Father Michael Lorentsen greets parishioners after Mass July 13 in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Seaside Heights.
Father Michael Lorentsen greets parishioners after Mass July 13 in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Seaside Heights.

Celebrating 25 years as a friar-priest, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lorentsen has a ready answer when he speaks of his motivation: the joy of the Gospel.

As pastor of St. Junipero Serra Parish, which embraces the churches of St. Catharine of Siena, Seaside Park, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Seaside Heights, Father Lorentsen says he’s blessed to share that joy with some 1,100 families who make the parish their spiritual home.

And there’s enough joy to go ground for the summer crowds who visit those shore communities, adding to the parish population between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, he said.

Witnessing the Gospel is at the heart of Franciscan ministry, he said. “It’s one of the things that have enriched me throughout these years.”

Answering the Call

One of three children of Arvid Lorentsen, who is deceased, and Eileen Blair, Father Lorensten was born Nov. 25, 1963, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and baptized there in St. Agatha Parish.

The family subsequently moved to Long Island, where they were active members in Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Hicksville. He went to Chaminade, a Catholic high school for boys run by the Society of Mary in nearby Mineola.

Father Lorensten said he was drawn to the idea of becoming a priest early on. The Church was an important part of his youth, he said. “I always went to church. In high school, I became a catechist for children with special needs.”

His call to vocation grew in Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception, Douglaston, N.Y., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Upon graduation, he worked in business for a year and then spent another year working in New York’s Covenant House before entering the Friars Minor Conventual Franciscans in August 1987. “What attracted me to Franciscan ministry was their service to the poor and community life,” he said.

He professed his first vows as a friar Aug. 4, 1990, and his solemn vows Aug. 9, 1993, in Immaculate Conception Church, now a worship site of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton. His studies for the priesthood were undertaken in the Washington Theological Union, Washington, D.C., where he earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1994, and Doctor of Ministry in 2013 for studies concentrated on Classical Spirituality for Contemporary Ministry.

Ordained a priest on Pentecost Sunday, May 22, 1994, he has held many administrative roles in the Conventual Franciscan religious community. These have included 13 years as vocation director and four years as formation director of the Conventual Franciscans and four years as Provincial Secretary of the former Immaculate Conception Province. As Provincial Secretray, Father Lorentsen was a member of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men from 2010-2014, and served as a delegate on the Executive Board from 2013-14. In addition, Father Lorentsen served on the board of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men from 2012-2014.

As a friar-priest, he has served in parishes and campus ministry. These have included: Blessed Sacrament Parish, Burlington, N.C., where he was a parochial vicar from 1994-97, and also the Catholic campus minister in nearby Elon University through 1999. From 2002-2005, he served as pastor of St. Julia Parish, Siler City, also North Carolina.

In the Diocese of Trenton, he was parochial vicar in St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, from 2015 to 2018, when he was appointed administrator of the new St. Junipero Parish before becoming its pastor.

A Heart for Parish Life

As a youth discerning a call to the priesthood, Father Lorentsen said he recalls being profoundly moved by the killings of Oscar Romero and the four U.S. Catholic missionaries in war-torn El Salvador in 1980. Their sacrifice, he said, figured in his decision to become a priest and led to his ongoing concern for the plight of immigrants fleeing their embattled homelands.

He would witness their situation firsthand ministering in El Salvador and Costa Rica and on a parish level, particularly in Siler City.

“That parish was 80 percent Spanish-speaking,” he said. “There were a growing number of immigrants. I’ve focused on immigrant communities, especially immigrants from Mexico, and seen the growing need.”

Father Lorentsen said such needs are among those being addressed by St. Junipero Parish, where the emphasis is on feeding the body and the soul.

“The concerns are ongoing  … I think so much of what needs to be done is stressing the dignity of the human person. That’s a big part of it.”

Then, he said, there’s helping to overcome food insecurity, a persistent problem on the peninsula, which both worship sites have been addressing for years. “A lot of people don’t realize that in Seaside Heights there is a great need, and in both Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, there is a great generosity in responding to that need,” he said. “We have a food pantry on Wednesdays and a soup kitchen,” Simon’s Kitchen. The latter is on summer break and will re-open the second week in October, he said.

“There are a lot of people who come, working poor who are in need, those who are in recovery – a lot of seniors who come not only for a meal but for a night out with company,” said Father Lorentsen, noting that among them are those still struggling in the ongoing aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s a very diverse parish, culturally, socio-economically, ethnically, racially and politically,” with faithful of all ages, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking, he said. “There are a lot of people who have lived here a long time and a lot of babies all talking at the same time during the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. There’s a tremendous hunger to learn about the Bible, Church teaching and spirituality,” he said. “And we are in a continual process of bringing people together.”