Symbol of Order -- The newly ordained deacons will be vested in the stole and dalmatic.
Symbol of Order -- The newly ordained deacons will be vested in the stole and dalmatic.

From staff reports

Taking the next step on their journey toward the priesthood, four seminarians from the Diocese will receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders when they are ordained deacons by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during the 10 a.m. Mass May 20 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

With their ordination, the new deacons will continue their seminary studies as well as be assigned to parishes where they will assume duties such as presiding over weddings, Baptisms, wakes, funeral services and committals, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching homilies. They are on track to be ordained priests next year.

Christopher Dayton

After discerning his vocation to the priesthood in a “gradual and steady process,” Manasquan’s Christopher Dayton returned home from this year’s seminary studies ready to embark on the newest phase of his journey: ordination as a transitional deacon.

Describing himself as “nervous but excited” in an interview hours after he finished the drive from St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, to the Jersey Shore, Dayton shared his hopes and expectations for his upcoming year as a transitional deacon in St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, a bustling parish of 5,000 families.

“I’m ready to get to work,” said Dayton, who added that he was looking forward to visiting the parish at the invitation of its pastor, Father John Bambrick, before the ordination to “meet the staff and start getting to know the lay of the land."

Dayton has spent the last several summers in parish work in St. James Church, Pennington; St. George, Titusville; St. Alphonsus, Hopewell, and St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, where Spanish classes complemented his parish work.

These experiences, he said, have added greatly to the positive sense of parish ministry first kindled in his own youth in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, by his pastor, the now-deceased Msgr. Thomas A. Luebking.

Born in Long Branch in 1987 to Chip and Melissa Dayton, Dayton is one of eight children in a family devoted to the life of the Church. His parents have spent more than 18 years in family and youth ministry, focusing most recently on their “You Cannot Be Replaced Program,” a pro-active response to a suicide cluster among the young people of their area.

Dayton said he started thinking about the priesthood as a possibility during his childhood and teenage years. “I was an altar server in St. Catharine’s, and I spoke about it with Msgr. Luebking. He was very good to me and he kept me involved throughout my youth.”

Msgr. Luebking, he said, found ways to include him in the life of the parish even when he went to college. Dayton appreciated having opportunities to serve at weddings and other sacramental occasions. Dayton’s parents also were supportive about the possibility of their son joining the priesthood.

A 2006 graduate of Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, Dayton went on to matriculate in Christendom College, Fort Royal, Va. In 2010, with degrees in political science and economics, Dayton, for a time, turned his attention to public service. Filling several different roles on the staff of a state assemblyman deepened his developing interest in helping others.

“It helped me see how interesting the world can be, but over time, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he said. “When I was in politics, I wasn’t sure of my next step. The plan was that I would go to graduate school.”

While he was discerning what plan would be best, he turned to Father Garry Koch, now pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, who was a former teacher and mentor at CBA.  Dayton shared, “He also taught my dad, and I started talking with him about life in general. It was then that I realized what my goal would be.”

Dayton began his studies for the priesthood in St. Mary’s Seminary and University in 2013 and is scheduled to receive a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and master of divinity degree shortly before his priestly ordination in 2018.

Dayton, who will be vested as a transitional deacon by his pastor, Father Harold Cullen, said he is overjoyed that his parents and siblings will be with him to share this special day. “I love coming from a big family. I love my siblings and parents. From them, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a family, in the spiritual sense. It’s a meaningful building block for the priesthood,” he said.

~ By Lois Rogers, correspondent

Michael G. DeSaye

With his May 20 diaconate ordination day quickly approaching, Michael G. DeSaye is thoughtful as he talks about responding to God’s call to serve as a priest.

“I don’t have that big story to tell,” he said frankly, explaining that becoming a priest was not something he had in mind since childhood.

As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite, the 33-year-old admitted. His vocation was quietly crafted through a combination of lived experiences and influential people he has encountered throughout his life. Examples he cites include growing up in a devout Catholic household with his parents, Gregory and Deborah DeSaye, who did their best to instill faith values in their four children, and his Catholic education in Holy Family School, Lakewood, and Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.

