“If it’s not about community, it’s not about Christ,” says Father Chavenia, stressing the importance of both clergy and laity working together.
“If it’s not about community, it’s not about Christ,” says Father Chavenia, stressing the importance of both clergy and laity working together.

One important lesson that Father Nestor Chavenia has learned in his 25 years of priesthood is what it means to work in community with others. After all, he says, when people work together, they are better able to build up the Kingdom of God.

“It’s not clergy alone,” he said. “If it’s not about community, it’s not about Christ.”

Father Chavenia has carried his community-minded spirit with him throughout his life, namely his seminary and parish assignments in his native Philippines and since he arrived to the United States and Diocese of Trenton.

“I am most grateful for the gift of being called to the priesthood and for the opportunity to serve,” said Father Chavenia, who is currently assigned to St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, as a parochial vicar.

Priestly Encouragement

Father Chavenia was born in 1957 in Malinao in the province of Albay, Philippines. The fourth of six children of Jose Chavenia, an elementary school principal and his wife, Salud, a teacher, Father Chavenia is one of several family members who dedicated their lives to Catholic ministry, including his youngest brother, José.

As a child, he attended school where lessons were taught in both English and the Tagalog language, and he spent free time working with his aunt on a rice farm, which, he said, grounded him with an abiding love of nature.

He attended St. Gregory the Great Minor Seminary in Albay, Philippines, for two years before transferring to the nearby Catholic Central School. In 1975, he entered Manuel L. Quezon University, Manila, to major in mechanical engineering. University life was interrupted when protest movements took aim against the government of President Ferdinand Marcos.

“The cardinal of Manila encouraged Catholics to speak out against Marcos’ violation of human rights and oppression of the poor,” Father Chavenia said. “Manila grew dangerous. My father demanded I return home for my safety.”

He transferred to Divine Word College, Legazpi, as an accounting/commerce major in 1979. There, he met Father Michael Jordan, vocational director of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. Knowing Father Chavenia had attended a minor seminary, Father Jordan invited him to participate in a weekend mission in his church.

Eventually, Father Chavenia attended, and the church’s pastor encouraged him to attend a summer vacation camp for prospective seminarians. Father Chavenia spent two months in the camp, where he passed an intensive three-day entrance exam for the seminary. The priests there influenced his ministry, he said. “They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. In one or two months, my life was changed.”

International Travel

Father Chavenia entered Holy Rosary Major Seminary, Naga City, in 1984, undertaking a program in philosophical training. In 1988, he began his theological study at Divine Word Mission Seminary, Tagaytay City.

On Jan. 22, 1994, Bishop José C. Sorra of the Diocese of Legazpi ordained Father Chavenia a diocesan priest in St. Gregory the Great Cathedral, Legazpi City, and assigned him as formator and procurator of Mater Salutis College Seminary in the Albay province.

His spiritual fulfillment came in ministering to the poor, especially during his two years as administrator to St. Dominic of Guzman Parish, Matacon, where his task was to “rehabilitate a broken, financially strapped parish with no activity,” he said. He received permission from the diocese to engage his friends with degrees in social work to provide his parishioners with educational and health services. “Lay missionaries revitalized the parish,” he said. 

His next assignment as executive director of training and formation for the diocese’s Social Action Center immersed him further in social justice and advocacy for the marginalized.

In 2003, when assigned to a chaplain training program, he “fell in love with hospital ministry.”  The assignment took him to Harrisburg, Pa., for further training – and an opportunity to visit Father Bic Majdaraoj, a friend assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade.

When the pastor fell ill, Father Chavenia asked permission to stay and help his friend manage the parish. Months later, he asked permission to remain in the Diocese of Trenton. In 2005, he became parochial vicar in St. Joseph Parish, Keyport (now part of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Keyport), and in 2012, arrived in the Barnegat parish he now calls home.