Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Studerus of Newark serves as the keynote speaker for the convocation.
Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Studerus of Newark serves as the keynote speaker for the convocation.
There was a palpable sense of joy and brotherhood as Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and about 135 priests who serve in the Diocese of Trenton gathered in convocation for the first time in two years.

The Annual Priest Convocation was held Sept. 14-16 in Galloway after being cancelled last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  The opportunity to spend three days together in spiritual talks, prayer and fellowship was well-received by the Bishop and many of the priests attending.

Bishop O’Connell reflected on the event that featured Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Studerus of the Archdiocese of Newark as the main speaker and drew good representation from religious order priests as well as diocesan priests.  “This year’s convocation was a great shot in the arm for all of us, especially after the isolation of the pandemic,” said Bishop O’Connell.  Thanks to the beautiful talks of Bishop Studerus and the fraternity of the priests, the three days were most enjoyable and spiritually uplifting.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 2021 Priests' Convocation

In his talk,Bishop Studerus addressed the theme “The Sacred Heart of Jesus and His Priests.” He urged the priests to reflect on the relationship between the Eucharist and their personal life and experience of priesthood; their ministry among the people of God, and in the life of the priest serving in the world.

In small group settings as well as on their own, the priests considered questions as “In your priestly ministry do you see yourself mostly as a servant of the Lord, or as humbly but truly united with and in the Lord?” “How has the Eucharist strengthened your sense of sharing in the lives and the challenges of our people?” and “In this fast and radically changing world, what should be our priorities today in order to reveal the Sacred Heart of Jesus to that world?”

During the Mass he celebrated Sept. 15 on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, Bishop O’Connell, reflected on the sorrows that the Blessed Mother endured while raising her son, the flight into Egypt; losing Jesus in the Temple, and having to watch him die on the Cross.

“We know the sword was active in Mary’s life,” he said.

Speaking about the love between Mary and Jesus, and Mary’s willingness to suffer along with her son, Bishop O’Connell made the point that when it comes to the love between people “part of that love includes suffering with them.

“And that is true of us as priests when we come to know the people we serve, and we are called to love them. And part of that love is suffering with them,” the Bishop said. He acknowledged the priests for the love they showed to their parishioners especially during the pandemic, a time when many had suffered.

After the Mass, the priests were given an update on the State of the Diocese and earlier in the day they heard a presentation from staff from the diocesan Office of Vocations about the Called By Name program that is expected to take place for the second time in November.

A number of priests in attendance shared sentiments about what attending the 2021 convocation meant to them.

“Since we missed last year because of Covid-19, I’m glad this was able to happen,” Father Patrick McPartland, pastor of St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, said Sept. 15.

Father McPartland said he enjoyed hearing Bishop Studerus give examples of his own past experiences as a parish priest and then challenged the priests to remember how imperative it is for them to be “united with Jesus” when carrying out their ministry to the people.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and administration of tending to a parish, he said he was “reminded that my main priority as a priest and a pastor should be helping to bring Jesus to the people in a very real way.”

Divine Word Father Pierre Lunimbu, parochial vicar of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, said he thought about how important it is for him to lend a listening ear to the parishioners. He recalled when a parishioner wanted to speak with him about her cancer diagnosis and “she needed someone to listen to her” talk about her fears and concerns.

“In the parish, the priest represents Christ. They do the work of Jesus Christ,” he said, and the convocation has motivated him to bolster his presence among the faithful.

Similarly, Father John Testa, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, remarked on the importance of priests developing good listening skills “especially sacramentally, such as when we’re hearing Confessions.

“We need to listen to our people and respond in kind,” he said. “We may not have all the answers, but with God’s help, we need to be there for them and help them as best we can.”

Father Joel Wilson, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, reflected on Bishop Studerus’ second talk during which the Bishop spoke about the symbols of the bread and wine before they are consecrated during Mass. “They are symbols of what the people are and what we are before they are consecrated,” Bishop Studerus said. “They are signs of collaboration between God with his people.”

The bread and wine, said Father Wilson, represents “how all of us are called to lay our lives on the altar to be drawn up in union with Jesus – to be his love, his peace, his goodness in our world.

“The altar is where we gather everything – our joys, sorrows, gifts, trials and challenges only to be transformed by Christ and then be shared to the world,” he said. “That is an important message for people to hear.”

Father Brian Butch, parochial vicar of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, thanked Bishop Studerus for giving the priests food for thought about what their “purpose and role” should be as priests. Then sharing an observation about Bishop O’Connell during the convocation, Father Butch said, “I realized our Bishop has a great heart for his priests. He wants us to be successful and to feel joy in our priesthood and for us to bring that joyful experience to the people.”