Father Castles cuts a specially made cake during a reception that followed his anniversary Mass.
Father Castles cuts a specially made cake during a reception that followed his anniversary Mass.

Father Patrick J. Castles’ 50 years of priestly service spans a pivotal period in the life of the Church, one where the faithful were encouraged to take a more active role in worship, service and prayer.

Father Castles was born in 1943 in New Brunswick. He and his family were members of St. Paul Parish, Highland Park, where he attended the large parish school. The first seeds of a calling to the priesthood were planted in that school, staffed by the Allegeny Franciscan sisters.

“I thought about the priesthood as early as the third grade,” he remembered. “The nuns took us to daily Mass, then back to the classroom to eat breakfast. Even though the Mass was in Latin ... I used to think, ‘I want to do that.’”

Active Participation

The young man pursued his priestly studies in St. Charles College, Catonsville, Md., then St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore. At his priestly ordination May 31, 1969, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Bishop George W. Ahr informed the men that they were the first class of seminarians in the Trenton Diocese to have been completely instructed in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

After a brief term as parochial vicar in St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton (now part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton), Father Castles was asked to serve as parochial vicar in Sacred Heart Parish, South Plainfield, at the time the largest church in the Trenton Diocese. (It is now part of the Diocese of Metuchen.) The parish’s embrace of post-Vatican II’s practices, including celebrating the Mass in English, invigorated him.

“When the Mass was said in Latin, the altar servers represented the people. Now that it was in English, it belonged to everyone,” Father Castles said. “The people of the parish could also participate as lectors and cantors.”

He continued, “As a people, we celebrate the Eucharistic Prayer in the plural. The priest is presider of the Mass, but we all celebrate.”

Father Castles served as a parochial vicar in St. Dominic Parish, Brick; St. Joseph Parish, Beverly (now part of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Beverly), and St. Paul Parish, Princeton. He also served as a member of the diocesan Liturgical Commission, of the Council of Priests, and as a member of the diocesan social concerns committee, the latter of which explored “racial justice, immigration and other societal topics,” he recalled.

In 1980, he became aware of a position open in the Newman Catholic Center at the University of California at Davis. His brother, James, an associate dean at UC Davis Medical School, urged him to apply. He was selected for the position thanks in part to two excellent references from Trenton.

“Bishop Francis Quinn of the Sacramento Diocese told me, ‘Bishop Ahr and Bishop [John C.] Reiss recommended you for the job,” Father Castles said, smiling. “I loved it. The campus had about 18,000 students, and the Newman Center used a converted chapel with the pews taken out and chairs inside. The students did it all: the Readings, the music. We had about 600 students at Mass each weekend.”

Family of Believers

Upon his return to the Trenton Diocese, Father Castles was named pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, in October 1985. He remained there until 2000, when he assumed the pastorate of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, until his 2013 retirement from active ministry. Among his most rewarding priestly ministries was celebrating First Holy Communions as a parish-wide, inclusive event.

“I held [first Communions] at the usual Sunday Masses instead of separately,” Father Castles said. “I wanted to incorporate the children into the greater parish community. We had the children sit with their families in the pews, and when I gave them Communion, the whole family came up to the altar.”

Father Castles retired to Wildwood and remains involved with his local parish, Notre Dame de la Mer (Our Lady of the Sea) in that shore community. “I can ride my bike to Assumption Church [worship site],” he said happily.

He also encourages men considering the priesthood by serving as a mentor in the Wildwood parish. He had a two-word directive to any man considering life as a priest: pursue it.