Gathered on the front steps of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, following his June 24 Mass of Thanksgiving, Msgr. John K. Dermond, front row second from right, is surrounded by his brother priests who concelebrated the Mass as well as altar servers.  John Blaine photos
 

Gathered on the front steps of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, following his June 24 Mass of Thanksgiving, Msgr. John K. Dermond, front row second from right, is surrounded by his brother priests who concelebrated the Mass as well as altar servers.  John Blaine photos

 

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

For Msgr. John K. Dermond, the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination was not a milestone he could have reached on his own. It was a gift given to him through the prayers of those he has served over the years.

Photo Gallery: Msgr. Dermond's 50th anniversary Mass

“My 50 years as a priest is something you gave to me,” Msgr. Dermond said as he looked out to the faithful who gathered for his June 24 golden jubilee Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Standing in the same sanctuary where he had been ordained a priest May 25, 1968, by Bishop George W. Ahr -- and where he had served as the Cathedral rector from 2002 to 2011 -- Msgr. Dermond smiled as he said, “It’s been a good 50 years.”

The numerous ways in which Msgr. Dermond has lived his vocation ranges from serving as a priest and pastor in several Mercer County parishes to holding numerous appointments on a diocesan level, most notably working in the Diocesan Tribunal for more than 40 years, 33 of which was as diocesan judicial vicar. After retiring from full-time ministry as judicial vicar in 2013, Msgr. Dermond has continued to assist the Tribunal staff and helps with Masses and other sacramental celebrations in Trenton area parishes.

 Heeding the Call

Born in 1942 in Camden and raised in Riverton and Cinnaminson, John K. Dermond was about 10 years old when he first realized he might have a calling to the priesthood. He credits the priests from his home parish, Sacred Heart, Riverton, and the sisters who staffed the parish school, as being good role models who “made the priesthood attractive to me.”

Even at such a young age, Msgr. Dermond said he felt that he wanted to be a priest but that he needed time to determine “if what I was feeling was truly a call from the Lord.

“The feeling never left me,” he said.

Following his freshman and sophomore years at Camden Catholic High School, Msgr. Dermond prepared for the priesthood in St. Charles College Seminary, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1964 and a bachelor of sacred theology degree in 1966.

A Heart for Parish Life

Msgr. Dermond’s parish assignments included serving as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish, Middlesex; Blessed Sacrament (now part of Sacred Heart Parish), Trenton, and St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville. For nearly 30 years, he shepherded three inner-city Trenton parishes – first,   St. Francis of Assisium from 1983 until the parish closed in 2005; the Cathedral, where he was rector from 2002  until he stepped down from full-time parish ministry to devote his attention as full-time judicial vicar, a position to which he was appointed by Bishop John C. Reiss in 1980, and also from 2002 to 2007 as administrator of St. Joseph Parish.

“From every assignment, I have memorable occasions that have given me joy,” he said, explaining that he felt he was ordained for parish life.

As examples, he cited his time in Our Lady of Mount Virgin where he was energized by the tremendous faith and generosity of the youth, while in Blessed Sacrament, he found the Scouting ministry as being a beneficial way to bring families of different background together. He also added how much he enjoyed serving in Blessed Sacrament with then-pastor, Msgr. Joseph C. Shenrock, who was “a great ecumenist and had a great interest in the wider community.”

In St. Francis of Assisium, he recalled welcoming the Haitian community into the parish and experiencing their faith and culture. So much did Msgr. Dermond want to be an effective pastor, he learned to speak French and Haitian Creole so he could celebrate the Sacraments in the language of his parishioners.

In 2002, Msgr. Dermond welcomed a ministerial challenge from Bishop John M. Smith who appointed him rector of the Cathedral and administrator of St. Joseph Parish, in addition to staying on as pastor of St. Francis and his judicial vicar duties. Again, Msgr. Dermond saw the appointments as a way to serve a wider Catholic community that now included Latino Catholics hailing from several countries from Central and South America. Msgr. Dermond broadened his outreach by mastering the Spanish language in a few months. Learning to rely on the other priests who were assigned to the parishes and the very capable lay faithful contributed greatly to his being able to handle his four major responsibilities and primary concern that all his parishioners were being “well cared for.”

“It was very important to me that the people who worked with me in these assignments were able to carry most of the ministry, and they did a fabulous job,” he said.

Serving the Wider Community

While his more than 40 years in the Tribunal afforded Msgr. Dermond, who holds a licentiate in canon law from The Catholic University of America, Washington, the opportunity to apply his formidable knowledge, canonical skills and deep pastoral sense to cases that came before the ecclesiastical court of the Diocese, he quickly points out that his Tribunal work was heavily influenced by his parish experiences.

“Parish life gives meaning to canonical ministry,” said Msgr. Dermond, referring to how the cases that crossed his desk dealt with marriage, morals, ethics and faith.

Msgr. Dermond has served the Diocese in numerous other ways, including as chaplain to the diocesan Catholic Committees on Scouting and for 22 years as chaplain to Court Columbus of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. He was active in the diocesan marriage preparation program and a member of the diocesan committee for the Common Policy on Marriage Preparation. He also served several terms as a member of the diocesan presbyteral council, a canonical adviser at the Fourth Synod of Trenton, on the diocesan ecumenical commission, a spiritual assistant to Secular Franciscan fraternities in the City of Trenton and a priest-moderator of the Mercer County Federation of Holy Name Societies. Active in Catholic Scouting since 1971 as part of the Trenton Diocese Catholic Committee on Scouting, he has served the National Catholic Committees on Scouting at various times as chaplain to its Region 3, chair of its vocation committee and as priest-adviser to its national advisory board.

Msgr. Dermond was named a Prelate of Honor to His Holiness by Pope John Paul II in 1983 and was invested with the honor and given the title of monsignor on March 10, 1984, in the Cathedral.

Milady Gonzalez happily shares having known Msgr. Dermond for more than 25 years, first meeting him when she was hired to work in the Chancery as secretary of then-Auxiliary Bishop Edward U. Kmiec. Years later, she had an opportunity work with Msgr. Dermond directly when he was rector of the Cathedral, where she has been a member for more than 30 years.

“I remember how he wanted to minister to our parish in our language,” Gonzalez said. “I admired that very much about him because it said that he cared about the Spanish community and he wanted to be a true pastor and that he was.

“It was an honor to work with Msgr. Dermond when he was our rector,” Gonzalez said. “The love he had and has for our parish was palpable. Msgr. Dermond has a very special place in the hearts of the Spanish community at the Cathedral. We will forever be thankful for all he did for us.”

Dan Rossi, a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, who currently serves on the supreme board of directors for the Knights of Columbus, recalled more than 20 years ago when Msgr. Dermond was pastor of St. Francis Church and how he recognized a “tremendous need” to establish a Sunday soup kitchen for the needy in the City of Trenton since the local soup kitchen was not open on Sundays.

“He coordinated with local parishes to provide the meals that were distributed on Sundays. The Knights of Columbus councils in the Central Centennial Chapter volunteered to assist in serving the meals,” said Rossi 

“He was truly a loving and caring shepherd. While many others may have turned away from those in need, he instead saw the face of Jesus in everyone he served. What a wonderful witness of God's love and mercy."