Faithful of the congregation applaud Father O’Reilly during his anniversary Mass.
Faithful of the congregation applaud Father O’Reilly during his anniversary Mass.

As Father Martin O’Reilly, pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, reflects on his 25th anniversary of ordination, he smiles when he thinks of how his journey to priesthood began with a missed subway stop.

At the time, the native from Ireland was living in Queens, N.Y., and working as a carpenter in Manhattan. One day as he was heading home, he fell asleep during the subway ride and missed his stop. Instead of waiting for the next train, he decided to walk, and while en route, he detoured into St. Sebastian Church to attend Mass. With time, his Mass attendance became a part of his routine, and at one Mass, during the Consecration, he realized he was being called to the priesthood. It was a call he resisted, but God persisted.

“I was working in construction, and life was wonderful,” he said. “I was on the beach in the summer and on the slopes in the winter. I was living in the Big Apple, where there was so much life, so much glamour, so much glitter.

“I said [to God], ‘Not a chance. How could you possibly want me?’ I was looking at my whole life, and I knew what my shortcomings and my failures were,” Father O’Reilly said. “I was determined to find a loophole to prevent me from becoming a priest.”

Active Ministry

Martin Paul O’Reilly was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, and grew up in northern Monaghan on a small farm where he attended St. Mary’s Threemilehouse and St. Macartan’s College, Secondary School (High School). Following his 1984 graduation, he traveled to the United States and settled in New York City, where he worked and eventually realized his vocation.

In 1988, he returned to Ireland to attend a wedding; it was during this trip that he had the opportunity to speak with his local parish priest and decided to enter the seminary. He attended St. Patrick’s College, Thurles, County Tipperary, and was ordained a priest in 1994. His first assignment was to teach in Beech Hill College, a public secondary school in Monaghan, where he remained for eight years. In 2002, he enrolled in All Hallows College, Dublin, to earn a master’s degree in youth ministry, followed by an assignment as youth director for the Diocese of Clogher. During this time, he established the Pope John Paul II Award, which acknowledged teenagers for taking an active role in parish life. He accompanied youth on pilgrimages to numerous sites and countries, including Lourdes, France, as well as an annual pilgrimage to Taizé, France. These pilgrimages continue to run annually for the youth in the Diocese.

“This is probably what I am most proud of,” he said, speaking of the youth ministry program’s growth.

Across the Sea

In 2016, Father O’Reilly moved to the Jersey Shore area to continue his ministry, with permission from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., as well as his bishop in Ireland. Father O’Reilly was named temporary administrator of St. Elizabeth Parish, Avon, (now part of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Bradley Beach) in July 2016, and in October of that year, he was assigned as parochial vicar to St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake. He was also appointed diocesan youth chaplain; in that role, he helped form youth ministry councils across the Diocese, and continues to visit with youth ministers and encourage them to share resources and ideas.

Father O’Reilly’s most recent assignment in Mary, Mother of Church Parish came in June 2018, when he was named temporary administrator. He was appointed pastor Dec. 21 of the parish that also serves the communities of Roebling and Florence.

“He’s only been here a short time, and it seems as though he has made himself right at home,” said Father O’Reilly’s niece, Nichola Fitzpatrick, who was one of several family members to travel from Ireland to attend his 25th anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving June 29 in St. Mary Church, one of the parish’s two worship sites.

Reflecting on his ministry, Father O’Reilly said, “This is an opportunity to take stock and remind oneself of how great God is. Everything that has been achieved is because of God’s greatness.”