Father Thomas Maher greets parishioners following Sunday Mass July 14 in Howell. John Batkowski photos
Father Thomas Maher greets parishioners following Sunday Mass July 14 in Howell. John Batkowski photos

When Father Thomas Maher embarked on his mission of priestly service 25 years ago, he didn’t envision marking the significant milestone as pastor of Howell’s St. William the Abbot Parish.

His transition from ministry with the Legionaries of Christ, a religious congregation with houses in 22 countries, was a gradual process involving much reflection and prayer. Eventually it led him to realize that being a parish priest was his calling. As he explained, that call began in childhood.

Ministry Roots

Born in 1960 in Teaneck to Vincent and Rosemary Maher, now deceased, he was one of six children raised in a devoutly Catholic home. The family attended St. Joseph Parish, Bogota, with the children attending St. Cecilia School, Englewood.

He remembers that in childhood, he often thought of becoming a priest. “It was something that was always there,” he said.

However, he set thoughts of a priestly vocation aside as he commenced his studies in William Paterson College (now a university) in Wayne.

Questioning whether he “was doing the right thing,” Father Maher opted to take a working sabbatical. “That was the real beginning.”

His job at the Bergen Mall (now Bergen Town Center) played an important, if unintended role in the decision-making process. Located in the Paramus mall was the St. Therese Chapel, operated by Carmelite priests who celebrated Mass there every day at 3 p.m.

“It was really neat,” Father Maher remembered. “I started work at 6 a.m. and finished at 2 p.m. I started going to daily Mass every day. I met a great Carmelite priest, Father Zachary Monet, who guided me to see God’s providence. I started praying the Rosary and went to [Catholic] conferences.” Inspired by another Carmelite, Father Fred Murray, he developed a devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Changing Paths

In 1984, he headed to the Legionaries Seminary in Cheshire, Conn., where he began eight years of formation.

During those years, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), and a licentiate in philosophy from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, both in Rome. In addition, he completed a short course in humanities in Spain’s University in Salamanca. He was ordained a priest Nov. 25, 1994, in Mexico City.

During his early years as a priest with the Legionaries of Christ, he gradually came to realize that he needed parish life. “When I got into the actual ministry of the Legion, deep down, I realized that I had a longing to be in a parish,” he said.

With guidance from Bishop John M. Smith, Father Maher arrived in the Diocese. “He said to come to a parish in the Trenton Diocese for five years and we’ll see,” Father Maher said. “By the time we reached Christmas, I knew a parish was where I wanted to be.”

Encouraged by Msgr. Ronald Bacovin, the diocesan director of priest personnel, Father Maher stayed the course. He served more than four years as an adjunct priest and then as parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting. He was incardinated into the Diocese of Trenton by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shortly before becoming pastor of the 1,400-family parish of St. William the Abbot in 2013.

“I realized I was just better suited to parish life,” Father Maher said. “What I most like is working with the parish family and all that comes with it: the Baptisms, marriages, visiting the sick. .. We’ve relaunched our youth group, and our confraternity kids are running the Vacation Bible School ...We’re going to keep [the youth] Catholic!”