan here, the parish spirit is soaring,” said Patti Meyer-Cuje, Nativity parishioner for more than 40 years. “The man is absolutely incredible.”

Photo Gallery:  Father Grogan installed as pastor of Nativity Parish

Father Grogan, who was appointed by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., as parish administrator last June and named pastor in January, was officially installed as pastor during a 3 p.m. Mass which was celebrated by Bishop O’Connell.

“My journey to the priesthood was a bit of a delayed vocation, and as such I became good friends with Bishop O’Connell,” Father Grogan explained. “I’m thrilled that he could be here for this installation.”

Father Grogan’s path to priesthood began with a 25-year marriage to his wife, Eleanor, and three sons – Will, James and Thomas. Following his ordination to the permanent diaconate in 2004, his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died in 2007. He spent a long time in discernment before pursuing his call to the priesthood, finally being ordained by Bishop O’Connell in June 2015.

The installation, Father Grogan attested, was certainly a milestone – but a surprise, in that it wasn’t one to which he’d always looked forward.

“I didn’t anticipate the desire to be a pastor, having worked in the business world for many decades,” he said. “I brought with me a unique experience, and I’m grateful to Bishop O’Connell for saying he wants to put that experience to use here … so it’s a great time to be here with my Bishop and friend all at once.”

He repeatedly called his experience as a priest and installation as pastor a real blessing and a pleasure.

“I am the sixth pastor of this parish, and I follow in the footsteps of some really good men, and the parishioners who make this parish what it is,” Father Grogan said. “I am blessed to be with them every day, and to be their spiritual leader. I hope that the challenges … are going to be something that I’m up to … I count on their prayers every day to help me be the best pastor I can be for them.”

It’s a responsibility Father Grogan takes to heart – not only for the parish, but also for the wider community.

“The spiritual needs of people in the community who may or may not even be Catholic, but who from time to time may wish to speak with a priest – I’m the one they’re going to come to,” he explained. “And I’m so tremendously blessed to be surrounded by parishioners whose faith energizes me – and I count on them to be my inspiration in all that I do as a priest.”

More than a dozen of Father Grogan’s family  in the last 100 years have had religious vocations – including a cousin and brother who attended the installation.

“I’m just beside myself thrilled to be celebrating Jim’s installation,” said Father Bill Grogan, Father Jim’s older brother and pastor of Holy Cross Parish, Philadelphia. “This year is my 35th anniversary of ordination – but Jim’s vocation is certainly as ancient as mine. As boys, uncles [priests] were a very present part of our family, and we benefited greatly from their good example.”

Father Bill Grogan has himself experienced the installation Mass twice in his priestly ministry, an experience he called “a delightful affair.” He recalled a particular prayer during the installation that remembers saints who were also pastors.

“We say a unique prayer of gratitude to the pastors we have known that has this wonderful line in it: ‘They have inspired us by their holy lives, they instruct us by their words of preaching, and they keep us safe in answer to their prayers,’” Father Bill Grogan said. “And I think there is a role for pastors … to do as generations have prayed their pastors would do.”

A cousin to the two brothers, Franciscan Father Bill Stout, has known Father Grogan since childhood. He said that it has been a pleasure to see him accept his vocation to the priesthood.

“He is a very fine outstanding man of Christian faith and Catholic understanding,” Father Stout said. “He has taken those talents [he developed as a layman] and given them to God to be used in a pastoral way … understanding life as it really is on the front lines, raising our kids in sometimes difficult times and culture, but preparing them to become the Body of Christ to bring forth the Kingdom of God here on earth.”

Nora Grogan, Father Grogan’s mother, who was in attendance for the installation Mass, was all smiles for her son.

“I’m so proud of him and happy that he’s becoming a pastor today,” she said. “He is a priest and has three nice young sons – I’m proud of all of them.”

Father Grogan’s son, Will, said that at first, his father’s vocation seemed like a surprise to many people.

“It was surprising when it first came into our lives, but more and more as he has grown in his own ministry, it does feel like this was what he was meant to do with the second half of his life,” Will Grogan said. “I still see him so much as a dad and a friend, but to see him grow as a priest has been a special opportunity for me – to just be proud of him and happy for him.”

He added that he is reassured by the welcome his father received in his new parish, especially considering the distance.

“[The parish has] really embraced him as a member of their community and of their family,” he said. “To see him be formally installed as a pastor … it means a lot, knowing that even though we can’t be with Dad as much because of the distance, that he has a family here, and that people have really come to love him and know him – and I know how much he has loved his time here so far, and how he’s got big plans for Nativity in the future.”

Monitor freelance photographer/videographer Hal Brown contributed to this report.