Ask Father Oscar B. Sumanga to pinpoint highlights of his 25 years as a priest, and he responds with one – everything.

“I love being a priest,” said Father Sumanga, explaining that it has been the lived experiences – whether joyful or challenging – that have shaped his priestly ministry.

The 51-year-old pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, says his vocation began as a child growing up in his native Philippines. As a third-grade altar server, he was inspired by the positive examples set by the priests in his home parish. Having the support of family – his parents, a brother and three sisters – and an unwavering desire to become a priest, he said, helped him realize he was ready to begin formation at the age of 12 in a minor seminary.

That experience led to his studying at the Central Seminary of the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, Manila, where he earned degrees in philosophy, theology and canon law. 

Evangelization Tools

Father Sumanga was 26 when he was ordained a priest June 3, 1995, by Bishop José C. Sorra for the Diocese of Legazpi. He went on to serve various ministries in the Philippines, ranging from a station manager for Radio Veritas, a philosophy professor in Mater Salutis College Seminary, as spiritual director of White Cross Orphanage and parochial vicar of the National Shrine Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Makati.

Managing a commercial radio station that was owned by the Catholic Church gave Father Sumanga a greater appreciation for the communications field, he said.

He learned how radio was a key evangelization tool, he said, explaining how attending Mass in the Philippines is sometimes different than in the United States.

Because of the distance between villages and the limited availability of priests, there are times when the faithful go months without attending Mass. Transportation also can be challenging for priests – some walk miles or row a boat to remote areas to celebrate Mass. In these cases, radio programs can help bring faith to people, he said.

Keeping up with technology over the years has proved helpful in his assignments, including livestream Masses during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Communications is a very powerful tool,” he said.

Right Place, Right Time

Father Sumanga’s 2002 arrival to the Diocese of Trenton came by way of what was supposed to be a monthlong visit to see relatives in Mount Holly. It was right before Easter when the Diocese gave him permission to assist with celebrating Holy Week liturgies in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton. Though Holy Week came to an end, the need for Father Sumanga’s assistance did not. Eventually, he discussed with diocesan officials and the diocesan Priest Personnel Office his desire to serve as a priest in the Diocese.

“I extended my vacation from a month to now 18 years later,” he said.

His assignments in the Diocese have included serving as an adjunct priest in St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, and Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Hamilton, both of which were merged into Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish. He has served as a judge in the diocesan Tribunal since 2004 and was incardinated as a priest of the Diocese in 2008.

Father Sumanga says he is grateful for the fraternity he has developed with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and other priests of the Diocese, including Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish and diocesan vicar general, whom he regards as a mentor. He says he learned much from Msgr. Gervasio about what it means to be a parish priest.

That fraternity was also deeply appreciated during the four years Father Sumanga calls “the lowest point of my life.” It was during this time that he became ill and took a leave of absence.

“They stood by me though,” he said with gratitude of Bishop O’Connell and his brother priests.

In the year he has been pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Father Sumanga said he finds himself feeling very much at home – a lot of which has to do with his parishioners. He enjoys serving the culturally diverse community of some 2,500 families who are Anglo as well as from the Latin American countries, the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Africa.

“So you can see there are many highlights of my priesthood,” Father Sumanga said. “I love to teach and serve the faithful. That is what gives me joy.”