He also notes how his longtime passion for music, especially classical and sacred genres, and training in piano and the organ gave him faith opportunities. As a 14-year-old, he served as an organist in St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood, when his family lived in nearby Brick.

DeSaye’s musical interest spurred him to enroll in Ithaca College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music and piano in 2005. After graduation, he went on to work as an organist in a number of parishes as well as a pianist and accompanist for schools, performing arts and theater companies. When it came to a career, however, music was not the top choice.

Instead, he decided to explore the increasing interest he had in serving the Church, which was a major change from his original plans. With the support of his family, DeSaye entered St. Mary Abbey, Morristown, and became a Benedictine brother. He spent four years completing his novitiate and professing simple vows. While in Morristown, he taught music at Delbarton School, Morristown, and became affiliated with St. Ann Parish, Hampton, (in the Diocese of Metuchen) where he realized that his service in the Church was veering from religious life to witnessing the work of a diocesan priest in a parish.

Among the priests DeSaye said helped inspire his vocation was Father Michael Saharic, pastor St. Ann Parish, who will serve as DeSaye’s vesting priest at ordination. Other priests from the Trenton Diocese who DeSaye acknowledges as an inspiration are Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, whom De Saye knew from when he was a student in Christian Brothers Academy. He noted that because of Father Koch’s priestly example, DeSaye became affiliated with St. Benedict Parish and now regards it as his home parish, though his parents have since relocated from Brick to Colts Neck and have joined St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold.

There is also his childhood friend, Father Matthew Pfleger, parochial vicar of St. Dominic Parish, Brick, and Father Pablo Gadenz, who serves on the faculty of Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange. DeSaye had taken some courses in Seton Hall University when he encountered Father Gadenz.

As a seminarian for the Trenton Diocese, DeSaye’s formal education includes earning a pre-theology certificate from Theological College on the campus of The Catholic University of America, Washington, in 2015, and matriculating in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD., where he is currently pursuing a master of divinity degree.

Within the Diocese his summer assignments have included Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, during which time he also worked with Mount Carmel Guild, a diocesan, inner-city Trenton agency that provides outreach to those in need, as a caseworker, and St. Benedict Parish.

DeSaye sees his upcoming diaconate ordination as a stepping stone in his priestly journey. He is looking forward to serving as a deacon in Visitation Parish, Brick, the town where his family used to live.

Being ordained a deacon, he said with a smile, “will bring me that much closer to being able to celebrate Mass.

“As a deacon, I’ll be able to better understand what it means to minister at the altar,” he said, noting that he will be able preach homilies as well as celebrate infant Baptisms, and preside over weddings, wake services and committals.

“But in the end, being a priest is all about the Mass and consecrating the Eucharist,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. That’s what it all comes down to.”

~ Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor

Brother Nicholas Dolan

Brother Nicholas Dolan wears a peaceful expression on his face when he talks of the diaconate, but the shine in his eyes reveals his true passion.

“I love how beautiful the truth of the Catholic faith is, and I’m excited to be able to preach and give homilies,” the seminarian said of his new duties in serving as a transitional deacon in St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank. “It’s exciting to be able to teach from the heart and let God use me in that way.

“To become the instrument God uses for other people is incredibly exciting ... and terrifying,” he added with a laugh. “The responsibility is scary that God would entrust me with the care of his children. But, he’ll give me the grace to do it.”

And, as it turns out, God has given him a mentor to help, too.

Brother Nicholas will be vested by Father Alberto Tamayo, pastor of the Red Bank parish who, while secretary for Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., reached out to Brother Nicholas, urging him to become a seminarian for the Diocese many years ago.

Before he could answer that call, however, Brother Nicholas would do some discernment of his own.

Born June 28, 1992, Brother Nicholas is the second of four sons born to Robert and Maria Dolan. He grew up attending Allenwood Elementary School, Allenwood; New School of Monmouth County, Holmdel; Wall Intermediate School, Wall Township, and Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.

Though faith was part of his family life, “I didn’t have my own grasp of the faith,” he said. “It hadn’t really hit me.”

