Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., visited Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, during which time he celebrated Mass for the school community. Father Zec, right, was among the concelebrants. Monitor file photo
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., visited Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, during which time he celebrated Mass for the school community. Father Zec, right, was among the concelebrants. Monitor file photo
Father John J. Zec happily admits that the people he has met during his ministry are among the best memories of his 50-year priesthood.

“I learned from the people what Church is all about,” he said. “I never thought 50 would come so quickly!”

Father Zec was born in Perth Amboy, the first child to John and Mary Zec. He prepared for the priesthood in St. Charles College Seminary, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.

“I have always been grateful for the excellent education and preparation received from the Sulpician Fathers at St. Mary Seminary and University,” he affirmed.

He was ordained to the priesthood May 30, 1970, in Holy Spirit Church, Perth Amboy, by Bishop John C. Reiss, who, at the time was auxiliary bishop of Trenton.

Along his journey, he admits there were many positive personal moments accompanied by challenging ones.

“Life was difficult at times,” he said, noting that his paternal grandmother died right before he entered the seminary; his maternal grandmother died soon after his priestly ordination and his mother died just before he celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest. “But I was grateful for all the opportunities.”

Ministry Highlights

Following his ordination, Father Zec served as parochial vicar in St. James Parish, Red Bank; St. Mary Parish, Deal (now part of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch); St. Ambrose Parish, Old Bridge; Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune; Nativity Parish, Fair Haven; Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton, and St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel. He also served as spiritual moderator of the Holy Innocents Society in Monmouth County.

Further studies included The Juilliard School of Music at Lincoln Center, New York City; John XXIII Center at Fordham, where he received a master of arts degree in Eastern Christian Studies, and The Catholic University of America, Washington, where he received master of music and doctoral degrees in music and liturgical studies.

“When I was in Washington for studies, I was greatly rewarded spiritually as chaplain for a small order of nuns, who taught me how to make the most out of very little,” Father Zec recalled. “They sewed vestments, and they would make afghans of the leftover fabric and give them to the poor to warm them in winter.”

Highlights of Father Zec’s ministry included teaching, music ministry and directing the choir, especially in Red Bank Catholic High School, as well as directing bands and orchestras. He taught from 1977 to 1980 and then from 2015 to the present in Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, instructing students in theology, introduction to philosophy and Latin. He remains at CBA as chaplain as well as a teacher, offering morning Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In his retirement years, Father Zec especially appreciates teaching at CBA. “[I’m grateful to all [there] who have been so good to me … as well as the beloved students whom I treasure … and who have made these past five years so rewarding.”

Teaching & Learning

In addition to CBA and RBC, Father Zec has had the opportunity to serve in a number of academic settings as a campus minister and/or teacher in St. Rose High School, Belmar; Georgetown Preparatory, Rockville, Md.; Perth Amboy Catholic High School [grades K to 8], and Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg. He was also assistant chaplain and an adjunct faculty member in the music department in Georgian Court University, Lakewood.

In January 2015, Father Zec retired from Georgian Court University. He currently serves in several parishes locally and in the Metuchen Diocese; he also maintains his faculties to serve in the Eparchy of Passaic, in both Ruthenian Catholic Churches of St. Michael and St. Nicholas and others – for which he is thankful.

“[It] has complemented my background in Western Latin Spirituality with Eastern Christian Spirituality,” he said.

In addition to parochial duties, he continues his interest in music, as organist and composer, and musical studies in Eastern Christian and Byzantine music.

He marked his 50th anniversary of ordination quietly, given the COVID-19 restrictions, with a video he submitted to the Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Perth Amboy.

“When restrictions are lifted, maybe we’ll get together,” he noted, “but as a priest, I always thought of it as being a servant – and as a servant, you get a pat on the back, but I don’t need a big celebration.”

While life as a priest has not always been easy, Father Zec said it has always been greatly fulfilling. “Whether in parishes, schools or academic studies, God has blessed me always with wonderful opportunities and insights into faith, ministry, Church and life,” he observed.

He likened his ministry to that of Moses: “It’s like going before the burning bush – you take off your shoes, and God will show you something more.”