Father Sumanga smiles as the congregation applauds their newly installed pastor.  John Batkowski photos
Father Sumanga smiles as the congregation applauds their newly installed pastor. John Batkowski photos

In the little more than two months since arriving as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Father Oscar B. Sumanga has come to feel very much at home.

PHOTO GALLERY: To see more photos from Father Sumanga's Installation Mass, click here. 

“That’s because of the people in this parish,” Father Sumanga said of the parishioners and staff who comprise the Hightstown parish that was established in 1885. “Everyone has been very warm and loving. I don’t feel like I’m the new guy. I feel like I’ve always been here. I love being here.”

Father Sumanga had an opportunity to express his sentiments when he was installed as the parish’s 26th pastor by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. The formal installation was celebrated during the Vigil Mass Sept. 14. Among the concelebrating priests were Father Juan Gabriel Rojas, parochial vicar, and Father Patrick McDonnell, who preceded Father Sumanga as pastor, serving for 19 years until he retired from active ministry in July.

“I thank Bishop O’Connell for the trust he has in me to serve as a pastor,” Father Sumanga said. “In response to that trust, I will diligently shepherd the flock of this wonderful parish.”

Father Sumanga smiled as he spoke about his observations of St. Anthony of Padua, a rich, culturally diverse community that is composed of some 2,500 families, a significant number of whom hail from the Latin American countries, as well as from the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Africa. 

“We come from all over,” he said, adding that his appreciation for the parish is further fostered by his own Filipino background. Father Sumanga was born, raised, educated and ordained a priest in the Philippines. He arrived to the Trenton Diocese in 2002 and was incardinated a priest of the Diocese in 2008. Over the years, he served several parish assignments as well as in the diocesan Tribunal as adjutant judicial vicar.

Calling St. Anthony of Padua a “very engaged and vibrant parish,” Father Sumanga is quick to note that while the Mass schedule includes two weekend Masses that are celebrated in Spanish, every effort is made to ensure that the ministries and programs are bilingual and welcome the participation of all parishioners.

“And that is all because of Father Pat and all the previous pastors who served here,” Father Sumanga said of his predecessor. “They honed the parish into what it is today. I’m excited to continue their legacy.”

As pastor, Father Sumanga said what will be most important to him is ensuring that “everything that is done here at St. Anthony of Padua centers on the Eucharist, that every aspect of parish life is geared to a having a fuller, more meaningful experience of the Eucharist.

“The central experience of our Catholic faith is the Mass,” said Father Sumanga, adding that  it’s his desire that the parish continues to be a place where “people look for Christ, [where] they have a good experience of Christ.”