Praying Together -- The new pastors and administrators joined Bishop O'Connell for the celebration of Mass in St. Catharine Church. Pictured from left are, Father Michael Wallack, priest-secretary to the Bishop, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lorentzen; Father James O'Neill; Father Martin O'Reilly; Bishop O'Connell; Father Leandro Dela Cruz; Father Joel Wilson; Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy and consecrated life. John Batkowski photos

Praying Together -- The new pastors and administrators joined Bishop O'Connell for the celebration of Mass in St. Catharine Church. Pictured from left are, Father Michael Wallack, priest-secretary to the Bishop, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lorentzen; Father James O'Neill; Father Martin O'Reilly; Bishop O'Connell; Father Leandro Dela Cruz; Father Joel Wilson; Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy and consecrated life. John Batkowski photos

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and other diocesan leaders recently shared words of wisdom, inspiration and practical guidance with five priests who have been named first-time pastors in the Diocese of Trenton. 

“You are a shepherd of souls and administrators of the household of God, and you are that 24/7. That is how you evangelize and inspire others in your care to evangelize,” Bishop O’Connell said in his prepared talk during the two-day New Pastors’ Orientation session, held June 20-21 in Spring Lake’s St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish. 

Photo Gallery: Orientation for new pastors/administrators

The gathering also included a concelebrated Mass in St. Catharine Church with Bishop O’Connell, during which the new pastors recited and signed an oath regarding their new duties as instructed by canon law.

“You are pastors/administrators of a portion of the people of God entrusted to you by me as Bishop; as such, you are my principal collaborators in the pastoral care of those people,” Bishop O’Connell said to Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lorentsen, Father James O’Neill, Father Martin O’Reilly, Father Leandro Dela Cruz and Father Joel Wilson.

Highlighting what will be expected of them, the Bishop stated, “Your primary responsibility is strengthening (your people’s) relationship with the Lord in the context of the Church in the world. You fulfill that responsibility by teaching, sanctifying and governing, the tri-munera of the bishop, Church and Christ.” Bishop O’Connell urged them to dedicate themselves, as pastors, to be “a source of unity, not division, and a public person representing the Church at all times.”

The priests’ main duties are to “preach the Gospel, celebrate the Sacraments and lead people to God on their journey to heaven,” said Bishop O’Connell. But the new pastors and administrators must attend to the physical and temporal needs of a parish, including the church and other facilities, programs and policies, he said. 

Bishop O’Connell noted that there is a lengthy list of pastors’ rights and responsibilities outlined in canon law, diocesan statutes and policies and parish customs.  Stressing that those responsibilities are “too extensive” for one person, the Bishop encouraged the priests to seek assistance from the Bishop’s office and other diocesan staff, as well as collaborators and co-workers in the parishes.

Pastoral councils, finance councils and trustees can serve as advisors to the pastor, however “you are the decision makers,” Bishop O’Connell told the five priests. The pastors have custody, oversight and spiritual, administrative and fiduciary stewardship responsibility for the whole parish and its resources. 

Still, the Bishop urged the priests to “communicate with constituents effectively and clearly.”  He advised, “You should consult appropriately when others are affected by your decisions,” and “when in doubt, ask.”

Because the pastors are new to communities that are already established, the Bishop advised them to respect parish histories and prior experiences and to take time before making any significant changes. When changes are made, the pastor should communicate his reasons to parishioners.

Bishop O’Connell also addressed attentiveness to personal health; the importance of being present to parishioners after Mass and at parish activities, and the need to give guidance and provide supervision to deacons and pastoral ministers when warranted.

Other presenters at the two-day orientation included diocesan officials Kevin Cimei, chief financial officer; Joseph Bianchi, chief administrative officer; Msgr. Leonard F. Troiano, vicar for planning, Terry Ginther, chancellor and executive director of the Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, as well as Deacon Steve Sansevere of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, all of whom addressed a range of topics including finances, parishioner expectations, the diocesan planning initiative Faith In Our Future and other protocols.

Father Wilson, who will become administrator of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, July 1 said he found the orientation to be a “great opportunity to meet and connect with other new pastors and also with the experienced Chancery staff who are prepared to assist us to embrace our new responsibilities.”

“The priesthood itself is a jack-of-all-trades endeavor and becoming pastor adds significant responsibilities especially in the areas of governance, which is not really covered in the seminary. The buildings, grounds, personnel and administration are all entrusted to pastors who learn on the job. Our workshop was a valuable jumpstart in those areas.”

Father Wilson spoke of having visited his new parish over the past several months, adding that he has had the chance to “experience the warmth and devotion of the people.”

“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s a lovely town with friendly folk. I look forward to calling it home.”