He said that while attending church services, he would sit in the pews and wonder what a priest’s job entailed besides celebrating Mass. Then, when he was a sophomore in high school, his father gave him a book by Pope John Paul II. Inspired, Brother Nicholas started taking a more active role in the life of a parish. He began talking to priests, reading up on the lives of saints, praying the Rosary with his family every evening – and reading more from Pope John Paul II, including his writings on the priesthood. 

“This is exactly what I want to do with my life,” he said of the moment he realized he was being called to a vocation. “I can’t really explain the feeling, because it’s God acting on you.”

Brother Nicholas went on to attend college at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where he earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy in 2014. From 2014 to 2015, he attended St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. He is currently studying for the priesthood in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., where is scheduled to graduate in 2018.

Between schooling, he worked in parish and hospital chaplaincy in Trenton with Father Brian Woodrow, now pastor in St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, and served with Father Tamayo in both Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, and now, Red Bank.

“Being in the parish, seeing the day-to-day life of a priest from the inside, I got to see the reality of it,” he said of his summer assignments.

That day-to-day life of a priest may look different for Brother Nicholas than his fellow transitional deacons. Brother Nicholas is part of the Oratory-in-Formation of St. Philip Neri that’s located on the St. Anthony of Padua Parish property. As Oratorians, the priests and brothers live, pray and serve the people of God together. The Oratory is the clergy’s permanent home. As such, he said he looks forward to growing with his parish family.

To help in that goal, Brother Nicholas will be learning Spanish this summer, as 30 percent of the parish is Hispanic. Quoting St. Paul, who once said a priest has to be all things for all people, Brother Nicholas said he strives to be of total service to those of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

“They’re generous without question or request, and that’s exactly how I want to live my priesthood – for my God and for my Church.”

~ By Jennifer Mauro, Associate Editor

James Smith

There were others in James Smith’s life who recognized the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood before he did, particularly those in his home parish of Incarnation Parish, Ewing.

“My mother worked in the rectory of the church, and other parishioners questioned or suggested that maybe I might become a priest,” Smith said in the days leading up to his ordination as a transitional deacon.

A native of Ewing, Smith was introduced to the idea of a vocation in his early 30s – as he prepared for the Sacrament of Marriage with his then-fiancée.

“At the time I was engaged, that’s when I really rediscovered my faith,” he said. “While going through marriage prep, I began to attend Mass more regularly and became more involved in the parish and found myself drawn to adoration and just felt certain closeness to God that I have never felt before.

“All the signs in my life should have been pointing to the Sacrament of Marriage; yet when I look at my life at that time, it was just such an overwhelming desire to be close to God,” he continued.

While working at a local jeweler, he began his studies in Mercer County Community College, where he rediscovered a passion for education after having been out of high school for nearly 13 years.

“I didn’t think I would take to the academics as I did, having been away from it for years,” he admitted. “It was a big adjustment, but a good one and it left me wanting more.”

Smith entered St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore, in 2012.

Smith has spent the summers ministering in parishes throughout the Diocese, including Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, where he was a reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. He currently serves as a reader and acolyte in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton.

In 2015, he assisted with parish liturgies, youth ministries and the ministry to the sick and homebound at St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville.

Last summer, he assisted Msgr. James Innocenzi, diocesan judicial vicar, with evaluating and processing annulment cases in the Chancery, while also ministering in Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton.

“I really enjoyed my time at the Diocese,” he shared. “To meet the people and see the passion and love they have for Christ and how hard they work to improve the lives of the people in the Diocese is amazing.”

Following his ordination to the transitional diaconate, he will be serving the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton.

Smith’s parents, Robert and Deborah, continue to reside in the area. He is one of three siblings.

Father Michael Hall, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish and director of the diocesan Office of Worship, will serve as his vesting priest.

Smith said he looks forward to “growing in my own formation and sharing that growth and life in Christ with others.”

As a transitional deacon, he will have the opportunity to preach, an opportunity he calls humbling. “If I can draw people to Christ through my words and actions and my own journey – wow, what a wonderful gift.”

~ By Rose O’Connor, correspondent